This is the face of one of Earths shining lights for the future and shine it does. In far away Odisha, India a peaceful revolution is quietly occurring and is being spearheaded by a determined young man Mr Soumya Ranjan Bismal.
I came across Soumya in one of the many online facebook groups interested in going plastic free and zero waste. He was busily walking the beach removing plastics he found washed up in an area where the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle nesting grounds are located. I was so impressed with his work I sent him an “Earth Thanks You” commendation and that was the beginning of our online friendship.
I began to question Soumya and soon found that he was doing a lot more than removing some plastic from the beach areas. So much in fact that I thought several blog articles would perhaps cover everything. He was educating children in schools about the importance of protecting their wildlife and especially their turtles, had organised over 150 plastic and other rubbish removals from beaches, was educating the towns folk, working with the women of the area to reforest large cyclone damaged areas and much more.
Ultimately it started with concern for the turtle nesting grounds in his home state Odisha, India
I asked Soumya why he began doing this and why he was doing what he was presently:
“There is an eco club in each high school in India. The Government of India funds this in major high schools. When I was in my year 8 class I was involved in the school program. It made me concerned about our destruction of Mother Nature as the Devi Turtle Nesting zone is close to our village”
The mouth of the Devi river is a nesting ground for olive ridley sea turtles during their breeding season. It is estimated about 800,000 turtles come to this region every winter for breeding. In 2007 it was noticed a great number of these turtles were washing up on the shores dead. So something had to be done about it by the locals and the government. Soumya says:
“I really understood the huge pollution occurring and resulting death of turtles in our area in my 12th grade. So I stared my mission when I was 17 years old. I first started to visit each coastal village connected to the Devi turtle nesting zone. I requested all the villagers to say no to polyethylene. Then gradually I spread the issue with multiple take ups. One fact made me just angry. When a tiger faced death or when an elephant faced death it was getting a big headlines but thousands of endangered sea turtles faced death everyday and our marine habitats were under a high threat with plastic covered beaches. This was getting no highlighting on television. The Marine ecosystem was being completely ignored so I stood up for the importance of the marine ecosystem as a coastal boy. I started my mission as one single person. I am only now twenty two years of age. But from eighteen to twenty two years of age I know I created a milestone in our Odisha.”
Soumya was eventually joined by another very dedicated person Dillip Kumar Bismal.
“Dillip is not any relative of mine but many people ask if we are. His house is 100kms away from my house. When I was in my Bachelor of Commerce in the second year in 2017 one junior from Bachelor of Arts class came to me and asked said he was inspired by my works and he wanted to do the same work. I saw Dillip’s enthusiasm and dedication. Together we thought more how to enhance the mission. He is the backbone and patience to our campaign.”
Soumya and Dillip proceeded to take their environmental message to many coastal villages. Donning turtle costumes to draw attention and communicate immediately with the children in 2018 they rode 800kms this featured in the Limca Book of Records in India as the Longest Cycle Ride for Turtles. In 2019 from January 5th to 2nd February they rode 1200kms covering all the fishing community villages of Odisha’s coast to encourage them to not pollute and to look after their Olive Ridley turtles. This was very well received. They also received a commendation from Odisha’s Minister of Forest and Environment. In August the leading english newspaper Indian Express gave Soumya and Dillip recognition by including them in the top 40 Most Inspirational Eco-Sapiens of India and validated their hard work at a ceremony in Hyderabad.
Soumya and Dillip expanded their operations greatly to cover
1. Turtle conservation of the nesting grounds
2. Night patrolling and protection of the sea turtles
3. Long costume cycling to save sea turtles and to control ocean pollution
4. Providing training to turtle volunteers for better hatchery management for a greater survival of hatching turtles
5. Visits to schools for environmental awareness programs
6. Mangrove forest Protection
7. Digging ponds in summer time inside forests to provide drinking waters for wild animals.
8. Plantations and spreading awareness to save trees
The mission has not been without its setbacks. In May 2019 Cyclone Funi hit the Odisha coast causing widespread damage and destruction to the villages as well as the forests and coastal areas. Dillip’s family home unfortunately was badly damaged and and much of their stored rice. Despite this major set back with one of his very loyal helpers Soumya continues to shine through and continue with his message further taking on the role of coordinating seedball preparation with many of the village women to assist in replanting a vast amount of trees that were damaged during the storm.
Most astoundingly Soumya does this all without a bike, a car or a motorbike. The bikes that Soumya and Dillip used for their earlier long turtle ride campaign were lent to the two by a gentleman in Hyderabad.
This of course causes difficulties for Soumya to get to all the places he would like to to spread his message, collect plastic and all the other things he is doing. Sometimes he walks 20kms a day just to get things done and relies on the charity and kindness of friends with vehicles, yet despite everything Soumya continues with his mission.
I spoke with him at length about his transport situation. It would seem best for him to own a strong bicycle that can carry heavy loads (30-40kg) and/or even another person as well as cope with the harsh conditions of the area.
He has not directly asked for any help and this is what makes me so admire this man. I think he deserves some sort of reward for all his hard work.
Is there is anyone who would like to donate towards Soumya having a bike that will survive all types of harsh conditions? Please contact me if you are interest or share this story with someone you know who could assist me to make this small gift a possibility. Perhaps we could set up some sort of donation system or find someone on the ground in India who could help with this and help this hardworking man get transport that is more reliable in harsh conditions to make his ongoing mission easier.
I will do my best to support Soumya and his wonderful volunteers and work through communicating the wonderful work they are doing and hope they will be an inspiration to others all around the world.