Our 2019 Global Ambassadors: Proactive change-making in India!

Our five Global Ambassadors arrived in India on April 15. With representatives from Australia, the USA and India, they got straight to work as soon as they touched down. Over the past two weeks, they have obtained an in-depth understanding of our ongoing projects, as well as the many social and environmental challenges facing the region and broader India.

Our Global Ambassadors, Coordinators and Directors (from left to right) - Imogen, Blake, Bhagath, Mayuri, Sophie and Kelly. With the lovely Lindsey on camera and Krishna working too hard to be in a photo :)

Our Global Ambassadors, Coordinators and Directors (from left to right) - Imogen, Blake, Bhagath, Mayuri, Sophie and Kelly. With the lovely Lindsey on camera and Krishna working too hard to be in a photo :)

The Ambassadors visited people in our target communities of Kovalam and Vizhinjam to discuss waste management and plastic pollution, including running waste workshops and education programs. They also met with our local partners, businesses and other organisations to identify opportunities for collaboration and move forward on our joint programs for positive change on an environmental and social level.

The first few days in the community gave the Ambassadors an insight into the scope of the waste management problems which face developing coastal communities. The indiscriminate dumping of waste into the environment is in stark contrast to many of their realities back home. Conversely, our Indian Ambassadors and team suffer from the consequences of this pollution on a daily basis. As a result, they recognise (more than most) the importance of overcoming these seemingly insurmountable challenges, as well as the dire need for realistic solutions.

A makeshift dump site on the cliffs of Vizhinjam. Dumps like these are common throughout the communities in which we work.

A makeshift dump site on the cliffs of Vizhinjam. Dumps like these are common throughout the communities in which we work.

One of the major challenges that our team hopes to overcome is the incredible pollution of the Gangaya estuary that flows through Vizhinjam.

One of the major challenges that our team hopes to overcome is the incredible pollution of the Gangaya estuary that flows through Vizhinjam.

During our beach survey and waste audit with students from our major partner organisation Sebastian Indian Social Projects (SISP), the Ambassadors witnessed the effects of heavily populated coastal regions that place no restrictions on single-use plastic, or allocate adequate resources for its collection and disposal. They collected waste (>90% of it plastic) that had been dumped onto the beach or washed up onto the shoreline from the sea. In total, the students and our team collected 1934 items weighing in at an astounding 30.2kg from just a 70 x 30m stretch of beach in Kovalam.

Getting the kids from the fishing community engaged in creating a waste free future starts here!

Getting the kids from the fishing community engaged in creating a waste free future starts here!

Our new bins in Vizhinjam will give us an understanding of how the community use them to inform our community-wide waste service.

Our new bins in Vizhinjam will give us an understanding of how the community use them to inform our community-wide waste service.

A quick marine debris education program for the kids of SISP before sorting and counting the trash we collected.

A quick marine debris education program for the kids of SISP before sorting and counting the trash we collected.

Our waste audit collected over 1900 items weighing in at an astounding 30.2kg in just a 70 x 30m section of beach.

Our waste audit collected over 1900 items weighing in at an astounding 30.2kg in just a 70 x 30m section of beach.

During the Adventure, the Ambassadors also engaged with a group of women in Vizhinjam. They were invited to join them in one of their households, alongside other women from the community. They heard first-hand how a lack of organisation, infrastructure and education directly impacts the health and safety of their community, their livestock, the fisheries which their husbands and sons rely on, as well as the heavy burden that it places on the environment. As a pilot project we installed bins for cleaned and segregated recyclable waste. These bins aim to change behaviour at the household level and make recycling and disposal easier once waste is collected. This is the first step on the road to a Waste Bank system that we hope to implement in the near future.

Our two Coordinators Blake and Krishna, alongside our team of Ambassadors chatting to a group of local women from Vizhinjam.

Our two Coordinators Blake and Krishna, alongside our team of Ambassadors chatting to a group of local women from Vizhinjam.

