Beyond the odds

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The young volunteers of Jammu and Kashmir-based Nature's Oath to Obtain Reliance (noor) are deeply engrossed in a mission that started about a year ago as part-time activism: creating awareness about activities harmful to the environment, particularly among people living in remote areas . Their concerns range from wildlife protection to solid waste management.

"I was out on a hiking expedition with friends. We saw the tremendous deforestation in what used to be dense jungles, and were horrified by the sight. This was probably what first set us working on the restoration of forests. Later, we formed noor to spread awareness on the issue,' said Mir Sajad, publicity secretary of noor. Sajad and his friends set about surveying some forest areas to understand the reasons behind the plunder, and who was responsible.

They found that nomads living in jungles were wholly dependent on forests for firewood. "They were cutting small trees for firewood, and we realised that they need an alternate survival strategy. This was probably why all afforestation drives in the forests were also unsuccessful. We pooled in money, and bought and distributed kiker (acacia) seeds among them. They could sow these seeds and obtain firewood from those patches,' says Mir Nasir, vice-chairperson, noor.

noor volunteers have also organised camps in forest areas to create awareness about the need to protect forests. Interestingly, these youth receive no funds from outside. They pool their