On a normal day you will find her working in her garden or sitting in front of her house. A big smile will welcome you and a thousand words of discussion will follow. She takes you to her world of present and past stories. This powerful woman is Elisabeth.
She has been living in Kuling, a small village in Uttarakhand for 16 years. Everybody knows her. Here is how this came about.
What brought her to Kuling
Trekking and mountains have been her life. This journey has taken her from Germany, her home country, to all around the world to finally settle down in Kuling. Touching eighty, she is still filled with energy and passion for the mountains. She even climbed to Junargali at the age of seventy seven!
She spends her time looking after Kuling and its villagers, who have adopted her as one of their own.
In one of her treks to Roopkund, she realised the problems that remote areas are facing, especially in issues related to health and sanitation. A touching situation got her very involved with a specific family from the village of Kuling. So involved, that she decided to abandon her homeland, Germany, and start a new life here. That was only the beginning.
Her Work and Influence
One has to be strong to decide to live alone in a village so remote in the Himalayas. It becomes all the more tough when you are a woman and a foreigner. For Elisabeth, this has always been a challenge but never a limitation.
Education, health and environment have been her main concerns in whatever actions she has taken related to Kuling and its people.
One of her main focus areas is children’s education.
She strongly believes good quality education will bring the children a better future. When she recognises that there is a child with exceptional talent, she gets funding from sponsors to ensure that the child has a bright future and receives a good education. Through her initiative, children from Kuling have had the opportunity to study in big cities such as Dehradun. This opens doors to more possibilities for these children. Currently, she takes care of seven children and supports their education.
After several disappointing experiences with local schools, Elisabeth started running a small library. Children from the village go to the library after school hours. The library has a plethora of books in different languages and categories. This exposes them to ideas that they would not otherwise get in school. Local women take care of this space and help the children select books. This not only helps children to develop their skills but also empowers local women.
The Example that Elisabeth Has Set
Green practices are found frequently in foreign countries. In Elisabeth’s home country Germany, policies are so well implemented that it is a habit for her to recycle, to keep the village clean or to grow her own vegetables instead of buying packaged products. With her daily behaviour, she has become an example for the community.
She makes compost out of her kitchen waste and uses this to nourish her garden where she grows tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables. She also shares this produce with the locals. What is more, she segregates her waste and encourages others in the village to do the same.
Spreading awareness of water pollution and its consequences is another practice is another area of focus for her in Kulling. She boils water so that it is clean and safe to drink. In the village, there used to be clean water before plastic pollution entered the picture. Now when it rains, the garbage in the mountains collects in the water sources and the water gets contaminated. It becomes dangerous to drink. Elisabeth has been educating the community about the ill effects of drinking this water. She encourages them to collect water from safe sources.
Last but not least, she helps the Indiahikes Green Trails initiative whenever she has a chance to interact with trekkers. Kuling is the closes village to our Roopkund base camp. It is not uncommon for trekkers to stop by on their way back from the trek to have a chat with her. She shares her experience and knowledge, talking to them about how overcrowding and pollution are harming the mountain ecology. With them, she stresses the deep need for change in our attitude towards the mountains and why they need to be responsible trekkers.
Her Worries About Environment
Some things make Elisabeth angry. After sixteen years of living in Kuling, she hasn’t been able to change the minds of some locals.
She is deeply concerned about the growing piles of plastic waste in the village or surrounding areas in spite of the awareness campaigns that Green Trails takes up.
She is full of ideas to improve the village with our help. Worried about the limited knowledge that villagers have about wasting management, she is now hopeful about the project that Green Trails is developing – targeting five households as a model to achieve zero waste. She wants this project to be successfully implemented in all houses of the village.
Elizabeth is conscious how vulnerable women are in remote areas, but also their importance in spreading good practices. She tries to empower them by supporting her work in their fields and in their houses.
Recently, she has been sharing her knowledge and experience to help train local women to become Assistant Trek Leaders at Indiahikes.
She believes having the opportunity to be a Trek Leader gives local women confidence to step out of their comfort zone. She hopes it will present them with a new area of occupability along with a way to spread knowledge among the community.
How One Person Makes a Difference
Always critically engaged with all the issues happening around, Elisabeth has become a strong member of the local community.
Having overcome the attitudes with which people react to an outsider, a female foreigner trying to make a difference in the lives of people living in the small village of Kuling, she has inspired us here at Green Trails. She has shown us that a person who persists long enough with their agenda can make a difference.
She has shown us that hard work and a deep passion for the concerns that move you can make an impact in people’s lives. However, the process is never simple or free of obstacles. It’s the strength and resilience with which she has tackled them that has made her our local hero.
Photo credits: Payal Singh
Scroll down and send in your wishes for Elisabeth in the comments section. We will make sure it reaches her.
Have a green idea in your mind that could help the environment out? Comment below or write to our Green Trails Head – Lakshmi at email@example.com.
What you should do now
1. If you want to serve as a Green Trails Intern: Read this article by our Green Trails Head – Lakshmi.
2. If you want to work with us: Head over to our careers page. We have lots of positions open. We also have lots of applications coming in. So the sooner you apply, the better.
3. If you ended up here by chance and were actually looking for treks to do: Then head over to our upcoming treks page. You’ll find all our Himalayan treks there.
4. If you want to see the 13 best treks of India: Then get our guide here.