Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki voyage across the Pacific proved how minimal equipment could help 6 men navigate a vast oceanic expanse to a new land. It was, undoubtedly, great work. The crew, however, consisted of professionals. The craft was a balsa trunk raft with pine splash boards, a main sail and a mizzen sail. The waters of the Pacific were, well, peaceful (duh!). Now compare this with a modern-day scenario. A group of school children, a vessel fashioned out of waste, and voila! You have a sturdy lifeboat which can keep your neck above water in turbulent flood waters! Now if Kon-Tiki found its way into the record books, THIS feat deserves acclaim too!
It’s a simple idea, actually! No hi-fi gizmos and you don’t have to be a mechanical engineer! What impresses is the sheer novelty of the idea. These inexperienced school kids have come up with a life saving solution that can be rigged up in minutes. It’s Eco-friendly – no drain-choking, sea-creature-killing, lung-clogging chemicals! Merely the reuse of discarded plastic bottles, a sheet of paper and cell-o-tape! The lifeboat can support 80 – 100 kilograms and keep a drowning man afloat in one of those severe inundation situations that seem to be plaguing our cities with ever-increasing frequency!
These kids deserve to be appreciated for what they have done. Firstly, it’s an existing problem they have identified. Often, they say, helpless people have to cling on to household utensils to keep afloat in floods. The lifeboat is a safer way to serve the same purpose. Moreover, the vessel can easily and quickly be assembled. And it’s virtually free of cost! A closer inspection into these kids’ work reveals an underlying maturity and professionalism. Not only have they constructed several lifeboats but also subjected them to weight and balance tests in stagnant and turbulent waters. They have themselves boarded their vessels and demonstrated the ease of handling them. Such intricate research and record keeping skills portray their ability to comprehend the importance of adding finishing touches to intuitive brainwaves.
A queasy stench launches an unforgiving assault on my olfactory cells and I am shaken out of my reverie. My fellow passengers have instinctively twitched their noses as the Mumbai-Vadodra train rattles over the foul-smelling Mahim creek. Beyond urban limits, the landscape is not made up of the verdure of the Swiss fields or by rows of tulip hedges. Instead, a depressing barrenness surrounds you. A lonely cow masticates dried grass while simultaneously littering the adjacent track with the undigested constituents of yesterday’s meal. A melancholy group of slum kids explores the utility of the railway tracks for defecation. A fellow passenger returns from the washroom with an air of contentment, little knowing that what went in the pot, actually formed a brand new trail of crap in the train’s wake.
India boasts of one of the most intricate railway systems in the world, with multiple routes and numerous trains. It also has one of the most ill-managed waste disposal systems for its railways. The tracks are a breeding ground for pests and the stench during some intervals of a train journey can be quite nauseous. A group of four students from CNVM School, Vile Parle, Mumbai, have taken up the challenge of finding an eco-friendly remedy for this crisis. Vatsal Mankodi, Meet Mandavia, Mausam Mehta and Deven Mistry are four ordinary Mumbai school kids with extraordinary ideas. Their project titled “Clean Indian Railways” is an attempt to deliver a practical solution to not only clear waste from the tracks but also utilize it for profitable purposes.
A survey undertaken by these students shows that the amount of waste dumped from 9116 Indian Railway trains exceeds 60,000 gallons! Such staggering amounts of waste can either be left unattended to rot on the tracks or be treated by a simple system for a profitable cause. These kids have suggested two methods to battle this problem. The first one involves digging compost pits between tracks. Containers attached below toilets in trains can collect the waste while the train is in motion. At junctions, flexible pipes can divert the collected waste to the compost pits. The waste can be suitably decomposed to create manure, which can be used as an organic fertilizer – something that will greatly influence the nation’s economy, India being an agrarian country. The waste can also be redirected to nearby bio-gas plants, which can produce cheap cooking gas and electricity.