(May 24, 2023) The Godavari River, winding through the scenic Konaseema district, is a vital lifeline for its residents. Over time, however, pollution has been steadily chipping away at its vitality. Umasri Pujyam, a 15-year-old Memphis-based NRI, has been combating this very issue and has become the voice of the river, making waves in her passionate fight against pollution. In a short span of two years, the young crusader has already conducted over 100 river clean-up days in the Godavari, by bringing together volunteers from the local community to address the grim issue of water and plastic pollution and promoting access to clean drinking water for those affected by this existential threat.
Even though she left for the US when she was just four, her ties to her native place (Ponnamanda village) have always been strong. It was the sight of the once-pristine Godavari river stretch near Razole in the Konaseema district that compelled her into action. “I found that river Godavari, which is central to the livelihoods of millions of people, is facing a range of threats, including water and plastic pollution,” says the teenager, who is also worried about the impact of agricultural practices on the local environment as her village Ponnamanda is largely agriculture-based. Moreover, explaining her mission, she said, “The heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in farming has led to runoff that contaminates streams and rivers, further exacerbating the problem of water pollution. This made me take up the river cleanup and environmental protection mission.”
Journeying to the Godavari River
Leaving the comfort of her home in the US, Umasri, who is currently studying in Class X, embarked on a journey to protect the Godavari’s ecosystem, setting an exemplary model for youth across the world. From organising cleanup drives to rallying local communities, Umasri’s contributions towards reviving the river have been nothing short of extraordinary. She has transformed her journey into a movement, inspiring locals and authorities alike.
When she collected plastic waste from Godavari for 100 days, the act not just inspired the panchayat staff but also created a sense of responsibility among the youth. This led to the formation of ‘Youth Against Water Pollution’, an organisation that’s raising voices against the water issues faced by the people of Konaseema.
It was in 2021 that she began working on the mission while attending virtual classes. Since then, the movement has expanded and so has her outreach. Apart from her fieldwork in India, she is also creating awareness through social media.
Umasri has also been instrumental in raising awareness about the hazards of pollution, not just to the river, but the overall ecosystem. Educational workshops, public awareness campaigns, and open dialogues have become commonplace in the Konaseema district, thanks to Umasri’s initiative. She stresses the importance of sustainable practices and responsible waste disposal, emphasizing that change must start at the grassroots level.
For the last few years, she has been raising alarm against the untreated sewage and plastic – which is the key cause behind the river’s pollution. Moreover, Umasri has been guiding the locals on proper waste disposal and ways to reduce their impact on the environment and water sources. She cleans the river mostly on her own but often finds help from the locals in the form of volunteers. “I have collaborated with local officials and politicians including Amalapuram MP Chinta Anuradha and Razole MLA Rapaka to help work towards better environmental policies and conditions as well,” the Global Indian added. This collective effort has removed tonnes of waste from the river, reducing pollution levels significantly and making a visible impact on the water quality.
In the pipeline
For someone passionate about environmental engineering and technology, she envisions the implementation of waste management systems and the introduction of eco-friendly alternatives to curb pollution. Besides, Umasri also aspires to engineer innovative and effective sewage treatment solutions that will help priortise access to clean water for all.
Her ultimate goal is to have a bright future for the villagers, wherein the health and prosperity of local communities are sustained. Umasri’s campaign is not just about restoring the Godavari River; it’s about empowering the people who depend on it, building a better, sustainable future for them, and the generations to come. This dynamic young leader has shown that every small step matters.