By: Amanda Froelich,
If all people decided to take action every time an injustice was witnessed, there would never be any need for squabble to detract from the opportunities at hand. This is exactly what Jadav Payeng decided when he realized his home in India’s northern Assam region needed more trees to protect its wildlife.
It all started in 1979 when large floods washed a great amount of snakes ashore the sandbar near the then-16-year-old’s home. After the tide had receded, Payeng found the place dotted with the dead reptiles; this spurred a turning point in his life.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” says Payeng, now 47.
After the eye-opening event, Jadav then began burying seeds along the barren sandbar to grow a refuge for wildlife. It has taken over thirty years for his hard work to receive well-deserved attention internationally, but it didn’t take long for the region to benefit from the manufactured forest. To date, Jadav has planted over 1,360 acres of forest on his own.
Demonstrating a keen understanding of ecological balance, Payeng even transplanted ants to his burgeoning ecosystem to bolster its natural harmony. Before long, the shade-less sandbar was transformed into a self-functioning environment where a menagerie of creatures could dwell. The lush forest, now called the Molai woods, presently serves as a safe haven for numerous birds, deer, rhinos, tigers, and elephants – species increasingly at risk from habitat loss.
Interestingly enough, despite the conspicuousness of the project, forest officials only recently became aware of the new forest in 2008. Since then, though, they’ve come to realize his efforts as truly remarkable.
“We’re amazed at Payeng,” says Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of Forests. “He has been at it for 30 years. Had he been in any other country, he would have been made a hero.”
While his efforts may have not received the amount of recognition they so deserve, Payeng’s example importantly shines as inspiration for all who at any time have more opportunity than they might think to powerfully impact the world.
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