During one of our morning meetings, a student shared a fact: “Earthworms help plants grow.” “I wonder HOW” was an immediate response, to which he replied, ‘I don’t know” but he seemed keen to find out.

The trip was organised to help us learn about the role of earthworms in the natural environment, especially in helping plants grow from the experts at Inora. After a short bus ride from school on Monday morning, we reached Inora.

“Ewww!”

“It’s smelly!”

“It’s yuck!”

“It stinks!”

“It’s cow poop.”

“It’s India smell.”

These were the first reactions from the children as we landed at Inora. After exchanging greetings with Ms Vrinda and her team on arrival, we had our snack upstairs on the terrace. A tray of healthy looking bananas and candied gooseberries that were offered were appreciated and enjoyed by us along with snack from home.

Once snack time was over, we packed our bags, collected banana peels and other rubbish in a bag and descended downstairs to meet the experts, Ashwini, Sayli and Chetan, who were waiting to take us on a tour of the vermicompost patch. Sayli, the microbiologist reminded us about the importance of washing our hands, especially after handling earthworms, before we headed towards the area.

As we entered the covered patch, one could feel the slight rise in temperature and of course, the tenfold increase in the smell created by cow dung and other organic materials biodegrading gradually. We were greeted with ‘the beds’ as they call them, on either side of the concreted path separating the area into two. The beds were carefully planned and set up in rows, layered with soil, garden waste and cow dung. These were easily accessible  through narrower concrete paths in between the beds to help monitor changes and maintain the beds at their best possible condition for the earthworms as they worked hard munching on garden waste and cow dung and producing compost.

Although a few continued murmuring about the strong smell of cow dung, most were now beginning to wonder about the beds. Where are the earthworms? What is the green thing? Why is it smelly here? What are the leaves for?

As Chetan, Sayli and Ashwini began digging earthworms out of the beds, there were shrieks of excitement and nervousness. Digging into beds looking for earthworms was quite an interesting sight. We tried finding the best possible spot to watch the hunt for the earthworms unfold as the trio began removing the green mesh, lifting and putting aside piles of dung, trying to find the earthworms.

One after the other, most of us held and observed the way the earthworms felt, moved and looked, before we let them go back to their bed. Rich conversations amongst the children began as they shared their observations, discoveries and wonderings.

Someone announced that the baby earthworm liked her as it clung onto her palm and did not wriggle off like most of the earthworms did. Some watched and counted how long one of the earthworms took to slither back into the safety of the dark in its bed. They wondered why the earthworms did not stay up on top of the bed and always wriggled quietly and buried themselves underneath cow dung. “Its like noodles”, a comment passed by one of the children made us puke and laugh at the same time. They wondered why the earthworms needed to shower and if they used soap like us.

The Inora team were patient, knowledgeable and happy interacting with us and answering our queries. It was amazing to see how brave, confident, open minded and curious learners our children were, making the most of the experience by engaging actively in conversations. They were so captivated by the amazing living things that they almost forgot about the smell that they were so repulsed by in the beginning.

After the tour, we washed our hands and thanked our hosts for spending time with us, exploring earthworms. The children were happy to take back a box of plants for the garden and two bags of compost and a bag of earthworms to start their own vermicompost. Our biggest takeaway from this trip however was the realisation of the fact that first impressions are not always the last, as proven by the response and attitude towards the environment of our young learners.

This incredible learning and sharing might not have been possible without the warmth and enthusiasm shown by the Inora team towards our curious bunch of learners and inspiring them to share  responsibilities towards looking after our natural environment.