We went to the Chidambaram Temples and Mangroves on January 6th. The Nataraja Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva the god of dance. The temple itself showed a connection between spirituality, religion, and the arts. Just how much they are connected and the meaning behind them. It showed me and the group how much art is connected with not only Hindu culture but also Indian culture in general. The displays all 108 Karanas which is the basis of the classical indian dance Bharatanatyam. The current temple was built in the 10th century and you can see bits of the old 10th century temple and the renovations that are being made by contemporary artists. To me it’s quite interesting that renovation isn’t that big of a discussion because in the west when you see the Sistine Chapel or something that is considered to be a sacred piece of art it is always discussed in order to renovate it with the argument that the artists work shouldn’t be messed with, but in this case it is not about the artist it is about the story. When going in the temple we had a guide that explained all about the temple. The biggest thing I learned when experiencing the temple was that the idols of the gods are not necessary the gods themselves. It is a representation of the gods. the gods can go where they please and can come and go where they see fit. The statues are just representation of the spirits of the gods. When going in the temple it was a very magical experience, because meeting holy cows and having such a connection with them and then understanding why they are so sacred. When looking at them you see that they have personalities and maybe there is something magical about that animal.

When going into the temple it was an experience like nothing you would have before. To see the dedication to the religion is something you don’t really see that much in America. To see the people in the temple chanting and focusing and to see all of those people lined up willing to pay what little money they had for a blessing from a god. That just for a moment they would be touched for a moment by something that is beyond this world. In someways a visit to the temple is a space to really believe in magic. To see the belief and to see what belief and faith can do to people and what it does for people. Believing is the opposite of seeing, you don’t have to believe in something to believe in it or have faith in it, but all of those people lined up knew in their hearts that something was better than nothing and the possibility of a blessing coming through could be life changing. In some ways I feel like a blessing has been seen by those believers and their dedication for their religion and belief system is really a testament that being apart of something and the dedication and love you have for something brings people together and really does something for the soul.

Caring Cotton Blogpost

Caring Cotton is a textile company that was started by Rhibu. It works as an agency for businesses outside of India to find sustainable and consciously dyed cotton. When manufacturers are looking to bring their brand more green friendly. The business focuses on textiles and defines itself as a fashion business. The brand also gives training to women in embroidery; continuing the idea of sustainability allowing women to earn money for themselves and their family. Giving women independence and new skills that can be passed down to generations. Rhibu has worked for 17 years to create relationships with artists and mills in India to keep her business going. The personal collaboration she has done with dyers and cotton mills in India gives her a unique position in the transport of cotton to Europe and the world. The business started in 2012 and has been a one woman job since then. Caring Cotton has become India’s second biggest exporters of organic cotton in India.

The company looks at where the cotton comes from and how the cotton is created in order to keep with their sustainable model. The company focuses on exporting rolls of cotton to make the transport as green as possible. When exporting the rolls of cotton they usually try to send it when the company is doing other exports; but when smaller brands are buying pieces of textile it is hard to avoid the issue of creating excessive greenhouse gas. Caring Cotton works with three to four mills; relationships she has worked to build over the last 17 years. Though she has worked for many years to create sustainable materials she has only been able to work with 1 house that uses natural dyes to dye their cotton. The cotton that she uses come from the middle of India. She is constantly working with the dye house to find new shades where you can create natural dyes.

When listening to the presentation I had many questions that I asked to the owner of Caring Cotton, but after the seminar ended I found myself wondering a few more things. Cotton is a natural substance that grows out of the ground. I wonder when did it happen that we started using synthetic cotton and what were the reasonings behind it? Something that is natural, that can create jobs for many people. Where and why is there a need for this industry of organic cotton. Why and when did cotton become inorganic in first place? Because I am from the south cotton to me is very accessible, you can walk down the street and pick some for fun. She said she ships her cotton mostly to Europe, but I’m wondering where it is shipped mostly. Why is India the main place where Cotton is being shipped from. What other places in the world have huge organic cotton industries. If cotton has to be shipped to other places can it actually be sustainable? Can organic cotton be curated within the homelands of the businesses that are using them? Do we really need to ship organic cotton places? And if so, isn’t that kind of counterproductive to ship things that we are trying to create that are good for the earth?

