Bellingen resident Sue Lennox has received an international award on World Environment Day recognising her contribution over almost three decades to restoring the health of the Ganges River.
Through OzGREEN, the organisation she co-founded with her late husband Colin, Sue has been working in partnership with the Sankat Mochan Foundation in Varanasi, India since 1992.
The Veer Bhadra Mishra Environment Award she has received is named after the founding president of the Sankat Mochan Foundation, Professor VB Mishra, a scientist/priest whose mission was to stop the dreadful pollution of the holy river by human sewage.
"The late Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra was the founder of the Clean Ganges Campaign and a dear friend," said Sue. "For me it is a great honour to receive this award."
Professor VB Mishra was named TIME Magazine's "Hero of the Planet" in 1999 for his work on cleansing the Ganges.
OzGREEN's partnership with his foundation began 27 years ago when Sue and Colin Lennox were invited to India because of the award-winning environmental education programs they initiated while working as teachers at Freshwater High School in Sydney.
A major pollution incident in a local lagoon that killed thousands of fish spurred them to develop, in conjunction with their angry students, a wide ranging campaign to monitor and improve the quality of the water.
They went on to work with Sydney Water to establish the Streamwatch Program and created a video that won a UN Media Peace Prize and attracted the attention of the Sankat Mochan Foundation in Varanasi.
During their initial visit to India, Colin and Sue provided water testing equipment and training for 40 local volunteers, in a project that was the forerunner for establishing the Swatcha Ganga Research Laboratory.
The journey was to change their lives.
They gained insight into how important the Ganges was to the people, not only as a source of water for drinking and bathing, but also as a sacred site.
Seeing children going down to drink directly from the river broke my heartSue Lennox
They were involved in some of the first faecal coliform testing and were shocked to discover how terrible the pollution was.
"Seeing children going down to drink directly from the river broke my heart," Sue said. "We had just measured the faecal coliform levels and found them to range from 50,000 to 5,000,000 cfu/100ml.
"Australia's standard is zero for drinking and less than 150 for swimming.
"We decided we had valuable skills to contribute. The following year we left our work as teachers, sold our home, moved our young family in with Colin's mum and set up OzGREEN as two volunteers working out of a borrowed garage."
The video below - 'The River Keepers' (1997) - produced by Australia's 60 Minutes program - is about the Swatcha Ganga campaign and features Sue and Colin Lennox and Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra.
Since 1992, OzGREEN have travelled to India more than 30 times and have been involved in a range of projects with some of the achievements including:
- 1992 - Providing training and equipment to SMF to establish the Swatcha Ganga Research Laboratory to conduct water quality testing - winning a Banksia Award 1996
- Filming of the Swatcha Ganga video (winner of United Nations Media Peace Prize)
- Establish Friends of the Ganges Australia 1994
- 60 Minutes (Australia) "River Keepers" story about Swatcha Ganga campaign featuring Sue and Colin Lennox 1997;
- Establishing Swatcha Ganga Environmental Education Centre at Tulsi Ghat 1999.
- Designing and raising funds for mini-tube wells. The first mini-tube well is launched at Kamauli Village by Australian MP Richard Jones MLC. Eight tube-wells followed 2000-2002, benefiting over 10,000 people.
- Organisation Youth River Congresses involving young Australian leaders and thousands of Benares schools. Following the success of this program, the Ghat Purohit Sangam (River Priest) was organised (see TEDx Talk)
- Engaging over 4000 youth in leadership programs since 2002
- Training 50 facilitators in Varanasi
- Upgrading of the Swatcha Ganga Research Laboratory, with a generous grant from the Australian High Commission in Delhi 2018.
- Helping to establish a new Mothers for Mother group to engage women in the campaign for Clean Ganga in 2018.