Education in the Slum of Pondicherry Thanks to Sharana


A Walk to Remember

On the last cultural excursion, AUP students awoke before dawn to witness traditional Kolams being drawn in preparation for the biggest festival of the year: Pongal. 

By: Nicole Curren

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There was a haze on the horizon. Waking up before dawn, the sun had not quite touched the corners of Viluppuram, yet there was a distinct dimming of orange and gray.

As we drove through the village on our motorbikes, smoke filled the air. The only source of light came from small fires burning in front of each house and storefront, forcing us to weave in and out to avoid the noxious fumes. Our guide, Balu, later informed us that these fires were intended to cleanse and purify the house, ushering in the new year with new energy. Villagers burned anything and everything from their past: old blankets and sheets, pillows or mats, even literature. Apparently, the local government had made this ritual illegal a few years prior based on its environmental impacts, but locals here held fast to tradition.

It was Monday, January 14th, the first day of Pongal. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Pongal is the biggest celebration of the year, marking the journey of the sun northwards, referred to locally as Uttarayan. Dating back to the Sangam Age around 200-300 A.D., this festival pays tribute to nature and gratitude for the recent harvest. Literally, the word Pongal translates to “spilling over,” which is associated with the tradition of cooking rice in a pot until it starts to overflow. We got the chance to taste sweet Pongal while participating in a morning margahzi ceremony.

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Throughout the course of the morning, Balu took us through two sections of the village and shed light on the beautiful intricacies of the Pongal festival. He identified various plants that protruded from every gate or doorway. The traditional nochi herb wards off darkness and mosquitos. Moringa trees are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, acting as an antiseptic. We also saw yellow splotches on every house, with red circles in the center. These were painted on with turmeric and various other spices to bring brightness and another form of antiseptic capacity. Perhaps the most popular was the tulsi plant, often referred to as a Krishna tulsi, which cleanses the air.

Walking through the main road of houses we passed beautiful drawings on the ground. Kolams, also known as Rangoli, are intricate drawings made of rice flour and chalk powder. Typically, these geometric shapes are done in white, but during festivals like Pongal a bright array of colors are often used. Our guide, Balu, told us that every doorway in the village would have one, as they welcome good energy and wellbeing.

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Before concluding the walk, Balu took us out for one more tea (or coffee for the Parisians). It was here that he outlined the next major event for the Pongal festival: the running with the bulls. This is a tradition for the men, an opportunity for them to showcase their strength. Yet, after the death of a cow a few years ago, the media and animal rights organizations banned the event. This year would be the first renewal of the pandemonium!

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Planting, Picking, Processing: Sustainability in Every Step

Written by: Jamie Nyqvist

I have a confession. I used to be what you call an ego-centric consumer – always asked myself “what an item is worth” or “what can I get from it.”. Often times the answer was related to convenience and practicality. It never occurred to me to dig deeper and ask, “what is the value of the item to those who produce it.”

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With the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 came the rise of the ethical consumer: a consumer who considers not only the individual, but the social goals, ideals and ideologies of a company as well. With this new type of ethical and eco-minded consumer comes the idea of sustainable livelihoods that focus on allowing people to not only maintain and enhance activities required for a means of living, but also focus on extending this livelihood to future generations. Together, in a purely consumerist context these work hand-in-hand to create an entire chain of production that gives instead of takes.

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In the small village of Nadukuppam, Amirtha Herbals works with rural women and provides them with a livelihood by including them in every step of the production process of their medical herbal products. What this enterprise is wholesomely accomplishing is providing opportunity and community building at every step. Paravathy, founder and mentor of the enterprise, focuses on the impact that Amirtha Herbals has on the Pichandikulam forest in Auroville to keep it alive, and teaches women how to move from a labor-based work environment to that of an entrepreneurial work environment, as well as provides products to rural women at a subsidized price.

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This quote from one of the women who works at Amirtha Herbals says it all: “The extra income not only helps support my family, but we don’t have to rely as much on our husbands.”

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What can be learned from social enterprises such as these is that a product is far more than the product itself. It is only as good as its production, and what comes out of the Amirtha Herbals production is  an herbal medical product that can be purchased on a commercial level. But what is actually created is a sustainable livelihood for the women of Nadukuppam so that they can provide for themselves and their families.

