Ishita Khanna is changing lives of 12000 local people at an altitude of 17000 feet
At a time when changing climate is threatening livelihoods of local people all over the world, Ishita Khanna is helping build a sustainable environment as well as change lives of local community of Spiti in Himachal pradesh.
Cut off from the rest of the world for almost six months due to heavy snowfall, the villagers of Spiti – living in some of the highest points in Asia – had few options for sustainable livelihood and hardly any regular income for many years.
All this changed after they discovered the nutritional and medicinal value of seabuckthorn, a wild berry rich in vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, which could be marketed as a magic recipe for good health.
Ishita Khanna’s unique initiative along with the locals to cultivate seabuckthorn is changing lives of odd 12,000 villagers in Spiti. It is now being sold across India under the organic brand name ‘Tsering’ (which means blessings for life).
“Locals who were unaware of the potential of seabuckthorn were not growing it. We initiated a project to set up a processing unit to make juice, jam, tea and fruit drink concentrate. This project has increased income especially for women. We have been able to educate the community on the value of preserving this wonderful berry,’’ says Ishita Khanna.
Besides promoting the farming of seabuckthorn, Ishita has also trained people in technical aspects of food processing and linked the finished products through the right marketing channels. Ishita also promotes handicrafts and Thangkha paintings made by the locals.
“By linking economics with conservation, we have been successful in preserving this plant. By promoting indigenous products, we ensure the conservation of Spiti’s diverse traditional crops and fruits, promote organic agriculture and enhance the livelihoods of the local population,” explains Ishita.
At an altitude of 17,000 feet above sea level, Spiti in Himachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful places in the world but for people living there, it is a harsh life without even the basic facilities. Temperatures ranging from -30 in winter to above 30 degrees in summer along with dry weather conditions, frequent power cuts which stretches to almost a day, poor infrastructure are the issues that are badly affecting locals.
For nearly 6 months during winter, Spiti turns into a cold desert and is cut off from the rest of the world. “Living in Spiti is an unforgettable experience”, says Ishita Khanna.
After doing her masters in social work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Ishita joined rural development organisation, CAPART, where she worked in the remote parts of Himachal Pradesh.
She observed that though the place is blessed with rich natural resources, the villagers were unaware of its benefits. In an attempt to retain the magical land with all it beauty and help its simple and friendly community, Ishita with a group of friends started Ecosphere. Of the 12 employees, only two including Ishita are outsiders.
“The idea of setting up Ecosphere was to promote eco-tourism, help the struggling local community with better income generation avenues and preserve the environment with renewable sources of energy and cut down on carbon footprint. Conservation happens best when their livelihoods are directly linked to it,” says Ishita.
Another initiative was to stop the conventional practice of burning firewood to stay warm during winters, which had a detrimental effect on the environment.
“While tourism has its pros and cons, we are helping tourists with unique programs and making them aware of responsible tourism, where they can work with the community to build solar-passive homes which retain heat inside the houses or green houses for growing vegetables. At the same time, the local community benefits with home stays. The home stays are conducted on a rotational basis so no one really competes with each other. Every house gets a chance to accommodate tourists,” explains Ishita.
This Dehradun girl has done an advanced mountaineering course from Nehu Institute of Mountaineering which brought her more closer to nature.
Ecosphere has taken remarkable initiatives to ‘reduce, recycle and reuse’ products. To cut down the usage of bottled water, the tourists are provided with a water filter at the home stays.
They are offered free drinking water from the Ecosphere shop at Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti. Tourists are sensitised about the delicate ecology and the need to preserve its rich heritage.
Adverse weather conditions didn’t allow them to grow vegetables in open air, for the reason Ecosphere has set up 100 green houses for the villagers and the monasteries, where people actively grow vegetables for the community.
Renewable energy projects have been another big success. Ecosphere has built 500 solar-passive houses. Ishita and her team’s relentless efforts have seen a drastic reduction in the usage of wood, which in turn reduced black carbon emissions.
The best part about the venture is that all the profits are ploughed back into supporting the people and sustaining the environment-friendly measures,” points out Ishita.
“Happiness and peace are the biggest gifts Spiti has given me. Money is important. It is the means to an end but not the end itself. Money can’t buy you everything. I would find it difficult to adjust in a city. I find life here more exciting and endearing,” says Ishita.
A solar pumping water station is the next big project in the pipeline. This would need an investment of around Rs 500,000.
“People have to walk long distances to get drinking water. With a solar water station, we plan to reduce the burden on people,” says Ishita.
Ishita welcomes anyone who is keen to work as a volunteer or is ready to contribute funds to build renewable energy projects that places like Spiti rightly deserve. If you would like to help, you can mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 94188 60099.
Ishita dreams of building more self-reliant communities who can even run their own off-grid power stations, sustain the ecologically sensitive areas living in perfect harmony with nature.
It’s truly inspirational and hope many youngsters like Ishita do such wonderful things to the under-privileged and isolated people in India, We are sure India and its people will be at the top of the world in years to come. Keep your extra-ordinary work going. Indian Breeze team wishes all the best for future endeavours.
Original article published in Rediff
Image source: spitiecosphere.com
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