As Gandhi so eloquently put it: Be the change you want to see in the world.
Balbir Singh Seechewal, fondly known as Eco Baba, is a living example of Gandhi's quote. In recent days, Eco Baba has been getting a significant amount of press for the work he started in 2000 to clean up a 160 kilometer stretch of the Kali Bein river in the Punjab region of India.
When speaking about his project, Seechewal quoted a verse from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) saying: "The wind is our Guru, the water our Father, the earth our Mother." This verse calls upon people to treat the earth, wind, and water with respect, but since the Green Revolution four decades ago, increased agricultural production has lead to more pollution of the earth, water and air. Several villages and towns dumped their waste into the river, and this led to parts of the river drying up, which had significant repercussions for neighboring farmland. Runoff from the waste in the river also seeped into the groundwater, causing many people to contract lethal diseases. The health of local communities started to reflect the poor health of nature as a result of their polluting practices.
Seechewal saw this and decided that he wanted to break the cycle of pollution and destruction. Drawing upon the Sikh tradition of kar sewa, or selfless service, he inspired many locals to get involved in helping clean up the river. In an attempt to get the local and municipal governments to support his efforts, Seechewal started a public awareness campaign in the region and together, with the help of several people giving hours of selfless service, they cleaned 99 miles of riverbed, built new river banks, and revived traditional methods of waste disposal and treatment. Since cleaning up the main part of the river, Seechewal has set his sights on cleaning up rivers and creeks across the Punjab in a more systematic way.
Seechewal's efforts show how the efforts of one person can have a ripple effect - inspiring and benefitting the community in a very meaningful way.
Written by: Rajmani Sinclair, April 13, 2016