Mahalingapuram community meeting - 26th September, 2015

As part of our original Neighbourhood Champions campaign, we held a series of community meetings with apartment residents to motivate them to segregate and manage their waste better, using motivated individuals -‘Neighbourhood Champions’ -  as vehicles to drive change. With each meeting, new realities dawned on us. Lack of incentives, differing degrees of enthusiasm, space, manpower, time, lack of knowledge of proper technique etc, are just some of the factors that prevented better waste management systems for either being implemented, or sustained.

Recently, on the 26th of September, we had a second community meeting in Mahalingapuram. We were invited by residents of Mahalingapuram, in particular Mrs Shanthi Ulhas, to talk about our work and the importance of segregation, recycling and organic waste management.

Mrs Shanthi Ulhas was one of the first people to contact us about starting a community based waste initiative in her neighbourhood. She and a few of her neighbours have been composting their organic waste for a while now, and have been trying very hard to inspire the rest of the neighbourhood to do the same. She organised the first community meet to be led by us, a few months ago. She personally went knocking on every door in her neighborhood, asking people to attend the meeting. The meeting eventually had a turnout of about ten interested people who have been vocal for a while but haven’t been able to garner support.

Mrs Ulhas along with a few other driven residents organised the second meeting on the 26th, to try once again to jolt the neighbourhood into supporting each other. This time, the local councillor was invited to bring accountability for their efforts. We were invited to talk about our work, along with Mr Manoj from Green Rich Grow Labs, a dealer in wet waste products and provider of turnkey solutions.

This time, the meeting saw a turnout of over 40 people, and with a palpable restlessness to effect change. Mrs Ulhas inaugurated the meeting , highlighting the uncleared garbage and the need for everyone to manage their waste at source. After a brief recap of their work till date, we were invited to speak.

This time, we spoke briefly, unlike the last meeting where the floor was open, unmoderated and like most other community meets we ended up trying to provide answers to people’s grievances. We spoke about our information service, our campaigns, our position as a resource base for organic and recyclable waste solutions, and finally the specific ways in which each category of waste can be managed. The last part was decided upon as this made up a good chunk of the questions people asked in our previous community meetings.

After us, Mr Manoj from Green Rich Grow Labs spoke about the hazards of commonly overlooked sources of household  waste. He then introduced his simple yet effective composting unit, which comes in several different capacities. Prior to the meeting he had already sold his product to ten households, and as of the date of this blog, a total of twenty households are now composting at home.

Finally the councillor took the stage and the residents were given an opportunity to voice their grievances. One of the things Mrs Ulhas and the others have been trying to implement is a bin-free neighbourhood, and also to assign only one sweeper to every street. The councillor obliged by saying he would make these changes, as well as clear the debris that has been lying around. They also expressed their displeasure with the location of a nearby market which causes severe disruptions to traffic. The market had temporarily been moved for renovation and the residents did not want it to be shifted back to its original location, under the flyover. THe councillor said that although the market would have to be moved back, he would ensure that it would be cleaner and less intrusive than before. He also promised to organise a  cleaning of the storm water drains, in response to the residents’ concerns.

Following the meeting, Mrs Ulhas has been constantly in touch with the councillor and although the work is slow she says, there have undoubtedly been some changes since they started their work. We think the mere fact that twenty people are composting at home (out of which ten started after coming to the meeting) is something to celebrate in itself. Mrs Ulhas and her neighbours have made a truly tireless effort and continue to do so, and their efforts are finally starting to pay off. We will be telling their story through this blog and the next, with the hope that it inspires individuals in other neighbourhoods to put aside their reservations and start by knocking on some doors.