In 1959, Jadav (Molai) Payeng was born into the Mising tribe in India. As a teenager he became concerned about the environment when he saw the forest where he played being destroyed by erosion. The forest had become a desert. Jadav began working with the forestry division, working with others to stop the erosion by planting trees.
Jadav recognized that the effort to stop the erosion would not be successful unless it was sustained. He decided to remain and keep working on his own to ensure the trees thrived. As part of this commitment, he started a personal habit of planting one tree every day.
He struggled to find seeds at first. He especially wanted to plant a variety of trees. Over time, his trees thrived and produced their own seeds. Eventually Jadav’s forest extended over an area of 1,360 acres. A short film, Forest Man, can give you a sense of how the forest grew (some images of the scenery are here).
Jadav and his family live in a small hut in the forest. He raised cattle and buffalo and sold their milk to sustain his family. He received no other funds.
The forest that Jadav created is now home to Bengal tigers, rhinoceros, monkeys, and a great variety of birds. Elephants will also venture into the forest. In fact, Jadav’s efforts had largely gone unknown until the elephants were discovered on what the government previously thought was a desert.
Not many would believe that one person could create a forest but Jadav did. He achieved this by forming a habit of planting a tree each day. He sustained this habit for 40 years. Jadav received no government support and no help from outside of his own family.
Most people profess they want to make a difference with their lives but don’t know how. Often making a difference is associated with being in a leadership position. Jadav is an example of how a single individual can make a difference by forming a daily habit.
Just imagine how our society might change if each of us formed a daily habit toward making a positive difference. These habits don’t need to be grand, but they do need to be sustained. The difference habit can be directed toward a societal impact like Jadav’s. But they can also be directed at differences made in the lives of others. Just imagine how these daily habits will enrich your own life and the lives of others. Just imagine the power of making a difference in a way that is not constrained by others. The joy of taking on your own quest to make a difference is far richer when such efforts need not be compelled by some official authority.
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“It will be a beautiful thing if a child is taught to plant a sapling or a seed when he is initiated in school and as he grows up, he or she is taught to take care of it and be responsible for it. If this had been done 30 years back by all of us, would global warming and climate change have dared to touch us?”–Jadav Payeng, the Forest Man of India
This is part of our “Just Imagine” series of occasional posts, inviting you to join us in imagining positive possibilities for a citizen-centered democracy.