The Inspirer: Tibetan man devoted to protecting environment in NW China
By Yang Jinghao
One of China's greatest challenges is balancing economic development with environmental protection, even in the country's remote areas.
In the Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwest Qinghai Province, Pachen Gyal, a local herdsman, is working to preserve the sanctity of his homeland by cleaning up garbage. The 47-year-old has persevered with this “trifle” for more than 10 years. And his efforts are influencing others.
“Around 2006, I started picking up garbage near my home. Many local herdsmen had seen the problem back then, but nobody was taking any action,” said Pachen Gyal.
The Tibetan man's endeavor is now focused on the Amny Machin Mountain – the largest mountain at the source of China's “Mother River” – the Yellow River.
Situated in the Tibetan prefecture of Golog, Amny Machin is regarded as one of the most sacred mountains for Tibetan people. Several streams flowing across the area are major headwaters of the Yellow River.
However, increasing human activities, such as Buddhist pilgrimages, tourism, road construction and digging for the lucrative fungus cordyceps, have shattered the serenity of the remote area and brought in mounting quantity of garbage.
Pachen said some people don't understand why he collects garbage. They think it is disgrace. A few even said he was trying to make money by doing this.
Despite the gossip, Pachen has continued his mission. Over the past years, he has also persuaded more locals to join him, and the volunteers have left their footprints on a wide area surrounding the snowy mountain – even at an altitude of about 5,000 meters.
A local herdsman said “This area is not just an important water source for the Yellow River, there's also a lot of wildlife here. But the environment has been badly affected lately. It's our responsibility to keep our homeland as clean as it used to be.”
In Pachen's mind, the change of public awareness can largely be attributed to education, an undertaking he has been dedicated to even longer.
In 2003, Pachen started teaching the illiterate to read and write in his hometown as a volunteer, even though he himself received a limited education.
“I've worked in cities, and felt that would be very hard if you are illiterate. The school enrollment rate in my hometown used to be very low, and I just wanted to help my fellow villagers to some extent,” Pachen said.
Now the program is not just about literacy. He also invites experts to share with local farmers the importance of protecting their environment.
The passionate conservationist also continues to improve himself through involvement in various campaigns. Besides cleaning up trash, he now also works with social organizations on other programs such as monitoring wildlife like snow leopards with infra-red cameras and investigating water sources in the region.
Pachen says it is his own choice. No matter how difficult it will be, he will keep going
A growing number of local environmental organizations have now been set up in the region. Pachen said this is a good start.
For him, protecting their sacred homeland by combining modern technologies with old beliefs and traditions is a lifelong pursuit.