During the second week of the program, the Ambassadors ran an outreach stall and transition program with vendors along the beaches of Kovalam who our team have been engaging with for over 6 months. They ran the first trial of our Areca Leaf bowls, cutlery and plates, as well as our upcycled paper straws as part of our Don’t Be A Sucker India initiative. Whilst interviewing customers, our survey revealed that >95% of customers preferred Areca Leaf to plastic. These results will boost the vendors confidence in making the transition, as we roll out these products to all vendors and businesses across the area. As a result of this project alone, we estimate that over 15,000 pieces of plastic waste will be prevented from making their way into the ocean every month!

Areca leaf product trial = a huge success!

Areca leaf product trial = a huge success!

Our local Coordinator Krishna chatting to customers about our new products, including paper straws. Our surveys reflected that over 95% of people preferred Areca and paper over plastic!

Our local Coordinator Krishna chatting to customers about our new products, including paper straws. Our surveys reflected that over 95% of people preferred Areca and paper over plastic!

Our  Don’t Be A Sucker  campaign in India is transitioning food vendors away from single-use plastics by replacing them with locally-sourced Areca Leaf products!

Our Don’t Be A Sucker campaign in India is transitioning food vendors away from single-use plastics by replacing them with locally-sourced Areca Leaf products!

It’s been an incredibly intensive two weeks for the Ambassadors and our team, however the hard work has resulted in an invaluable experience for them, whilst providing a huge boost to our Masterplan in the region. Alongside the aforementioned projects the team:

  • Designed and built our first home aquaponics system as part of our trial in moving towards what we have coined a CAP System (Composting and Aquaponics) to decentralise waste management and provide food and income for local communities;

  • Collected and planted Sunflower, Mustard and Sorgum seedlings to grow during the monsoon months in our office and then plant post-monsoon along the banks of the Gangaya Estuary. These plants are known for their ability to absorb nitrogen and phosphate and will assist in removing these nutrients and other pollutants from the waterway;

  • Visited inspiring youth-led local organisations who are creating environmental and social change including The Coastal Students Cultural Forum who advocate for the rights of local fishermen and traditional and sustainable fishing practices; Kanthari, an organization who engages people from around the world, teaching them the skills and leadership qualities needed to create change in their communities; and the Green Army - an arm of the Trivandrum Corporation who educate and help direct policy for waste management solutions in the Trivandrum region;

  • Completed our artworks on our Marine Conservation Centre in Eve’s Beach Kovalam thanks to the incredible artists at the Trivandrum Art College.

Our surveys with local customers on our new Areca products.

Our surveys with local customers on our new Areca products.

Getting their hands dirty! Ambassadors planting for a healthier Gangaya estuary.

Getting their hands dirty! Ambassadors planting for a healthier Gangaya estuary.

Building the first test aquaponics and composting (CAP) system.

Building the first test aquaponics and composting (CAP) system.

The artworks for our Marine Conservation Centre in Eve’s Beach, Kovalam was completed! Thanks to the Trivandrum Art College artists for their incredible work.

The artworks for our Marine Conservation Centre in Eve’s Beach, Kovalam was completed! Thanks to the Trivandrum Art College artists for their incredible work.

What an incredible Adventure it’s been for our 5 Ambassadors, local team and partners. We are excited by the prospects of our ongoing work in the region and are hopeful that a brighter future can be created where conservation can increase community opportunities, health and local employment.

Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who has donated to our two crowdfunders over the past two years to make all of this happen, including our seed funder, Lush Cosmetics Australia. Also a massive thanks to our passionate and hard-working Ambassador team - Imogen, Sophie, Kelly, Mayuri and Lindsey and thanks Lindsey for all of the beautiful pics from the program. We look forward to the next Ambassador Adventure in late 2019!

Photography © Lindsey Mineff (Hardcopy Cartel) 2019