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“True service to the community is service to God.”
Mrs. Anne Maier
Even before the government of India initiated the Clean India Mission in 2014, Shanthimalai Amma began quietly cleaning the ancient pilgrimage road around Arunachala, the Holy Mountain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. Through her example, others became inspired to support this effort and Shanthimalai established the Girivalam Seva Project (GVS).
In 2021, Shanthimalai received the “Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Award” in recognition of Amma’s ongoing efforts to care for the pilgrimage path and protect the environment.
As a spiritual center, Arunachala regularly attracts huge crowds of people, especially at full moon and on festival days when hundreds of thousands arrive in the area during a 24-hour period. In the past, bags and food containers were biodegradable, but in modern times plastic waste pollutes the groundwater and life-sustaining wells run dry when trash blocks water inflow. Pathogens in the litter are a health risk, especially for children and the elderly. Cows, monkeys, and dogs eat the garbage, accidentally ingesting plastic and glass, and often die miserably.
GVS has cleaned and restored an 8-kilometer section of the ancient holy path and maintains it regularly with the care and respect it deserves.
Every day, the project sends out two crews to keep public areas litter-free. Each crew employs about 12 people. Daily they work to reduce compacted waste that is decades old. They also pick up new litter, empty the 500 trash barrels GVS has installed, and plant and maintain trees along the path.
The project employs widows and other destitute women who otherwise would have difficulty finding jobs. Their efforts to improve the environment on behalf of the whole community have had an impact on residents and visitors alike, creating new attitudes toward litter. Now pilgrims, roadside vendors, and even children are often seen walking over to GVS trash barrels to dispose of their waste.
GVS is funded through private, tax-deductible donations. Costs for this project average about $1,000 each month.
For the foreseeable future, sustaining this important model for litter management will fall to like-minded donors who want to make our home, this earth, a little better for everyone.
Support Environmental Awareness & Stewardship. Please consider honoring Arunachala’s ancient, holy atmosphere by making a contribution to the Girivalam Service Project today.
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