Now I can proudly say that after witnessing first-hand how to run a truly sustainable enterprise, I can call myself an ethical and eco-minded consumer.

Photos by: Jamie Nyqvist

How Surfing Taught Me to Fall

“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”The Alchemist, Paulo Cuelho

When we were asked to consider a “personal project” in Auroville, I knew long before – a year ago approximately – that surfing would be my mine. When setting intentions for 2018, I was thinking about my life as a sum of experiences and what Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Time. That is the stuff life is made of.”

If we take that to be true, then how we are spending time is how we are spending our life.  When writing intentions for the past year, I considered things I longed to do but never made time for: school, work, my to-do list but occupied my time but did not always nourish my soul. This’ll be the year, I thought, this’ll be the year I finally take up surfing.

And so it happened, on Christmas Day, I started not quite surfing, but instead, wiping out with dismal disgrace (no pictures of actual belly flopping will be provided).

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As much I wanted to say Fuck this in between the mouthfuls of warm salty water, I couldn’t help but use the experience as an opportunity for deeper understanding and growth.

Why is it harder to let ourselves “fail” as adults, when for kids it’s child’s play?

My session with Vikram, an Aurovillian metaphysical trainer and councilor, came back to me in a flash of intuition.

-Envision success, envision failure. What are they really? 

-Illusions.

-Exactly, now let yourself fall. Get back up.

Flash forward to Serenity Beach: I fell off the board, I got back on the board. I fell off, I got back on.

On that beat, a few lines from the poem “Failing and Flying” by one of my favorite, lesser-known poets, Jack Gilbert, go a little somethin’ like this:

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It’s the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

The poet uses the myth “The Fall of Icarus” as a counter-parable for a ‘failed marriage. Imprisoned by King Minos, Icarus’s father makes him wings but warns him not to fly too close to the sun. Ecstatic with the ability to fly, he does not heed his father’s words; soaring higher, and higher, the wings catch fire, and Icarus falls to his death.

Gilbert asks us to consider that something is not a failure because it ends; Icarus did fly – SOAR – after all.

Just as planets are formed from exploding supernovas, just as the Phoenix rises from the ashes, there must be death for birth. Impermanence is an eternal paradoxical cycle. Something must end for something else to begin. And just because we fall, doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s an experience in the grander scheme of our lives. Are we present?
I won’t be booking my next vacation spot to Hawaii for a surf competition anytime soon, but a handful of lessons later, I felt the sweet spot of connecting with a wave and riding it to the shore. Perhaps just as important, I became totally okay with falling in the process.

I believe that surfing was symbolic of another underlying fear I had for my own NGO project: that I would fail. Somehow at least, by either not completing or by not pleasing.

With lack of internet, with time constraints, with lack of skill sets, would it be possible to succeed?

***

He grabbed my hand and led me around the gym.

Look at all this around you; this is the journey of your life. All this stuff, it’s just distractions. But the journey – are you experiencing it? Success. Can you feel success? Can you touch it? Can you take it with you when you die?

***

She took nothing with her when she died. In those final moments before my mom passed away, I looked around the room; only the people there could be quantified, and only the love could be qualified.

***

By conversing and exchanging with my NGO Upcycling guru, Marc, he taught me not to focus so much on the end product, but to be present in the process; because really, life is not about the destination but the journey. If we don’t stop, look around, and smell the roses every now and then, it’ll pass us by.

His mantra, after all, was “move from doing it all yourself to doing it all together.”

Diptee, on the last day, talks about Atman and Brahmin in Indic philosophy and universal consciousness. How the soul, Atman, is a drop of water and liberation is its merging into the vast ocean which represents the Supreme Soul, Brahmin. The soul and God are equal in every respect, and liberation or moksha entails realization of one’s connection to the source. Thus, one’s mistaken sense of individuality is dissolved, and one merges into the all-pervading Supreme.

What does one-ness feel like? I wondered.

It felt like when I finally hit that sweet spot and became one with the wave, nature and the literal and metaphorical flow of the source.

It felt like the ebb and flow of the music reverberating through my body and those around me at the Solitude Farm Festival; and how Krishna said celebrations are us celebrating each other’s existence, in that time and space, together.

It felt like when I held the camera to my face at Upcycling and I got lost in the flow of the creative process.

