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 with planting trees. This year, we aim to expand this further by hosting such events at other religious festivals as well.
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. Very recently, a couple instead of having a traditional wedding decided to donate all their wedding money for GreenSquad’s plantation drive. We would be planting 1000 trees in their name by the end of July 2019.
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 !
GreenSquad and CommonFare: We have so much in common !
GreenSquad’s interest in CommonFare is two-fold. First is to use CommonFare as an experience sharing platform and second is for creating an alternate circular economy. GreenSquad has always been about trust. People donate blindly based on this mutual trust. Calls for plantation campaigns are sent out using dedicated Whatsapp groups as well as through Facebook, and volunteers just turn up to help with the plantation. At the moment there are 4 Whatsapp groups for three cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Karachi, with total around 400 active volunteers. The Facebook group has around 950 members and there are 12000+ followers of the main FB page. We plan to use CommonFare to connect with other like minded groups and share experiences. Already, we have been able to gather ideas and inspiration from other social projects already present on the CommonFare website.
GreenSquad totally relies on donations from its volunteers and has no permanent sources of funding. Therefore, we always struggle with balancing our ambitions with our limited budget. A virtual currency like that of CommonCoin can help us create a alternate circular economy. We have already started experimenting with it and hope to launch Sabz Sikkay (Green Coins) within this year. Up till now, our volunteer did not get any pay-back or incentive for their hard work, but now they would be able to earn Sabz Sikkay. One coin for each hour spent as volunteer or one coin for each 100 Rupees donated. We still have to finalise and fine-tune this exchange rate. Volunteer would be able to use their accumulated Sabz Sikkay at group lunches and dinners as well as to buy souvenirs and to purchase produce and seeds from an urban forest we plan to develop this year. Although all the projects on the CommonFare platform are European, we still hope to learn from their experience and we will try to import and re-appropriate the ideas in a totally different cultural and socio-economical setting of Pakistan.