Herbal Gardens at schools

Manoshi Goswami writes about herbal gardens near Manas National Park that may help children become environmentally sensitive 

Now, we know that these plants are important as medicines” –  says a smiling girl student of class eight in Himali Sri Panchami School, Bhutankhuti. While saying so, her eyes twinkles like a star. Then, one of her classmates, sitting in the front row adds – ‘We have come to know their scientific names also. Scientific name is a term that we have found in our science text books.’ Then, they jointly say – ‘Yes, we now know that plants are important for us. They give us oxygen. They clean our environment. We don’t want them to be cut.’ Himalee Sri Panchami School, located in Bhutankhuti, Baksa is one among the three schools where, Aaranyak has started herbal gardens a year ago, under the programme called Manas Tiger Conservation Programme. The school, situated in one of the remotest part of the district falls within 5 km of the southern boundary of Manas National Park and thus has been selected for propagating the messages of conservation through various means. The herbal garden, currently has 20 different species of plants that has one or the other medicinal value. These plants were planted in the school by Aaranyak in 5th June, 2017 to mark the celebration of World Environment Day. It may be mentioned that the Himalee High School, which have recently been amalgamated with the ME section i.e Sri Panchami M.E. School is now known as Himalee Sri Panchami school following official amalgamation and it caters to the need of the children of the locality. ‘Introduction of the herbal garden has been helpful in making them aware about the importance of different plants. A few saplings have died due to some problems, but we are taking care of the garden regularly. Students also join their hands.’ – opines the head master of the school, who has been very co-operative since the inception of the initiative by Aaranyak. The school also takes pledges for conserving Manas during its morning assembly, which have been a unique initiative implemented by Aaranyak to communicate the message of conservation to the masses.

Similar gardens have been established in two other schools – Subankhata High School, Subankhata and Himgiri Bodo Medium High School, Rabanguri. Subankhata locality suffers from perennial water stress due to its geology and geography; but continuous effort from the students and the school authority to keep the plants alive can be seen in the garden. Influence of the activity is highly perceivable in the Himgiri Bodo Medium High School, which has taken their own initiative to start two similar gardens in the school campus, where they have planted ornamental as well as vegetable plants too. Students, hailing from local villages talked about medicinal properties of many of the herbs available in the garden during our interaction with them. Himgiri ME School, where the herbal garden was initiated, has also been amalgamated to the high school section and has been renamed as Himgiri Bodo Medium High School and has more than 300 students in five classes.

Communicating and spreading the message of environmental conservation is not an easy task. While elders often refuse to adopt the same, influencing the minds of the children in the right way can bring about a positive change in people’s attitude towards forest, environment and biodiversity. Keeping this in view, Aaranyak, as a part of its intervention to protect the habitats in the Manas Biosphere Reserve, has planned to target the communities, specially the children and students in the fringe villages of the park by including conservation education under the Manas Tiger Conservation Programme (MTCP). It is worth mentioning that, under MTCP, Aaranyak has been actively working towards improvement of protection, conservation and community wellbeing in Manas National Park and its fringe areas and has collaborated with the Forest Department BTC, Wildlife Conservation Trust, Panthera and Awely for the same.

We tried to give a positive conservation message through this approach of School Herbal Garden and for that we have involved all important stakeholders like School Managing Committee, Village Head, Youth Leaders, Defence Personnel, etc. in the process.” – says Dr. Sudip Kanta Basistha, Deputy Project Manager of Manas Tiger Conservation Programme. It may be mentioned that, encouraged by the positive response, two more herbal gardens have been started recently in Daodhara M.E.School, Kokilabari, Baksa and Bodosa Academy, Panbari.

These examples from the fringe of the Manas National Park effectively shows us how children can be motivated to be the champions of conservation by a simple initiative. Kudos to team Aaranyak for such sincere initiatives, which have been successful in bringing positive changes among the young minds of these crucial areas.

(Manoshi Goswami is communication officer under MTCP, Aaranyak. She can be reached at goswami.manoshi@gmail.com)