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Fighting pollution in the Delhi Youth Network

Interview with Sanjana (23) from Delhi, India – explaining the International Youth Network, her role in it, and the fight against environmental pollution in the Delhi metropolis.

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Hello Sanjana, great to have you with us! Please, briefly introduce yourself.

Sure: I'm Sanjana, 23 years old, from Delhi, India. I’m a member of Delhi Youth Network, and of the terre des hommes Youth Editorial Team – which is an international group responsible for spreading our content via social media and other channels. I currently go to university, having done my bachelors in political science, and now I'm pursuing my masters in social work.

You’ve been a part of the International Youth Network for several years now. What exactly is the IYN?

It's a platform for youths engaged from different parts of the world – Africa, Europe, Latin America, South Asia and Southeast Asia. We share our best practices, our knowledge, our initiatives. Most of us are between 17 and 25 – all really amazing youths who are continuously standing up for a common cause that we have: this one planet.

And what got you started? What made you join there?

There are so many reasons. One is this: When I was younger, we often used to wake up from the chirping of sparrows. Today, they have almost disappeared. If you now hear any birds chirping in the morning, it’s virtually a blessing. They’ve been driven off by urbanization and pollution.

There’s another example: In Delhi, the river Yamuna is our main source of water. But this river is increasingly polluted. In the Delhi Youth Network, we are currently running a campaign »Delhi Teri Yamuna Maily« [»Delhi, your Yamuna is polluted«]. It’s your river. And you are the ones doing this! The fight against river pollution is how I got into contact with Delhi Youth Network in the first place.

In India, you also call your network »Youth for ecological sustainability«. Is fighting pollution your main objective?

Across the India Youth Network, we have tried to focus mainly on specific SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations] in order to achieve as much as we can. Then, based on the regions we have divided our SDG priorities. Because in India, of course we have lots of diversity and diverse issues at different places.

In Delhi, our main focus is on SDG 13 – Climate Action. Because we believe that a healthy environment is something we need to live for. Without a healthy environment, we cannot exist. So we are fighting pollution. In the air, in the soil and in water.

Every year, November is the IYN’s »Global Action Month«. This year’s motto: »We stand with young voices to save the environment«. What was it like for you in Delhi?

In general, November is a month of festivals for us. But these festivals, especially in Delhi, also add to the pollution, not least because there are a lot of fireworks. We as a youth group are doing the total opposite, we are trying to improve the environment.

This year, for example, Diwali, one of our biggest festivals, was in November. So we did a social media campaign where we asked people not to burn so many firecrackers. And we always try to approach higher authorities.

What are your major activities and projects throughout the year?

Every month, we conduct cleanness drives. The current one was already our 23rd month of cleaning! And we have cleaning actions for parks as well. We plant trees, for reforestation. We promote kitchen gardening – growing healthier vegetables in pots at home. And of course we are doing many social media campaigns in order to increase awareness for it all.

Did you have any favourite project highlights, successes or milestones?

There’s one project I’d like to highlight in particular, and that’s a recycling project, an idea we got from some of our colleagues in the International Youth Network, Trash4Cash in Zambia. In Delhi, we are focusing on milk packets. Why? Because India of course now is the most populated country in the world. With by far the highest milk production worldwide. Delhi is by far the most populated city, so this is where most of the milk packets are used.

Milk packets are of a type of plastic that is really easy to recycle. But if you go to Delhi, what you see there instead are these three beautiful mountains of garbage. All the waste goes there. So where to go with all the milk packets and all the plastic? Our initiative is: we are trying to collect the milk packets from our community regions, so that they never reach those garbage mountains.

And the inspiration came from Zambia – how did you learn about it?

It was like this: When we posted about the Trash4Cash project of the Zambian network, we saw that it is something really inspiring. I thought that maybe I should do something, write a post or something about the milk packets. And I just happened to write it.

The next thing was that, impressively, I got so many responses and I continuously received so many calls for almost a month. Since I had never discussed it with anyone of my Delhi colleagues, all the milk packets from different parts of the country then ended up at my place. And then I basically called for help of my colleagues and then they said: of course, start giving out our numbers as well. So at that point we began distributing the packets among ourselves, as far as we could.

We send the packets to a recycler who gives us ₹12.00 [ca. 13 Cents] per kilo. You need 100 to 120 milk packets for a kilo. The project is still in an early stage, but we hope that there could be more opportunities for youth in the future, perhaps even to work there.

Were terre des hommes or the International Youth Network any help to you in the process?

One thing I like about the Youth Network: It’s really us youths who come up with the ideas. We discuss among ourselves, but then we can turn to more senior professionals at terre des hommes when we need to. So they can warn us about consequences, precautions and everything. That’s necessary, because we are really out of control now [laughs]. The response to the milk packets project was just more massive than I would ever have imagined.

For our regional topics in Delhi, we have Miss Pragya with us, who is a staff member of terre des hommes. She is working in the office in Delhi. And she is really like a mother to us: Whatever ideas we start, she is always there helping us throughout the process. But ultimately, the decision is ours. 

What ideas or experiences do you take out of it, for your personal future? What are your wishes and hopes?

Actually, I would like to work with youth in the future. I think working with young people is always really, really energetic. What we are doing needs a lot of patience and then as youth… our mindset is almost the other way around, because we seek results very quickly.

Membership in the Youth Network normally ends at the age of 25. But of course, even if I'm 27, I don't think I'll leave the network. I will try to be a mentor because the experience always helps.

And then I see people like Miss Pragya who are currently working in youth empowerment. And when we have these successes, like with the milk packets or the park cleanup, you see that sometimes… things can change very quickly. I think that if they did not lose their hope, then why should I or why should be? That’s probably most important to me… I would say that if there is one thing: I really want that every individual never loses their hope!

December 2023

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