The nature school is a privately run initiative, and employs one teacher and one caretaker and one manager. The expenses for this initiative are met through from my own pocket. Currently, there are 42 children who attend the free lessons everyday.
Nature School is located at Bansinagar village (Palia district) that directly abuts Uttar Pradesh’ Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. It provides free nature education to rural children who live in this and other villages around.
The small, two-room centre is set amidst sugarcane fields, and has a growing library of wildlife books and documentary movies. About 42 children voluntarily land up for ‘nature school' every evening after their government school hours. Their ‘syllabus' comprises everything from moral studies and birdwatching, to wildlife rescue and litter collection in the buffer of the reserve. Special occasions are celebrated with great fervour – and the entire school gathers for meals and performances.
The students are largely children of landless farmers, and through the school, they are regularly supplied with essentials like warm clothes, stationary, schoolbooks, mosquito nets and the occasional nutritious treats.
This constant engagement has had a positive effect—not just on the children, but also their families. In the years since the school was established, the transformation of the children’s attitude towards nature has been profound. The very children who would spend their evenings plucking branches, littering and fooling around in the fields, are now responsible custodians of nature. Their wildlife rescue work is especially noteworthy, and their respect for wild animals has permeated through the society to their elders. In this last year, the children even educated their parents on best practices in sugarcane harvesting (sugarcane fields which are left undisturbed for about an year, and wild animals are known to shelter in it. It is even used by tigers, leopards as a ‘nursery’ when their cubs are young) in order to minimise the chances of wildlife-human conflict.
I personally contribute part of my salary towards the running of the school. However, this monetary support is erratic, and we need regular support to meet the running costs of the school to allow operations to function smoothly. The budget break-up is listed below:
Teacher’s salary: INR 2500/-
Caretaker’s salary: INR 2500/-
Manager salary: INR 2500
Stationary and supplies: INR 1000/-
Snacks and meals: INR 3000/-
Total monthly expense: INR 11500/-
THE DUDHWA TIGER RESERVE
The Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh is a part of the crucial Terai Arc landscape that has been identified as one of the most viable and important tiger landscapes in the world. It has also been a site for the reintroduction of the rhinoceros. The park covers an area of 884 sq. km., and the tiger reserve comprises Dudhwa National Park, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary and Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary. The larger landscape comprises Dudhwa-Kheri-Pilibhit (now a tiger reserve) and encompasses over 2,000 sq. km. of tiger and elephant habitat. Towards the north, it is connected to the Bardia National Park (Nepal), Churia hill forests and further into Shuklaphanta in Nepal. Further east of Dudhwa, with stepping stone connectivity is Suhelwa, while towards the west are the Bijnor forests that are contiguous to Corbett.
Dudhwa is rich in wildlife, and other than the tiger is home to leopards, Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, swamp deer, rhinoceros, elephants, chital, hog deer, barking deer, sambar, wild boat, and hispid hare. The park also boasts around 400 species of birds, including critically endangered species like the Bengal Florican.