The Caring Cotton brand can be compared to the Upsana brand. The brand of clothing that tries to use sustainable cotton but admits to not being completely sustainable. Especially when using black dyes. There also isn’t a model of how to recycle or up-cycle and get rid of their clothes. To me there’s a thought of how the clothes are created, but not how they are disposed of.

Another thing I wanted to learn was difference between how and which the inorganic and organic cotton affects the farmers and the weavers process of creating the textiles. In Upsana’s presentation we talked about a bit how the farmers have a high rate of suicide. I am wondering if the Indian government has taken action about this? Is there a way to fix the issue of the cotton industry. Would it be beneficial to switch to completely organic cotton or would why has it been switched to mostly inorganic cotton? What has the biggest impact on the Indian people?

My main interests is how does the idea that inorganic cotton has become the norm. How in which, does that change the state of where we are in the world? The fact that for so many years we were using organic cotton, with unfair labor, but organic cotton non the less;and at this point in time we have decided to live off of synthetic cotton that stays on our bodies and absorbs to our skin. How in our human existence have we come to this?

Sahodran and LGBTQ+ Rights in India

Ari Price

During the expansive world HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, Sahodran was established in South India. While it was one of many Non-Government Organizations created to educate society about HIV and AIDS, it was unique from other organizations. Sahodran, also known as the Sahodran Community Oriented Health Development (SCHOD) Society, specifically targeted the education, support and advocacy of men who have sex with men, as this population had a higher risk for acquiring HIV due to a lack of safe sex practices and support. As they only worked with men in the beginning, they decided on the name Sahodran, which means brother in the local language, Tamil. Presently, the SCHOD society has drop-in centers in both Chennai and Puducherry to aid in the education and peer support of all LGBTQ+ persons who face discrimination in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Since 1988 Sahodran has continued to expand and provide interventions at the individual, community and national level. They currently work with a variety of professionals and volunteers including physicians, advocates, academics and researchers. According to staff, approximately 130 people were served in 2003 whereas about 1233 people were served last year. This shows the community demand for services continues to be necessary and to grow.

MEMBERS OF SAHODRAN AT THE LOCAL 2018 LGBT PRIDE MARCH

The work the Sahodran is taking on is not easy, but it is immeasurably beneficial not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but the society at large. In terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for , SCHOD aims first and foremost to promote the goal of good health and wellbeing, but it does this while also addressing the goals of gender equality and reduced inequalities for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Since their inception, they have continued to see progress for equality in the Indian society, at least in part due to their national advocacy efforts. Beyond the decreased rate of HIV and AIDS in the Tamil Nadu area, SCHOD has also seen the recent overturn of section 377 of the India Penal Code a law in 2018, which criminalized intercourse between men and the national recognition of a third gender, transgender, in 2014. While these policy changes are steps in the right direction, the staff at the Puducherry branch of Sahodran informed AUP students that there was still no policy to promote and protect LGBTQ+ peoples in cases of discrimination and definitely no marriage or family law in place for LGBTQ+ couples. As time moves forward they hope to see a society that understands, supports, and cares for all of its people, regardless of HIV status or LGBTQ+ Identity.

MGEcoduties/Probiotics House, Natural Care

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Her Story

Margarita, founder of MGEcoduties, a.k.a. Probiotics House, started her presentation off with one of the most profound stories of all of the NGO introductions.

She made a made powerful introductory statement that “women are weapons in war”. She was referring to the mistreatment, rape, and abuse of women during wartime and highlighted that this plight and destruction is not ever addressed in the aftermath of war when considering casualties. I wondered what this had to do with probiotics.

She shared further that she herself had been a victim of rape and torture, and a prisoner of war for over 4 weeks. This experience resulted in extensive psychological and physical damage, that could not be healed with time or with treatment offered by professionals.

Despite the tragedies that Margarita experienced, she moved on to earn two graduate degrees, became the COO of Coca Cola South America, and was successful in the corporate world. How she came about founding MGEcoduties was somewhat accidental and resulted primarily from spiritual intervention.

