It all started when I was up in the hills of the mighty Himalayas, teaching a bunch of Kids Sustainability. I was on a Fellowship at the Third pole Education Base, where I was running a completely Solar-powered, Internet-enabled Education base for the rural children of Ladakh, developing a curriculum on 5 broad themes under sustainability- Biodiversity, Clean energy, Waste management, Climate change and Life Skills. Every day, I interacted with 500 young minds and Taught grades 1-10; a diverse mix of day scholars, hostelers, visually impaired students, Monks, and Nuns. I built a curriculum on sustainability while following my adopted educational philosophy of project-based/experiential learning. We learned about the Environment through over 20 different student-initiated projects and organized field trips. Our projects included building a Greenhouse in less than 3 hours in less than 30$, making a working model of a mini biogas plant, exploring artificial glaciers in rural Ladakh and conducting science experiments from scratch. You can read more on that here.
We won the Grand Prize at the Design for Change Awards 2015, presented by two famous Indian sportspersons Geet Sethi and Irfan Pathan on the ‘I can’ Awards for the most innovative project to address the issue of waste management and climate change, out of 2512 entries from schools all over India. The kids up-cycled waste into musical instruments and started a band called the Ladakh Trash Band to spread the word of saving the environment and even played at the Ladakh music festival in front of an audience of international tourists and locals alike.
The fellowship was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Never in a million years did I think I’d teach a group of monks and nuns and it re-instilled my faith in inclusive education. There were many Ebase initiated projects which included the book reading club, the origami club and also the documentary film screening club. One day at our book reading club we stumbled upon the book titled: “2041 by Robert Swan” that was even signed by Robert Swan. To know how the book got there you need to know the story of Paras Loomba.
Paras Loomba is the founder of the Third Pole Education Base and the Global Himalayan Expedition. He is a passion driven individual in love with the hills of the Himalayas and committed to making a difference in the local Himalayan communities. But he wasn’t always like this. He used to be a corporate guy, working with a top notch firm traveling all over the world. This changed when he went on a transformational journey called ‘Leadership on the Edge’ as a part of the International Antartic Expedition 2012. When I was up there in the Himalayas, I got to meet Paras not very often but every time I met him he was rife with stories about his work in the villages, his passion for solar, his mentor Robert Swan (who actually inaugurated the E-base himself) and the stories all inevitably tied back to Antarctica. While there I saw him and his team break a world record, make a monk ride an electric scooter for the first time and fix our broken solar battery.
Reading half way through the book 2041, with my kids I had this strong urge to apply for the Antarctica Expedition myself. And I did. And I got selected! I was confident that my application responses were coherent with the expedition mission, so that was not what made me anxious. The bigger challenge was that I was gonna be in Ladakh for one more month with close to 20,000$ to raise. With an unreliable internet connection and being so cut out from the world and my networks high up in the hills, I asked for a deadline extension to pay up the expedition fee. This was in September 2015. I was working on tight deadlines to wrap up existing projects and make a report while having the mammoth task of raising all that money at the back of my head.
I got back home in October and started writing proposals, cold emails, started an online crowdfunding campaign, had one-on-one meetings with potential sponsors and by the end of November managed to raise the entire amount in cash and kind. I know it sounds super easy when I say it like that but trust me, it was by no means ‘Easy’. There were days when I thought I wouldn’t be able to raise the money, felt like this was going nowhere, felt the pressure of making this happen and my accountability towards people who had already committed the money. It was all or nothing. Also, I was really apprehensive about raising money from individuals. I tried my best to reach out to big companies more than individuals because I hated the idea of owing something to someone. I’m the kind who splits a bill evenly at the end of a meal and expects the same from people. But by the end of the fundraising I had two companies on board whose contributions were in-kind and the entire amount was raised only by individuals.
53 individuals helped me reach my goal and be a part of a life-changing experience by vesting their faith in me. The entire experience humbled me. There were complete strangers who contributed, each for their own heart-warming reason. Some to save the planet for their kids and some to send an Indian girl to Antarctica. I met some wonderful people through the process and today I am much more comfortable with the idea of the crowd funder because I know life will turn a full circle with the “universal law of reciprocity” and I now live to give back what’s been given to me in some form or another. And I promise to pay it forward.
Rob and I, with the book that made it happen, 2041.