On that note, I sign off with a quote by Ram Dass :

“Nobody is going anywhere. Nobody is coming from anywhere. We’re all here. We’re all here. In eternal time and space. We’re always going to be here. We’re just doing nataraja, the divine dance. We’re dancing. And dancing. And dancing. Dance after dance, in one body, in another body. And we’re all here. We’re all staying right here.”

By Marissia Tiller

 

 

 

 

 

No Such Thing as 100% Sustainable Textiles?

On January 9th, I embarked on a textile tour as a part of the work I conducted for The Caring Cotton. The trip was a 5 hour drive inland from Auroville to Erode, a textile producing town in Tamil Nadu region. Ruby, founder of The Caring Cotton, informed me that Tamil Nadu is actually one of the largest textile producing regions in the world, producing yarn and fabrics for many large, well-known designers.

The purpose of the trip was to develop a deeper understanding of the processes used by The Caring Cotton’s suppliers and to identify if and how the suppliers acted sustainably. This would help me to create a more accurate communication plan and develop key messages to share with the organization’s target audiences. I sought to understand how The Caring Cotton maintained sustainable practices in every aspect of its complex supply chain and I found interest in observing the artisans behind the textile production and design in the region.

I witnessed the following processes on our two-day trip: natural dyeing, power loom weaving, “sustainable” dyeing, screen printing, tye dyeing, batik printing, and fabric sourcing. In this blog I will share photos and mechanisms of each process, and reflect on the sustainable elements and their impacts.

 

The Processes:

Natural Dye

This dyeing process derives color from natural resources such leaves, fruit, flowers, branches, bark, and minerals. Resultantly, there is non-toxic dye waste produced which can be dumped back into an ocean or field without having any harmful impact on the environment.

Color is extracted from each organic material differently, then the color is turned to a dye powder (as seen below). The dye powder is then mixed with water and a salt solution that promotes the diffusion of the natural dye into various fibers (silk, modal, wool, or cotton). A heating method is used to turn the liquid dye mixture into steam which will come into contact with a yarn or fabric resulting in an evenly dyed product. Every element; from the creation of the dye powder to the dyeing process used natural resources and minimal water, showing the sustainability in its practice.

I appreciated that this natural dye method used a combination of nature and technology to achieve sustainability. For example, the development of an apparatus to produce steam rather than use copious amount of water (for conservation purposes) is genius!

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Naturally Dyed wool yarn, the yellow color is derived from the pictured flower. 

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Raw, un-dyed, silk yarn which can be dyed or woven into silk fabric then dyed. 

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Cotton yarn being washed and prepared for the dyeing process

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Natural dye powder which will produce a pink color on yarn or fabric 

 

Power Loom Weaving

Weaving is the process of developing fabric from yarn. A power loom uses the combination of the automated weaving process with the hand weaving process. For example, if a pattern were to be produced, the strands of yarn would need to be placed by hand in the machine, then woven automatically.

I witnessed cotton yarn (not specified to be organic) being woven into fabric. The process took place in a poorly lit room and the machines were very loud. (The artisans did not wear protection for their ears or hands, which was surprising to me.) The use of the power loom is not necessarily environmentally sustainable. However, it sustains the culture of Indian artisanship by incorporating the hand weaving process.

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Raw cotton yarn prior to weaving

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Pattern checking by hand in a power loom

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Cotton yarn in a power loom

Sustainable Dye

This dye process was described as sustainable because it requires less water, however, a toxic and illegal waste called “sludge” is still produced by this method. The suppliers accumulate massive amounts of sludge and have no way to dispose of it.

While I did not witness the actual dye process, the ready for dyeing (RFD) process, and a pigment extraction process were visible. RFD strips fabric down to its raw fiber, allowing  dye to penetrate the fibers and printing future bleeding of dye.

I wondered if it was plausible to consider this method sustainable; how much water is actually conserved in the process? Does the accumulation of harmful pigment sludge counter the positive effects of that water conservation?

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Ready for Dyeing (RFD) process- a chemical solution which fabric is soaked in that prevents future dye from bleeding.

