September 2, 2015
R. Karpagam may well be just another homemaker in Ramnagar. She keeps her house sparkling clean and makes great coffee. She is the mother of two daughters and is a supportive wife to her husband, a banker. But, there is much more to her.
The 49-year-old woman is an evangelist for clean, tree-lined streets, apart from being a published writer of fiction for children, and a teacher. Thanks to her, Ramnagar, with its posh hotels and prominent temples, is free of garbage, and is lined with trees. “All service-oriented steps start with a selfish motive,” says Karpagam. “Mine was to keep my area clean. I started by cleaning up 12 streets in Ramnagar.”
Oli Awareness Movement, Karpagam’s 11-year-old organisation, is also involved in conducting blood donation camps, eye camps, planting trees, and holding awareness sessions for children. She was also involved in implementing rain water harvesting systems in Ramnagar, which became the first locality in Coimbatore to achieve 100% success in executing the government order.
But her passion is to keep her locality clean. In 2004, she met former Corporation Commissioner D. Karthikeyan, who advised her to form a group of like-minded women. He promised to meet her in a fortnight after a trip to New Delhi. “I did not even have a visiting card at that time. I just gave him my credentials in a piece of paper. Oli was born in 15 days, in May 2004. I also managed to get the help of seven other women including my sister,” says Karpagam.
With the help of the corporation, she engages conservancy workers to go from house to house. However, initial efforts in collecting waste failed as the corporation did not have the infrastructure to segregate the garbage at source into organic and inorganic. But Karpagam did not give up. She trained the conservancy staff and raised awareness among housewives in Ramnagar. “I had to give them lecturers, but, at the end, I was able to get their cooperation,” she says.
With the contributions from the residents of her neighbourhood, she bought 12 pushcarts. “Until then, people used to dump garbage in each other’s neighbourhood, which led to frequent quarrels. Then I advised them to segregate and leave the wastes at their doorstep from where the conservancy staff would gather them up. We asked the conservancy workers to alert the residents by blowing a whistle. I also distributed pamphlets about the importance of hygiene in Ramnagar,” she said.
The former teacher, who has just submitted her PhD thesis in English at Mother Teresa University in Kodaikanal, takes tuition classes for children aged between 13 and 17. “My students affectionately call me aunt and help me in my activities,” she says.
Rajitha and Lakshmi Suresh are homemakers in Ramnagar who have benefited from Karpagam’s anti-garbage drive. “She keeps persuading us to dispose of garbage in a clean manner. She is doing a great service to the neighbourhood,” they say.
Dr K Mythili, a senior civil surgeon at the Government Medical College, says, “People in the locality now are more aware about hygiene.”
Karpagam however knows that there is tremendous scope to improve.