Written by Aishwarya Phadke
Kids today are deprived of time in nature. With every passing generation, we keep moving further and further away from our roots and the land. There are many imminent dangers of this disconnect, especially for children.
Looking back, I realize that the one thing I’m most grateful for from my childhood is how my family spent holidays. Every vacation, we would take off to Konkan for a few days to be at the beach. We did the usual: building sandcastles and splashing in the waves, eating local food and being carefree. They may have been just simple times, but for me, they were building blocks for my relationship with mother nature. Growing up, I went on many hikes in the Sahyadris and on longer treks in the Himalayas. I owe a big part of my planet-friendly ways to these experiences, where I witnessed the blessings of nature.
After starting Travel Dirty, I made it a goal to take people back into the wilderness - on farms, in forests and on mountains: to breathe fresh air and run free, smell deeply and feel the wind in their hair. I want people to be better friends with nature, because only when they understand nature better, will they take any conscious actions for its preservation.
One of our projects was planning retreats for school kids and plan we did! The great outdoors were brimming with excitement to welcome these wondrous souls. The intent was one: learning through hands-on activities. Depending on what season it was, we got them involved in village and farm work. If you were there, you would find kids having a blast planting seeds, making scarecrows, threshing rice, and stacking hay. They mixed mud and dung to plaster walls, they transplanted saplings, and fetched water from the well.
On one of these retreats what we did and the response it evoked was humbling and worth sharing.
It was a pleasant winter morning in January and we were in a village called Shilimb in Maharashtra. For the 9th grade of a school, we had proposed a survival camping experience. After a brief orientation on do’s and don'ts in the wilderness, the cooking material was split up to be carried up the mountain by all the students. “In the wild, if you want to eat, you have to do the work!” was a clear message given.
The hike wasn’t long but we took our time to observe sounds and sights enroute. We kept tying threads to trees on the way up to help us find our way back down.
On reaching the plateau we’d chosen for the experience, we split the group into 3 tasks: resource gathering, cooking and pitching of toilet and regular tents. Our facilitators guided students in clearing grass out to create a cooking area, cutting and collecting wood for the fire, setting up rocks to build the fire and so on. The cooking team started chopping and peeling, while some of them went to the well to fetch cooking water. The third team dug pits for toilets and learnt how to pitch tents.
The sun shone brightly and so did all our faces with excitement of all the new things we were doing. There was even a wildlife expert who came in to tell us about snakes and wildlife found in the region, so we could be more aware while moving about. The potato and tomato curry we made with a pulao had a smokey flavor from the rustic cooking, and everyone ate quietly after a long hard day toiling away. A renewed sense of gratitude for their privileges back home could be seen on everyone’s faces.
Once again, we were reminded how much kids love being outdoors and engaging their senses. They took to the tasks like fish take to sea and were enthusiastic champs. We vowed to keep planning days like these for kids, whenever we could.
Have you had similar experiences as a child? Or enabled moments in nature for your kids? We would love to know! Write to us :)