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Pigment being removed from waste chemical dye water and turning into dry, toxic sludge (far right cubicle)

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Bags of accumulated sludge 

Screen Printing

This method of surface design can be done with chemical and natural dyes. The supplier that we visited does the entire process by hand. You simply choose your design template, choose your ink/dye color, choose your fabric and fabric color, and the printing process occurs. One layer of the process only takes about 10 minutes to complete, but more colors can be added for a more complex process.

This printing method sustains artisanship because it is a method conducted by hand. Also, the method is conducive to the use of natural inks/dyes which have zero harmful impact on the environment. Conducting the work by hand as opposed to using large machinery reduces the effects of industrialization such as fossil fuel emission.

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Spreading of ink onto cotton fabric to produce our pattern of choice.

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Finished one-layer print product.

 

Tie & Dye

 A method of scrunching fabric together and strategically spraying dye (chemical or natural) onto it in order to produce a tie-dye surface design. This was done by two Indian women and one Indian man in the backyard of a facility. The beautiful products were then hung to dry in the yard before a protective coat was added. A glove is worn to protect the hand from chemical dye, but as you can see in the photos below, the dye still gets on the opposite hand and is also inhaled by the artisan.

If a natural dye were used, there would be less harmful on the impact and the artisan. However, the use of natural dyes has not yet been adopted by the tie-dye supplier. This experience broadened my perspective on the effects of harmful chemical dyes. These dyes have a negative impact on the artisan, the supplier, the client, the environment, and the consumer. This realization inspired me to develop communication strategies that Ruby could use to encourage her suppliers to adopt natural dye methods more quickly.

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Spraying of chemical dye onto scrunched fabric

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Hanging tie-dye fabric 

Batik Printing

Batik is a traditional Indian printing method which uses a block of wood with nails pounded into it to create a desired pattern. The nails are then waxed so that dye does not stick. The nails are repeatedly dipped into ink to create ornate patterns on fabrics. The use of batik printing by designers is one method of sustaining the culture of India through its artisans.

Use of batik printing by designers allows for lower minimum order quantities. The less designers are required to order, the less waste their production will accumulate. Therefore, crafts such as batik preserve artisanship and reduce waste.

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Fabric Sourcing

An Aurovillian sustainable fashion designer accompanied us on our journey. We visited fabric houses that serve both large and small brands, but who had not yet been introduced to the natural dye concept. This gave Ruby the opportunity to pitch her newly pioneered, natural dye concept to the owners of the fabric houses.

The manufacturers shared some of the worries that their big clients would have with natural dye: color inaccuracy and variation, color fading, dye smell, and overall pigmentation. Designers are more concerned with achieving exact colors for their collections, and unfortunately sustainability must take a back seat in order to achieve this.

As a designer myself, this presents an ethical dilemma and raises the question of how “for-profit” brands should make decisions regarding sustainability.

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Discussing natural dye with the textile house owner

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Organic brushed cotton, made of chemically dyed yarn, woven into plaid patterns

 

By the end of our journey, I was able to grasp elements of The Caring Cotton’s mission to create a sustainable textile platform that reduces the pollution caused by the fashion industry in terms of toxic chemical waste, lack of water conservation, and industrialization and globalization. However, it is not possible for textile companies to be 100% sustainable unless their suppliers and clients are educated in sustainable textile practices.

Therefore, a focus of my communication strategy became education of suppliers and clients on the benefits of sustainable methods such as the use of natural dyes vs. chemical dyes. I realize the difficulty in focusing on sustainability in the demanding fashion world and consumer society of today. However, if The Caring Cotton can successfully create an educational sustainable platform, other textile sourcing companies and designers will follow. The Caring Cotton is only the first step in a multitude of steps that must be taken toward a less pollutant future in fashion.

 

By: Shannon K. Henry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparing The Doctor-Patient Relationship Between Cultures

Cam Bartlett

As we rounded the dirt corner, the motorbike gave way beneath us as we slid on the gravel, which burned our backs, feet and hands. I thought I was okay until someone held up my shoe, which was dripping with blood.

After the Auroboys helped to stop the bleeding, I found myself thankful it was over. But it wasn’t quite. For the next two weeks or so of the practicum, I found myself becoming very familiar with the local doctors and nurses. It seemed that everybody had helped patch me back up, from the local vet, our taxi driver, the Auroville Santé nurses, and, last but not least, the Health Center. It was at this health center that I got an unexpected brush with a part of the Tamil medical system. 

