Launched in India in April 2014 as part of Disney India's Corporate Citizenship, Friends for Change is an interschool volunteering program, which focuses on the transformation of neglected green spaces in the capital city. With support of local authorities and with schools as the focal point, children from the 7th grade onwards, their parents, teachers and local communities engaged in identifying, adopting and developing an urban green space in their neighbourhood.
On February 10, 2016, the culmination of the second edition of Disney India’s Friends for Change was held at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture. The event was attended by students, teachers and principals from the seven participating schools, as well as representatives from other schools. Summer Fields School, Kailash Colony, was named the winner of “Disney India’s Friends for Change 2015-2016,” for bringing impressive changes to Shri Mahavirji Mandr Park in Pushp Vihar. Kesari Devi Bajaj Public School, Ghaziabad, was announced as the runner-up for transforming the Jawahar Vatika in Ghaziabad. There was also a Jury Special Mention winner – DLF Public School, Ghaziabad, for the unique involvement of young stakeholders, kids from neighboring areas, to transform Ekta Park.
“Friends for Change was globally initiated in 2009 by Disney. The program was launched to focus on conservation, a core pillar of our Citizenship programs,” said Siddharth Roy Kapur, Managing Director, Disney India. “In India, we felt the initiative could be structured to address the urgent needs of the local environment – to conserve and preserve depleting green spaces. We recognized that through a hands-on participative process, children can be the best stewards of change. We are glad to have been able to unite students, local authorities and communities for the second year; encourage them to collaborate, adopt and transform parks to meet the needs of society while developing an ecologically sustainable system. Over the two-year journey, 16 schools and hundreds of students have inculcated a sense of responsibility to protect and preserve the environment for future generations. The initiative has received phenomenal support and it motivates us to continue our effort in the coming years.”
During the transformation process of the adopted parks, students went through intensive sessions with environmental experts to gain an understanding of the importance of cultivating native species, rainwater harvesting, soil testing, plantation process, and more. They also conducted street plays and held “plantation drives” to raise awareness about green spaces, which received overwhelming support from the local authorities and communities.
In December 2015, after the schools completed their work in their adopted parks, an eminent jury panel visited all the parks and chose the winners based on infrastructure development, water source utilization, plantation, stakeholder involvement, sustainability and innovation. The jury was comprised of technical experts including Ranjit Lal (Writer and Birder), Radhika Suri (Director, WWF), Dr Faiyaz Khudsar (Scientist-in-charge, Yamuna Biodiversity Park), Vijay Dhasmana (Ecological Gardening & Horticulturist), Akshay Kaul, (Sustainable Landscape Architect), and representatives from Disney India and CMS.
This year, Disney India also initiated a Maintenance Grant that will be provided to a school that participated in the previous year’s Friends for Change program. The grant is given for the school’s sustained efforts in upkeep and further development of its adopted park. After a thorough evaluation of the existing state of the green spaces by the jury, 2014’s participating school Bal Bharati Public School, Brij Vihar, Ghaziabad was awarded the grant and the Rolling Trophy for continued maintenance of their park through the year.
In 2014, nine schools and more than 3,000 students participated in the Friends for Change program and transformed over 20,000 square metres of urban green spaces and planted more than 16,000 saplings. Disney India continued its partnership with CMS (www.cmsindia.org), a Delhi-based non-government think-tank, in the second edition of the initiative.