How it all started…..
The story of GreenSquad started with its founder Fahad Rizwan who wanted to do something different for the society. Frustrated with the political, socio-economical and environmental situation in Pakistan, he would just head out to the Margalla Hills in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, to plant a few saplings and regain his peace of mind. Over time, he convinced his friends to join in on these small trips. And as they say in Urdu “logg miltay ga’ey, kafla banta gey’a” (we kept on finding people, and a caravan started to take shape). Now after a two years, GreenSquad’s active volunteers number in 100s in 4 different cities of Pakistan.
What is GreenSquad and how it works differently?
GreenSquad is a group of volunteers who are committed with the cause of protecting environment from the threats of climate change, and engaging local communities in plantation and environment protection efforts.
Pakistan is one of the countries facing the highest vulnerability from climate change. Already, many communities in Pakistan have been forced to abandon their pristine countryside localities because of drought and flooding. The mass migration from villages has also wrought the urban landscape. With increasing urbanisation, trees are being cut to make space for construction projects and urban green-spaces are shrinking at an alarming rate. In some cities like Karachi, its difficult to find a single tree for miles.
To remedy such a grave situation, we, at GreenSquad, believe that fighting climate change is a universal struggle which surpasses all national, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries, and we should use all available resources, values, traditions for protecting our environment, without any bias.
Keeping this in mind, GreenSquad has a three-fold mission. Firstly, we promote awareness for environmental protection and the dangers our communities face due to climate change. Secondly, we mobilse people, on community level, to join hands, volunteer, and self-organise to engage in planting shade trees as well as fruit trees, along the roads and in other urban spaces. Thirdly, we engage all other stakeholders like departments of local governments, in order to convince them to allocate spaces, logistics, resources and continued long-term care of the planted trees.
Harnessing the power of religion, nationalism and family
Unlike in Europe, in South Asia, religion, nationalism and family still play a big role in society. People are always willing to come out of their comfort zones for the sake of their religion, for the nation and their families. Therefore, here in GreenSquad, we decided to harness the power of these three basic pillars of the society for environmental protection.
In case of religion, we have started to embed tree-plantation campaigns in religious festivals. One successful attempt was during the holy month of Muharram (the first month of Islamic year), particularly on 10th Muharram which is usually marked with huge public processions with ritualistic mourning. We convinced people to come join us and mark this holy day
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Similarly, for harnessing the nationalism, we organise tree plantation campaigns on all national days in Pakistan. The green flags of Pakistan, and such green events are coincidentally a perfect combination. Such events always draw a larger number of volunteers, who usually also bring in their children on such events. People feel happy to have contributed something towards the nation.
Last is family. Since historic times, family has played a vital role in the social structure in South Asia. Even today, people consider their extended family to come first, even surpassing their own personal needs and wants. We have therefore started promoting the tradition of planting trees on birthdays and death anniversaries of family members. We also regularly plant national trees, on the anniversaries of national heroes and public figures. In July 2019, a couple, instead of having a traditional wedding, decided to donate all their wedding money for GreenSquad’s plantation drive. GreenSquad volunteers planted 1000 trees in their name.
Such actions, although may appear small, but in the long run, they might be the most effective tools to fight climate change. Imagine a nation of 200 million people with environmental protectionism embedded in their traditions and daily routine !