Halfway through my visit, I was led into a different room and, without my consent or knowledge they began to treat me. Without anesthetic and without me knowing beforehand, they began to extract the dead flesh from inside my foot and peeling off the  healing that had already begun. This was, needless to say, incredibly painful and highly shocking. I later limped out of the procedure room in much pain, hands shaking by my sides.

What this experience did lead me to understand, with the help of Sacha Elder, our Aurovillian friend and guide, was a fundamental difference in the understanding of the doctor-patient relationship in India versus the United States.

In the U.S., patient autonomy tends to be prioritized over all else. The doctor helps the patient to make decisions based on a plurality of potentially effective treatments and their potential benefits and downsides. This is consistent with the highly individualistic nature of U.S. culture. Individual freedom is valued above all.

In India, a more collectivistic culture, individual freedom isn’t placed on a pedestal. Often times, individuals will withhold their opinions in favor of group harmony. This effect of a collectivistic culture is apparent in their doctor-patient relationships. Sacha explained that it is very uncommon for patients to ask questions to their doctors. The doctors are treated as a near-absolute authority. After all, it is they who have so many years of medical experience, so they should have the knowledge to make the necessary decisions for their patients’ health. The doctors expect to make the choices for the wellbeing of the patient.

Indians’ relationships to figures of authority have been found to be different from similar relationships in the U.S.. However there may be some psychological mechanisms that help to explain this difference. A study performed by Savani, Morris & Naidu (2011) found that, in the presence of authority figures’ expectations, Indians are significantly more likely than Americans to defer to these expectations, whether this is clothing or education choices. Furthermore, those who made choices against the perceived expectations of authority felt higher levels of guilt.

The question of which of these systems is correct is, frankly, irrelevant. They both work within the context of their respective cultures. However, if you are from one culture and get injured in another, make sure you know how that system operates or you could be in for an unwelcome surprise.

New Year, New You

In a fitting way to bring 2018 to a close and welcome in the new year, we spent New Year’s Eve with Vikram at his gym in Auroville. Vikram is an former Indian national team cricket player who left the world of professional athletics in search of a more personal form of movement. We were told to dress in athletic attire to experience his “workout,” but we found what Vikram had prepared for us was a different type of exercise. 

This was the first year Vikram was included as an organization for the practicum. His gym is not necessarily engaged with sustainable development in the way other NGOs from the practicum are. But Vikram essentially aspires to apply the philosophy of sustainable development to the development of our own selves. When we look at the traditions of modernity that sustainable development challenges — disrespect for the health of the environment and our bodies, focus on money and material goods, quantity over quality of production — the same approach can be applied to our own lives. Vikram’s approach to sport focuses on the power of movement rather than the aesthetics of exercise. There’s no mirrors, no blasting music, no entrance fees. Vikram designs his personal training sessions based off the intention of a client, whether it be a physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental goal (though I and Vikram would probably argue all of our goals are inspired by all four). 

We were introduced to Vikram’s philosophy right away, though without realizing it at first. He asked us to quietly enter the gym, find a space on a mat, and lie down. We then laid still, without opening our eyes, and listened to our breath. He guided us through a 10-or-so minute mindfulness practice, finally asking us to rise and stretch. He then offered the invitation to explore what inspired us in the gym and said goodbye. 

Many of us felt confused. That was it? Why are we wearing shorts and sneakers just to lie down? Did any of us even break a sweat (besides from the heat)? You could see Vikram smiling in response to our furrowed brows. That was exactly the point: We were expecting one experience and the fact we were so shocked by what we received lends evidence to Vikram’s whole philosophy. To us, we had one static idea of a workout. To Vikram, we just needed a little wiggle room to see what else we could explore. I felt a strong connection to this philosophy because I myself have followed a philosophy of sport that is based on the joy of movement rather than goals or achievements. But I found myself intrigued by Vikram’s inclusion of the personal intention. Many students who visited Vikram for a session brought intentions that weren’t physical in a traditional sense — some people wanted to relax, be more present and less fearful of the future, to let go of pain and to develop a stronger sense of self. Vikram designs movement to allow the body to explore itself and let the mind stretch as well. It was a refreshing experience that, like most things in Auroville, brought some much-needed fresh air.

By Madelaine VanDerHeyden