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How Teachers and Students Came Together to Rescue a Dying 15-Acre Lake in Hyderabad

Image for Representation

Image for Representation

Rapid urbanization coupled with land-grabbing by unscrupulous elements, have spelt the death-knell for a majority of these lakes.

By breathing life back into a dying lake in the city of Nizams and pearls, a husband-wife team of educationists, has proved that positive change can begin even from school itself. Hyderabad-based founder of Fountainhead Global School, Meghana Musunuri and husband Sridhar Vunnam, didn’t have the smallest inkling that a routine interaction session would evolve into a children-propelled movement and ultimately rescue a 15-acre lake from certain death.

And then Voila!!… That is precisely what happened, when Meghana’s freewheeling talk on children’s rights and responsibilities, sometime in June 2019, set the tone for things to come.

“To help them understand the concept of their rights, I was giving them examples of lakes, forests, rivers and asked them, who do you think they belong to? The younger kids replied god, and the older ones said the government. Then I said, you know, they belong to you. “Suddenly the conversation veered to ownership. And they were keen to see a forest or a river which was out of the question because we live in Hyderabad. So, they settled for a visit to a lake.” Meghana told IANS.

Much to her chagrin, she discovered that finding the ideal lake was easier said than done. The sprawling city of Hyderabad, famous for the imposing Hussain Sagar lake and a few other major water bodies, was once upon a time home to a couple of thousands of lakes in varying sizes. However, rapid urbanization coupled with land-grabbing by unscrupulous elements, have spelt the death-knell for a majority of these lakes.

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Today, most of these water bodies exist in varying stages of neglect — filled up with garbage and sewage, choked with weeds, encroached upon by land sharks. And, Meedi Kunta lake, located in Hafeezpet, was one of the 200-odd lakes struggling to survive against the odds. Except that it had a miraculous tryst with hope and determination from unexpected quarters.

When Meghana set out looking for a suitable water body so as to give her proteges a first-hand experience, she found nothing satisfactory and finally decided to check out Meedi Kunta lake, which is located about a kilometre away from the school. The only problem was that the lake, in its dying throes, was a picture of despair.

Instead of meekly accepting the dismal picture Meghana painted after her recce trip, the children felt they should revive the lake if they really owned it. And thus, began the amazing journey of the couple who egged on by the earnestness of a band of young school children, went on to revive Meedi Kunta lake.

For Meghana and Sridhar, the past three years have been a journey of discovery no less, as they and their band of school children waded through the friction and drag resulting from a combination of suspicious residents, nonchalant authorities and troublemakers of varying hues. But they and their band of school children pushed on doggedly.

“I felt this would be a great opportunity for students to build their confidence. Because most of today’s children live very protected lives at home and school. But the world does not work like that in real life. If they’re not ready to face the real world, I feel all the education is not going to help them improve their lives. So, I wanted to reduce the walls between the school and the real world. I involved them in all aspects of the clean-up”, reminisces Meghana.

The groundwork began with the customary rounds of government offices for obtaining the mandatory permissions. The school kids, around 120 of the 330 odd scholars that study at Fountainhead Global School, went about their mission with determination. For effective communication, Meghana created an awareness kit for the children to use in their interactions with potential contributors to the cause. V. Bilvoa, a standard 10 student who created a mascot called ‘Cheru’ symbolizing the lake goddess, said, “We figured out that it’s not easy but not impossible either. The mascot especially was useful in boosting the morale of students.”

By July 2019, the blueprint for salvaging Meedi Kunta lake, was worked out. Fund raising drives, awareness runs and walks, tea parties near the lake, flash mobs, the team stepped up on the promotional efforts.

The initial drive resulted in collections, barely a fraction of the estimated cost of dredging and cleaning operations that required the hire of specialized equipment and manpower. At this point, Sreedhar, who’s a director at the school, chipped in with funds. Enthused by the support from the couple, the school children went about their fund collection drive with renewed vigour and managed to collect around Rs 10 lakh — but still far short of the total fund requirement.

When the children’s fund-raising attempts were exhausted, Sridhar again stepped in with funding. As per estimates, around Rs 2 crore would be required to repair and clean up the lake. It was big money that would make anyone pause for a moment to rethink. But the couple decided to plunge in with their own money rather than see the kids disheartened.

With covid lockdown clamped from March 2020, it was Sridhar who literally camped at the lake throughout the mission. He recalls that the covid lockdown actually proved helpful for them, “It was a tough job but we didn’t stop till it was completed.

“When I found it difficult hiring local lorries for transporting the garbage and other diggings, I had to arrange tractors from my native place. Gradually, local people understood our good intentions and started coming forward to help us in terms of equipment hire and other requirements.

“In between, work also suffered because of heavy rains that devastated Hyderabad. But the covid lockdown also proved beneficial as few troublemakers ventured out and we could finish our task without much disturbance.”

The major part of 2020 was spent in completing revival measures such as dredging the lake bed, redirecting sewage inflows away from the lake, shutting down unauthorized borewells in the lake storage area, repairing the lake embankment, and laying a walkway around it.

By 2021, the impact could be seen and felt. Even the fish that were released into the lake began to survive and thrive. With lockdown being lifted, the students and local residents are in a position to enjoy the benefits of a revived lake in their vicinity.

Today, the Meedi Kunta lake is a picture of serendipity. The water is cleaner, sewage no longer creeps into the lake as it used to, the fish survive and are beginning to thrive, while the surrounding greenery is enriched too. Today, local residents look at the revived lake to realise what they have been depriving themselves of, all these years.

Instead of sitting back and enjoying the adulation coming their way, the couple plans to set up a biodiversity lab in the lake’s vicinity. Quizzed about the takeaways from the initiative, “Practical problem solving is the way to bridge the gap between school learning and real-life issues,” Meghana signs off.

first published:March 24, 2021, 15:08 IST