Getting lost in nature with an intention to find something, two science teachers Manzoor Javaid and Dr. Rouf Hamza Boda often go for walks to forests and mountains. The duo nature lovers who share the same interests, met each other in an event in 2014 and since then, they have been working together to explore the bounties of nature.
Often referred to as two men army these teachers, apart from their routine duties, sensitize school students, teachers and locals through various programs and events they conduct every now and then.
Currently, working as lecturers in the School Education Department, they are actively engaged in exploring medicinal plant wealth and fossils of Jammu and Kashmir.
Dr. Rouf said that there are more than 500 different species of medicinal plants in the forests of Kashmir which can be used to cure diseases ranging from common cold to cancer.
“The underground stem of Podophyllum hexandrum is an anticancer plant. The bark of Taxus wallichiana, having anti-cancer properties, was used as a substitute for tea. This is possibly one of the reasons why earlier there was less incidence of cancer cases in Kashmir. But unfortunately, the tree was over exploited for its red wood and removal of the bark of this tree, it has now become a critically endangered tree. There are other herbs and trees which are of great therapeutic and economic significance and must be conserved at all costs,” he said.
The teachers have also established many herbal gardens in Higher Secondary Schools and DIETS of Jammu and Kashmir. Manzoor has established one of the richest herbal gardens with more than 160 species of herbs at Achabal.
The idea of herbal gardens and School Herbal Gardens scheme is to educate the students about the rich biodiversity. In school herbal gardens, the medicinal plants are cultivated over a small patch of land. Some of the plants are rare and usually grow in mountains while some are procured from the nurseries of the forest department, floriculture department and Manzoor’s herbal garden.
“We cultivate these plants with active participation of the teachers and the students. The main objective of establishing these herbal gardens is to acquaint the students with gardening techniques, appreciating the nature, herbal medicine, botanical names and the local names of such plants. When they cultivate, it becomes easy for them to recognise and remember their names," Manzoor said.
Getting a financial assistance of 53 lakh from National Medicinal Plants Boards New Delhi in the year 2016-17, the duo is now working on the establishment of 644 Herbal Gardens in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions.
Having interest in astronomy, the two are working on astronomy clubs, aero-modeling clubs, science centers, science parks and much more for the students to explore and learn.
In order to give better laboratory facilities to the students of rural areas, they put forth an idea of Science on the Go - mobile science laboratories in 2017 which has been accepted by the then government and the MHRD.
Dr. Rouf said, “The idea came to our mind that students belonging to the outskirts don’t get lab facilities. We came up with an idea of having 4 medium sized mobile buses which were equipped with all the Lab equipment for hands-on activities along with the high-resolution astronomical telescope.”
Manzoor and Dr. Rouf are also among the founding members of Science Teachers Association Jammu & Kashmir dedicated to popularization of science through hands-on activities, star gazing, watching planets through telescopes, nature camps, teacher training, displaying medicinal plants, exhibitions etc.
To clear various doubts of biology in an innovative way, they recently created the first ever “Biodiversity Wall” in Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Verinag which received overwhelming response and appreciation.
The wall has 16 different galleries of different groups of plant and animal species like Galleries of sea shells, collection of Plumage, woods of Kashmir, fossils, seeds, mushrooms, herbal products and much more.
“A glimpse of the Biodiversity Wall gives firsthand information about various organisms and their importance to the visitors. The students will enrich their knowledge about learning various concepts through fun and innovatively,” Manzoor said.
Having made a number of videos on diverse themes like environment, water, climate change, biodiversity, fossils etc. they have started their own YouTube channel- Green Tube.
Healing Herbs of Heaven- a documentary on medicinal plants of Kashmir, Ticking Bomb of Plastic, Water-the signature of Life, Morels-The kings of wild mushrooms and the Green Gold on Fire- A documentary on forest fire was made in collaboration with Department of EMMRC, University of Kashmir.
In July 2021, the two teachers discovered a gigantic fossil site at Ahrabal, about two Kilometers from the Ahrabal waterfall. According to them, the fossils found there are impressions of millions of years old organisms.
A few days ago, seven more fossil sites were discovered by them at various locations in South Kashmir. Dr Rouf said, “One of the fossil sites at HaalKhah-Tsuntihal Junction in Chittergull area is rich in plant fossils diversity and petrified wood. The whole area is in fact, a Petrified Wood Forest which could be millions of years old.”
In the month of October, a rich and interesting site of great geological importance with exquisite geological formations and remnants of volcanic activity was found in the Dethu area, said Manzoor.
The site has fossils of various Palaeozoic organisms like Brachiopods, Stromatoporoids, stromatolites, Bivalves, Glossopteris, extensive Piddock rock borings, petrified wood & Ichnofossils of various types.
Talking about the Tree Talk Campaign of Om Prakash Sharma, former Additional Principal Chief, Conservator Forests, Manzoor stated that the locals, tourists, and children are given information about nature.
“We involve the general public in the campaign where they too share their experiences. This is how we disseminate information to people,” he said.
Plastic Tide Turner program is an international program of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to get rid of plastic and find suitable alternatives. Manzoor was the State Coordinator of the program while Dr. Rouf coordinated in Jammu & the Ladakh region.
He said, “Whether it is a nature walk or a routine class, we do inform students about the harmful effects of plastic. All the stakeholders must join their hands and heads together to get rid of this menace and the educational institutions have to play a pivotal role.”
Talking more about the plastic and its usage, Dr. Rouf added, “We have found the presence of plastic in the feces of birds and wild animals which is quite alarming. It has entered almost every food chain and caused huge damage.”
The duo has been felicitated and awarded on a number of occasions. Dr. Rouf is the recipient of “Innovative Science Teacher award-2013”, Best Science Communicator award -2018 and the Global Role Model Teacher Award for his contribution to the field of science as a teacher.
The awards received by Manzoor Javaid include Innovation Science Teacher Award - 2011, S.K.Mahajan Award from Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE, TIFR) Mumbai and many other awards. Manzoor being the first person who collaborated with J&K State Council for Science and Technology, established the first ever Science Centre in the year 2000 and procured a Portable Planetarium from the department to start Astronomy Popularization in Schools.
To create awareness about the environment, a number of books/brochures were designed and published in collaboration with WWF-India and distributed among the students of Jammu and Kashmir. Numerous other workshops, interactive sessions, nature walks and exploration camps were organized by them.
“The work we have initiated must be carried forward with zeal and zest so that the younger generation is fully aware, well equipped with the requisite knowledge, appropriate skills and techniques to meet the future challenges. The teacher is at the center stage who has to be the torch bearers and lead from the front” they said.