EGH youth’s clean vision

Years of militancy in Garo Hills have killed many dreams and weakened the determination of several youths. But a few like Bonkey Marak have the potential to rekindle hope amid despair.

At 27, Marak has achieved a feat that can inspire many youths in East Garo Hills. The young entrepreneur runs the first and the only paper recycling unit in Meghalaya.
“Last year, I was approached by the then deputy commissioner of the district (Ram Kumar S) to set up the unit. He encouraged me to take the plunge and guided me,” said Marak, who went to Delhi for training in paper recycling.
Marak’s recycling unit, a self-help group called Ecocraft, as well as the sale outlet are on the premises of the deputy commissioner’s office in Williamnagar. With an investment of Rs 16 lakh, Marak has meagre returns but that has not deterred him from foreseeing a better future.

The unit, a humble warehouse made of corrugated sheets, employs 30 locals, most of whom are women. It produces 10 types of products which include files, bags and waste bins. Ecocraft supplies these recycled products to government offices across the state.
In June this year, Marak received the Meghalaya Entrepreneurship Recognition Award.
Marak, who was a part of the chief minister’s delegation to Bangladesh in the beginning of this month, wants to expand his supply chain to the neighbouring country. “It will take time but I am hopeful that Ecocraft, the state’s only recycling unit, can reach that height,” he said.
But Marak’s path is strewn with challenges and the biggest of them all, he said, is to make people aware of paper recycling and cleanliness.
“I collect my paper waste from schools, colleges, offices and market places. I have distributed waste bins and also put them in Williamnagar, Rongjem and Songsek bazars. But it is so difficult to convince people coming to these markets to throw waste paper and tetra packs into those bins. No matter what they will throw it on the road. One motive of Ecocraft is also to make a plastic-free environment and maintain cleanliness. So people need to understand,” he said, adding that awareness programmes are being held regularly to educate villagers.
Another challenge that the unit faces is of cost-effectiveness. Marak said at present, he uses Fevicol as one of the raw materials but that escalates the cost. “We are looking for a substitute that will be cheaper and as effective as Fevicol. I have to speak to experts in Delhi,” he informed.
Besides paper recycling, Marak wants to start a plastic recycling unit in the long run.

The enterprising youth from Balsrigittim in East Garo Hills has other interests in the primary sector and the hospitality business. He owns an arecanut nursery in his village that produces one lakh arecanuts per annum. He also runs a tourist lodge in Williamnagar that he has taken on lease from the government. “It was a government guest house. I took it on a 10-year lease in 2016 and am running it since then.”
The tourist lodge, surrounded by greenery and silence, was inaugurated in 2008. For those who are looking for peace away from the daily bustle, this is the place to be. The hospitality of the staff and the simple but delicious food are rejuvenating.
“But Williamnagar is not yet a tourist destination. It is, in fact, the transit point for those travelling to South Garo Hills. Hence, the footfall at the lodge is low,” Marak pointed out, adding that most of the tourists are foreigners.
The entrepreneur explained why tourists generally avoid long stays in the district headquarters. There are no recreational centres, park or cafeteria where visitors can hang out. For local tourists too, options are limited. “I am in talks with the deputy commissioner to beautify the lake in the town. I plan to introduce boats and set up coffee corners for entertainment,” he sounded enthusiastic.
Marak also wants to make a swimming pool in the lodge.
“Another drawback is that in the absence of an enclosed place, youths sit on the roadside and drink and empty bottles are found everywhere. So I am also planning to open a bar where both locals and tourists can hang out. I have submitted the proposal to the government. Let’s hope things start rolling fast,” he said.
With multiple business interests and a long way ahead, where does he see himself 10 years down the lane? “I want to join politics. But that is secondary. The primary task in hand is to establish my current ventures and expand the recycling unit,” Marak, an ardent fan of Bollywood and South Indian movies, promptly answered.

~ NM

Photos: ST & Bonkey Marak

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