Celebrate Great Outdoors America Week!
I grew up in India, in a beautiful city called Pune, surrounded by lush green hills of the Sahyadri mountain range. As a child there was only one thing I was interested in – playing outdoors. When most of my friends were busy cuddling their teddy bears and Barbie dolls, I was most worried about my shoes wearing out, and how I would have to convince my mother to buy me new ones!
Whether it was during school hours or during my holidays, nothing gave me more pleasure than playing a game of hide-and-seek with my gang. As the number of vehicles in our neighborhood increased and the space to play became more restricted, we even found a way to incorporate the parked vehicles into our games! I loved the sweat from running around in the summers, I loved the cool breeze on my face in the winters, and I loved my mucky clothes and shoes after playing in the monsoon rains. I was fortunate to be exposed early on, and the outdoors soon became the focus of my life.
At the age of thirteen I got the opportunity to do a trek in the Himalayas. I was thrilled, but I didn’t know it would change my life. It did. I cannot explain the magical experience I had on that first trek - the smell of the rhododendrons, the fresh air, and the mystical snow-clad mountains took me into a meditative and peaceful other world. Even after the trip ended, the effects lasted, and so I tried to go there every year. After graduating from school I even took up odd jobs to finance my treks. I had fallen madly in love with the mountains and the beauty of nature.
Since then I have trekked extensively in the Himalayas, either alone or with friends. I worked as a camp instructor with an eco-tourism organization, introducing groups of children to the mountains, the forests, and the sea. Through nature trails, we would help them connect and appreciate the importance of nurturing and caring for the environment. I feel proud to say that many kids from those camps have become young environmentalists, leading other kids on camps and sharing what they learnt in the process. Spending time in the outdoors has made them confident, and they have developed into more mature, evolved, and responsible individuals. Not to forget that the happiness quotient amongst these kids has tremendously increased, and parents don’t have to worry about their physical and mental health anymore!
I have seen how transformative being close to nature can be, and I would like to continue to contribute to this cause through the Great Outdoors America Week. Enough people need to be convinced that a certain change is a good idea for it to actually make a difference, and I would like to play my part in making that happen.
I urge each one of you to come together during this week to explore and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Hopefully you will be inspired to participate in making this movement a way of life.
- Yakuta Poonawalla, Apprentice, Conservation Operations, Sierra Club and delegate at the 2011 Great Outdoors America week in Washington, DC.