She had already been to 66 countries and needed a vacation, a travel agency suggested that she visit India, starting in the South and then up to the North, unexcited, she agreed. She ended up in Auroville, a culture shock, as she was unfamiliar with the living conditions and closeness to nature and wildlife as she had been a corporate executive, use to luxury travel.

Margarita had been in Aurovillve for a few weeks, and would fall asleep in public places to be awoken by a presence and a tap on the shoulder, only to find that no one was actually there. She saw this as a spiritual sign, a sign that she should stay in Auroville. Her weeklong vacation turned into a 21 year long journey, and she has yet to make it to North India to visit the Taj Mahal.

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Probiotics

Probiotics are simply as live bacteria and yeast introduced into the body for the stimulation of growth of microorganisms with beneficial qualities. 

According to Margarita, the top foods from which to obtain probiotics naturally are chickory, asparagus, onion, and beetroot.

Margarita stated that the human body is 90% bacteria, however, the human body is actually only made up of 3%  bacteria by body mass. Human DNA however is 90% synonymous with bacteria and about 10% non-similar DNA, every organism on the planet is +/- 90% the same in genetic code. Most of the genetic code is made up of regulatory regions for basic cellular metabolic functions, so this isn’t surprising. Though not directly stated, I think that she used this similarity as a defense for why microorganisms are one of the best ways to provide healing properties to the body.

She started working with probiotics in Auroville when she realized two major South Indian issues: a polluted septic system and too much plastic waste. She then began to produce household cleaning products that would clear the drains by getting “good” bacteria into the plumbing systems to help solve the water problem. Then, she moved on to soaps for the body, they smelled good and the soap would go down the drain when people washed themselves, therefore users would unintentionally and consistently contribute to solving septic system issues. However, these products were not enough. Margarita did not just want to solve systematic issues in plumbing, she wanted to use probiotics to solve issues in the system of the human body. After all, she herself had been suffering of physical pain from her past traumas. The development of the probiotic bracelet would follow this realization.

Margarita learned about probiotic technology through a Japanese physics professor, Dr. Higa, who worked with microorganisms and figured out how bacteria could survive in clay heated to 1000 degrees Celsius. This ability is astonishing considering bacteria stop reproducing at about 39 degrees celsius and start to die around 52 degrees celsius. Naturally, most of the proteins that make up DNA and bacteria denature at a similar point. She shared that due to this temperature dependent life cycle, powder probiotic pills which go through an extensive heating process are less effective and are generally placebos; liquid probiotics kept in cool environments are more effective. Dr. Higa’s inspiration to achieve his goal of harvesting and encapsulating bacteria came from top secret news from NASA that bacteria from the human mouth survived for years on the moon in a camera lens.

Margarita and Dr. Higa were able to capture and harvest probiotic bacteria, put it into clay beads through much processing, and then make the beads into bracelets to be worn by people to promote overall health. The clay material surrounding the beads protects the bacteria from UV radiation, which would kill the bacteria. The bacteria is collected only at the event of the Major Moon in the ocean between India and Sri Lanka, making the bacteria difficult and dangerous to collect. Why this particular bacteria is collected was not very clear. Once the bacteria is inside of the clay pods and made into bracelet form, they can be used for eternity, Margarita even suggested passing probiotic bracelets down through generations. Maintenance of the bracelet is simple; the beads should be washed with water and then placed in the sun to dry, the UV radiation does not get in, but infrared rays do and they allow the bacteria to “recharge”.

Her Message 

Maragrita has experienced personal healing from wearing her probiotic bracelet and using other probiotic products. While Margarita’s message is promote overall health through probiotics, she wants MGEcoduties to be recognized for its role as the organization responsible for clearing the septic systems in Auroville and for initiating a movement that caused Auroville to become 0% reliant on plastics and maintain a refillable and reusable system. She also wishes to share a message of human unity and equality, this can be seen in the organizational structure at Probiotics House, where everyone works on the same level and receives equal pay. While Margarita has been receiving partnership opportunities from large profitable corporations like Tata and Badger, she places her ethical and sustainable values over the potential for profit.

