Dharamshala, India: - Mountain Cleaners are a group of dedicated environmentalists who are committed to cleaning up India, little by little, through a combination of direct action, liaison and awareness raising.
Founded in 2009, in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, their first project at the mountain plateau of Triund, above Dharamshala, proved that having a waste system in place is affordable and massively beneficial for the environment, local residents and tourists.
Mountain Cleaners are now extending their operations to other mountain camps, trekking routes, pilgrimage sites and tourist destinations, including Bhagsu and McLeodganj - the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Jodie Underhill, the group's founder, came to Dharamshala in 2009, to work volunteer at the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) school. She now sponsors two children at TCV Chauntra.
Ms Underhill told TPI, "We believe our model is simple and complete. We are not just about picking up rubbish and cleaning an area temporarily. Instead we work alongside local people, government organisations, NGOs, businesses, tourists and schools, to provide sustainable solutions, ensuring rubbish is disposed of correctly and as much of it as possible is reused or recycled."
Mountain Clearners' volunteers are international - including local Indians, and Indian and foreign tourists.
In a series of special reports to mark World Environment Day in June this year, Thinley Namgyal, the Mountain Cleaners' only Tibetan employee to date, told TPI, "When my friends ask me what I do, I make a point of explaining that we need more volunteers. Every day I talk about this. I don't know why they haven't come yet - I am trying all I can."
Ms Under-hill echoed this, saying, "Volunteering is a great way to get experience, gain new skills and boost your confidence, whilst meeting interesting and inspiring people.
"The number of Indian volunteers has rocketed this year but we are still struggling to involve the Tibetan Community.
" We are all living here together in Dharamshala...[His Holiness the Dalai Lama] often speaks of the environment and I'm sure he appreciates our initiatives to keep this area clean."
Mountain Cleaners currently face a crucial challenge - to raise sufficient funds to continue their work.
The group employs three members of staff, who empty the dustbins in Bhagsu, collect waste from around 60 businesses and households and maintain the children's playgrounds.
Money is also needed to pay for the mules that bring waste back from their weekly collection hikes, and to fund their ‘Childrens Days' education programme and community clean-ups.
In order to achieve this, they are competing in Spark the Rise - a platform initiated by the Indian multinational Mahindra Group to propel innovation, entrepreneurship, and positive change in India.
Mahindra is giving a total of 52 awards, ranging from monthly grants of Rs 4 lakh to a top prize of Rs 40 lakh. The awards are decided by a public voting system, through Spark the Rise's website.
"We have an amazing opportunity," said Ms Underhill, "and all we need is for people to support us by voting and spreading the word.
"We're doing this because we love Himachal, but unless the people get behind us and show us their support we can't help."
To vote for Mountain Cleaners' Spark the Rise bid, click here.
For further information on Mountain Cleaners and how to get involved, click here.