Friends of Trees Forum was founded in July, 1991 at Murmah Tea Estate of Mirik Development Block In Darjeeling District of West Bengal, India on the occasion of the tea estate’s annual environmental awareness programme which was in practice for past 15 years. The estate management used to hold such programmes in collaboration with the local community. The community had also derived its inspiration to form a
CBO ( community – based organisation ) from the tree planting the tea estate was doing on the wasteland plots over the years which had totalled to more than one and half lakhs, most of them having grown big. The CBO was formed and given the name BRIKCHHA BANDHU MANCH by the tea estate manager who was presiding over the function and distributed saplings to the people for planting on their private lands. The person in question in course of time became the Mentor of the CBO – turned NGO with an English version, Friends of Trees Forum, from its Nepali name. It got its English motto ( Save Trees, They Save Us ) as for its Nepali motto ( Hariyo Jungle, Manish ko Mangal ) which means “Green forest gives life to mankind”.
The NGO’s mentor, retired in 1993 and settled at Mirik. The people of Murmah Tea Estate approached him to lead the NGO from Mirik. Of course, it became more convenient for the organisation to spread its wings wider. Meanwhile, it was registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration act, 1961.
During its 29-year existence, Friends of Trees Forum has had occasions to be actively associated with major NGOs and INGOs like the Indian Red Cross Society; International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu; Ashoka Trust for Restoration Of Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bangalore; People’s Commission on Environment and Development, New Delhi; G B Pant Himalayan Environment and Development Centre, Sikkim Unit: Darjeeling NGO Network; Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology ( Ramakrishna Mission), Kolkata; Forum for Care of Darjeeling District, etc.
1. To make communities fully aware of environmental issues.
2. To help rural people with subsistence level livelihood to raise their status with innovative farming culture and skill development.
3. To educate rural people in use of healing herbs, importance of hygiene, sanitation, etc.
4. To impart quality elementary education to rural pupils belonging to the weaker section of society, with development of moral and cultural practices.
In the field of environment, action plans were initially focussed on physical environmental awareness among tea garden workers and agricultural mouzas (Bustees) of Mirik Development Block. Later on, educational institutions and areas under Mirik Municipality were also taken up. World Environment Day on 5th June is observed in collaboration with educational institutions as well as other public bodies. The observance of World Environment Day in 1997 achieved a landmark success for Mirik by withdrawal of the HOVERCRAFT operating in the Mirik Lake. It was introduced by the Tourism Department of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC). It was not hovering over, but ploughing through, the water producing powerful waves of water damaging lake banks, causing sound and water pollution, killing fishes of the lake. Friends of Trees Forum’s agenda on that day included an inter-active session by senior secondary students on a topic of “Effects of Tourism on Mirik Lake”. The session turned into a public outcry against use of Hovercraft and its withdrawal became a great relief to educational and religious institutions, hospitals and hospitality establishments, sick people and convalescents at homes situated in the lake’s vicinity. Threat to the fishes in the Mirik Lake also came to an end.
Regarding routine activities, programmes pertaining to subjects mentioned in the Main Goals of the organisation are held at different places in collaboration with various social entities.