A handful of small children from a village school in Madhya Pradesh were sweating and panting under the harsh sun and having their mid-day meal four summers ago.
There was not a single tree, not even a thicket, to give them some semblance of shade around the school compound.
Cut to 2016, the children from Pipaliya Kumar village in state’s Agar Malwa district eat, play and pray in lush greenery around their school.
The credit for this transformation goes to 30-year-old schoolteacher Hemraj Balodiya, who refused to limit his contribution to society by teaching just the alphabets to children but instill in them the knowledge of nature.
A teacher for the past decade at Pipaliya Kumar’s state-run middle school, he has singlehandedly grown a green spot out of an arid, barren land. “He is a teacher but his heart, soul and mind lie in the mission to spread greenery and encourage villagers to do the same,” a villager said.
Balodiya mission began four years ago when he saw his students eating their mid-day meal in the open under a scorching summer sun. “The place was barren and I decided to turn it green,” he said.
One the idea took roots there was no turning back despite hardships such getting “water for irrigation as the area was reeling from drought”.
“How to protect the saplings after school hours as cattle destroys them? But things fell in place with support from villagers and school kids who shared the work,” Balodiya said.
The teacher, who lives in Agar with his wife and two daughters, bicycles 10km to the school every morning to either plant new saplings or water the old plants without fail.
“I have two kids at home but hundreds at Pipaliya Kumar to nurture and protect,” he said.
His work is not only appreciated by the villagers but also by government officials.
“His effort is inspirational and other teachers and villagers should follow in his footsteps as it will help conserve the environment and create mass awareness, the need of the hour,” district education officer Anand Vaskale said.
Balodiya’s dream has grown beyond Pipaliya Kumar too.
“My dream is to see every village with greenery and to make people aware that the environment should be preserved for the future generation.”