Tarumitra NGO president speaks at Lehigh


For the past 10 years, Lehigh has actively contributed to youth NGO programs through its partnership with the United Nations.

This year, Mikayla Cleary-Hammarstedt, ’18, is being given the opportunity to work with an organization in India called Tarumitra. Due to Cleary-Hammarstedt’s involvement with this program, Rev. Robert Athickal, the president of Tarumitra, came to Lehigh to talk about his NGO and its mission.

Tarumitra began in 1988 when a group of students in India decided to start a rally for the environment. Since then, it has grown exponentially and recently received the highest NGO honor from the United Nations. In addition, it has had an impact on both the students who attend one of the Tarumitra campuses, as well as the environmental issues of India. Several students have even gone on to become prominent environmental figureheads in the U.N.

Tarumitra or Friends of Trees is one of the many NGOs that works with Lehigh at the United Nations through the LU/UN partnership. (Courtesy of Tarumitra)

Tarumitra or Friends of Trees is one of the many NGOs that works with Lehigh at the United Nations through the LU/UN partnership. (Courtesy of Tarumitra)

“At Tarumitra, our main goal is to create more spirituality with the environment and be more environmentally responsible,” Athickal said.

Tarumitra is an organization that strives for better treatment of the environment in a country that has recently experienced an incredibly large loss in the diversity of plants and trees.

“India once had over 1,400 varieties of trees, but today only 25 varieties are left,” Athickal said of the environmental degradation that India has experienced.

While this degradation has previously been an issue, Tarumitra is working to revitalize the biodiversity all over India. The organization has opened schools in Patna, Baroda, Attapadi, Raichur, and has recently submitted the plans to open another school in Shillong.

Both Cleary-Hammarstedt and Lehigh support Tarumitra’s current campaigns, which include the conservation of biodiversity, a focus on organic farming, making an effort to save electricity, keeping the corporations away from drinking water and leading earth building eco-spirituality retreats.

As an organization with so much support from the U.N. and a large number of students, Tarumitra offers universities such as Lehigh an opportunity to connect with the U.N. as well as environmental agencies that reach out in support of Athickal’s school.

Lehigh’s involvement with Tarumitra started a few years ago, and Athickal hopes that the university will continue to deepen its involvement in the future as the organization aims to become increasingly connected with the rest of the world each year.

“I think that Lehigh’s growing involvement with NGOs is an incredible way to get more globally connected, and (Cleary-Hammarstedt) has been given a great opportunity to build a strong connection between Lehigh and Tarumitra,” said Sydney Glenn, ’17, an attendee at the organization’s presentation.

Tarumitra is an important organization to target, especially as Lehigh continues to search for new ways to become more environmentally responsible. The addition of the STEPS building a few years ago, which earned LEED status, was a big step for Lehigh and has been a springboard for the university’s environmental efforts.

Although Lehigh’s involvement with Tarumitra is still in its early stages and Cleary-Hammarstedt is only the third student from Lehigh to be assisting them, there is potential for the future. Engineers Without Borders is an on-campus organization that spends time helping with infrastructure and housing in locations abroad similar to Patna, India. With Tarumitra’s growth, there is potential for a similar type of on-campus organization for non-engineers.

“I am incredibly excited to get the opportunity to work with Father Athickal and the rest of the Tarumitra community,” Cleary-Hammarstedt said. “I think that this is just the beginning of a long and successful relationship between Lehigh and NGOs.”

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