The Geo Explore Foundation (GEF) is on a 360’ mission – as the name amplifies, exploring the earth closer to our habitats, zeroing in on man-made destruction – all the while, initiating far-reaching solutions that are surprisingly simple, resourceful and yet, beautifully sustainable!
Our not-for-profits Foundation is inspired on the belief that, to successfully effect change, hearts must be won in the first place. This is the corner-stone to reverse-engineering and we call it ‘Backdoor Engineering’.
What’s Backdoor Engineering?
This innovative model first considers the human mind. Today, people are endowed with problems in all shapes and sizes, including the life-threatening problem of environmental destruction. If the clarion call for urgent action has been heard, the situation would be far more promising. Instead, we are hurtling down the precipice of destruction.
We have found a different way to secure effective action – we go through the backdoor! We identify the problems – one at a time, innovate resourceful solutions, connect the dots and welcome people into the wonderful world of solutions where we dress up problems with solutions – show where we really ought to be – and the response is overwhelming.
We planted ourselves in the epicenter of trouble – the northern edge of Sri Lanka’s most famous wildlife park. When we first stepped foot in the hamlet of Dambeyaya in Okkampitiya, Buttala, life here was torn asunder by a protracted war. People were driven off this border village by a violence; one more bloody attack occurred while we were there!
On the other side of Kumbukkan Oya (River) that separates civilization from the deeps of the Yala National Park, the protracted war offered the perfect circumstances for destruction of one of the country’s greatest assets. Strewen across Yala were countless ancient treasures and a feast of nature – in the form of a resplendent habitat rich in flora and fauna, laced with precious stones. Fortune hunters, loggers, miners and poachers were burning the midnight oil – absolutely unchecked.
We researched the burning issues grappling nature – and a downtrodden people of this vast natural haven of Sri Lanka’s south-east. This is where Geo-Explore Foundation’s ‘out-of-the-box’ approach came to the fore. Foundation’s sustainable development model, KumbukRiver was born in the year 2005. Centerpiece of this eco-lodge was a towering eco villa in the shape of a 40ft elephant, the mascot for the Foundation. KumbukRiver captured the attention of the world to Sri Lanka’s richness in bio-diversity and brought it to the forefront in Asia’s forays in responsible tourism. KumbukRiver soon emerged as Sri Lanka’s highest awarded resort on the world scene, winning the Travel Oscar as the world’s leading eco-lodge and is also among the world’s top 10 most unusual hotels.
First to be enlisted on to the cause of GEF, through KumbukRiver, were poachers, loggers and miners, all plying an illicit craft for living. GEF’s far-reaching Geo 360’ model built on education, inspiration, ownership, economic success and accountability was homegrown, Villagers driven by poverty to plunder nature’s bounty soon emerged as its most ardent guardians. Among GEF’s primary focuses at present is an ambitious reforestation programme. What makes it poignantly different is the 360’ sustainability formula which lends conservation true meaning and longevity.
GEF is currently developing a far reaching matrix of conservation revolving around Teachers and Children with Trees in the center. The extensive strategy takes into consideration many underlying factors that contribute to degradation of bio diversity. Foremost among culprits are crumbling rural economies, threatened livelihoods, lack of governance, values and awareness.
GEF’s sustainable model of conservation involves the identified triad with a solution based on tackling core issues while presenting a refreshingly resourceful intervention at grass-root level.
Inspired by Dr. Dinesh Watawana’s prognosis on psychological engineering GEF’s Junior Ranger Programme is a game-changer and will enlist the greatest human asset and influencer – children, into a development model of epic proportions.
The project under research and development at ground level works along the following premises:
Identified as one of the key factors in social degradation, a large percentage of teachers is caught in the poverty trap themselves – poor in lifestyle, personality, modern thinking and poor economically. The success of the triad hinges on the transformation of teachers first! A teacher transformation model is being trialed based on role-modeling where international volunteer teachers are deployed as influencers in an exchange that benefits both.
Geo 3600 is our way forward – where conservation happens through ownership by its custodians, the villagers who will naturally protect the bio-diversity of their habitat because it brings them economic success and better living. This model will have them educated on all fronts – from conservation to wealth and value-creation. And GEF believes children are the bridge to a brand new sunrise!
The multi-tiered village-reawakening programme will see both teacher influencers and teachers working together in implanting and overseeing the Junior Ranger Programme. The influence of empowered children will be channeled in a sustainable family and village upliftment initiative mapped out with schools, village roads and home gardens as first touch points which will witness progressive results in the areas of education, empowerment, conservation, beautification and economic inclusion. The model village in the making will, with the assistance of Sri Lankan Government, be replicated into the far corners of this beautiful island.
GEF’s revolution off the beaten-track is getting the attention of the government of Sri Lanka as a role-model for the whole country. There’s an on-going dialogue in this regard with the National Sustainable Development Council. We are currently doing the spadework for a true revelation.
GEF is collaborating with the Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka (SDC), the government body empowered to ensure all Sri Lankan State institutions including Ministries conform to 2030 Sustainable Vision. As a result of representation, SDC is considering our pilot project becoming Sri Lanka’s Model Village in sustainable development.
Under this scheme outlined elsewhere, GEF will initiate Garden Forests in schools, village roads and home plots of villagers. Garden Forests will be engineered under premise of SECURITY: personal/food/health/economic and nature.
GEF is deeply rooted, for fifteen years now, in the deeps of Buttala, a locality in the poorest district in Sri Lanka. Rising from the clutches of poverty is a new model in sustainable development. Wheels are now in motion in pioneering a model village in sustainable development – a model the authors expect would turn in to a template on which villages across the island could transform, ushering a new sunrise. GEF is in dialogue with the government’s top agents in the district as such partnerships are vital for the greater good of the mission.
On GEF’s Field Base in Buttala, a new forest is growing on a land expanse of over 10 acres, once destroyed by unchecked slash and burn farming. Grown as a model tropical forest, the new green oasis will also feed our plant bank which will support ‘green’ projects of partner universities and organizations. Future expansion includes reforestation on the Yala Buffer Zone and a mass-scale reforestation project with the cooperation of the local government authorities.
The Triad of Conservation may seem simple at first glance. But harsh realities of life off the beaten-track means that no one problem, be it forest degradation or child education, can be tackled in isolation. This is why GEF’s 360’ approach is of paramount importance and the remedial process is leveraged decisively on the principles of human psychology evoking a response of empathy and ownership, at every turn.
It is in this light that we give special emphasis to our Plant Potting Programme.
Hundreds of thousands of seeds sprouting out on the riverbed of our Field Base are collected and transported to the houses of rural women. Some sources out plants themselves. Compelled to support their men in the field, their children are often left unattended triggering huge social ramifications.