Isha Foundation founded by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is a volunteer run, international not for profit organization dedicated to cultivating human potential. The foundation is a human service organization that recognizes the possibility of each person to empower another through individual transformation. At the core of the foundation’s activities is a customized system of yoga called Isha Yoga.
This vibrant, spiritual movement also implements several large-scale human service projects to revitalize and rebuild communities and restore the environment.
Project GreenHands, Isha’s environmental initiative is a massive public reforestation effort that aims to increase the green cover of Tamil Nadu to the required 33% green cover. The project mission is to inspire people, enable them to realize their inevitable dependency on nature and make them plant trees.
Project GreenHands gives paramount importance to beneficiary motivation. The project has over 100 nurseries spread across Tamil Nadu. Thanks to the strong volunteer base of Isha Yoga meditators who during weekends and spare time volunteer at the nursery, nearly 30 to 35 Lakh saplings are produced every year. These saplings are then distributed to general public, students, farmers, corporate houses and NGOs who assume responsibility for the trees planted.
By including all beneficiaries in the process, instilling a strong sense of ownership and by building up a relationship between people and trees, PGH seeks to ensure the sustainability of the program. The involvement of women and children is also a cornerstone of PGH’s policies and child-focused group discussions held in rural areas are a valuable tool used by PGH. Plant nurseries are a key component of the PGH strategy. Thirty six varieties of saplings including timber, fruit, fuel, fodder and medicinal plants are produced in these nurseries to suit different ecological zones.
Since its inception in 2004, the project has enabled the planting over 1.7 Crore saplings till date.
The project has earned several recognitions from the national and international arena.
- In October 2006, 256,289 people volunteered to plant 852,587 saplings in 6,284 locations across 27 districts in TN, and with this initiative, PGH made an entry to Guinness World Record.
- In 2010, Government of India (GoI) awarded PGH with the Indira Gandhi Pariyavaran Puraskaar, the highest award given by GoI to individuals and organizations that have made significant and measurable contributions in the field of environment protection and improvement.
- In the same year, Project PGH won the Beyond Sport Award for the category “Sports for Environment” at a summit in Chicago, US. This award is given to organizations that use sports as a tool to mobilize community for their social cause.
- On April 5th, 2012, the Department of Environment of the Tamil Nadu State Government awarded Project GreenHands with the “Environmental Award – 2010”
Sadhguru, the visionary behind Project GreenHands talks about trees. He says “In the Indian culture, there are temples for trees, people worship trees; it’s a very common practice. It is not a question of custom. It came from a certain experience and understanding – you understand that whatever nurtures your life is worth worshipping”.
Project GreenHands works because at its core it trusts that people can make the difference in their own lives; that with the right education and help, they will naturally take responsibility for healing their land and themselves. The project offers hope and possibility where there was none and purposefully generates public ownership of the project instead of dependence on outside intervention.
PGH also works to break down social divides, bringing employers and employees, schoolchildren, self-help groups, teenagers to work side by side in the nurseries to grow and tend the saplings. NGOs and schools also grow and plant their own trees, university students are sponsoring villages while they study, and 160 Isha Foundation yoga centres offer volunteering within Project GreenHands as one of their ‘pathways of service’.
PGH has obvious importance as a global carbon sink. Few projects can match the scale of work undertaken during the last 9 years. Together with the significant social benefits of the trees, PGH provides a template for best practice that other NGOs can replicate.
Although Project Green Hands has been working in Tamil Nadu, it is not limited to any state, and looks forward to offering guidance and support to any NGO working towards the same end.