Overall, I think that the probiotic products provided by Margarita and her team are revolutionary and spiritually meaningful. However, the the science behind the product and how it works to effectively promote health is not clear. I do not understand how wearing probiotics inside of clay beads can have an effect on overall wellness. Also, Margarita did not explain the role of her partner Guidelma in the story, and it would be interesting to know more about their partnership. Her life story and ability to stay true to herself was very empowering. And so, for anyone looking to be the next head of Probiotics House, Margarita is in search of a worthy successor!

Turning off the Tap

Cam Bartlett

 

wasteless“If you walked into a room flooded with water, would you first start mopping the water, or would you turn the tap off.” This was the question that Wasteless posed to us at the beginning of their talk to us on December 28th. Wasteless seeks to educate young students about their plastic use habits through fun, interactive activities. One of these methods is Garbology 101, which includes a number of illustrated games and activities. They provide this game for free for low-income schools in exchange for their feedback to improve the game. In this way their communication model is somewhat participatory and involves a dialogue between Wasteless and the communities they are trying to educate. They utilize a dialogic communications process—a process where the aims of a communication aren’t completely decided beforehand—to help shape their communications process. They also rely heavily on edutainment to keep children involved in lessons on waste management, using memory games and relay races to teach sustainable practices. Their communications outreach, at least as it was shown in their presentation, seemed to focus on Window 2 of the Jahari window: Wasteless’s hidden knowledge. This knowledge includes information about recycling practices and plastic use, as well as the harmful effects of some plastics on human health and the environment.

Wasteless seeks to mainly address three different Sustainable Development Goals. The first is 3: Good Health and Well-Being, and they address this by educating children and communities on the harmful effects of numbers 1, 3, 6, and 7 plastics on human health. This goal comes directly from the language in India’s Sustainable Development Goal 3: “By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.”

Wasteless also seeks to address SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Throughout their presentations they emphasized the present and future states of the local communities through both raw and photoshopped pictures. The photo of them dining at the dump shows how out of hand and unsustainable current waste management strategies are in India, while the photo of the beach completely covered in trash elicited a response of alarm for the future of these communities and their beloved beaches.

What struck me most about Wasteless’s approach is the extent they were willing to do research to fine-tune their messages and games for children. They spent many extra hours testing their games to make sure their messages were received as they intended them. This led them to some insights. One of these insights was that children perceived the background color as contributing to the meaning of the cards in the memory game. However, I would have liked to hear more information about how they framed their communications, and if they used a social marketing approach to understand how to frame their information for the greatest impact.

At some times it can seem frustrating that the generation in charge isn’t doing enough to curb our effect on the environment and our local communities. Their response seems to be to hang their hope for change on the younger generations, who aren’t as set in their ways and are likely to adopt sustainable practices and bring them to their homes. With their outreach, Wasteless hopes that soon we can all collectively decide to finally turn off the tap.

Sristi Village (Joachim)

In India, the intellectually disabled are often relegated to the shadows. Unseen and unheard, families fear the disgrace that may come with the birth of an intellectually disabled child. Within Hindu culture, there is a strongly held belief of re-incarnation. An individual is not their mind, or their body, but their soul. The body and mind that an individual occupies within the material world, is a supposed reflection of a past life. For many, the birth of an disabled child is an indicator of wrongs committed in a past life, and so that fear of disgrace exists. It has assured that the disabled persons of India live under the constant threat of discrimination. It has assured that this portion of society struggles to acquire the treatment they so need, treatment mandated by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a convention which was ratified by India in 2007. Ratified, but not yet followed in full.
The Sristi Foundation, or Sristi Village, was founded by G. Karthikeyan with a vivid awareness in the disparity of living, between the intellectually disabled and the rest of society. Karthikeyan was raised in an orphanage which mixed intellectually disabled children with non-disabled children. In their youth, there was no difference, they lived, played and ate together as equals. But as Karthikeyan grew older, more mature, he saw the disparity deepen. As non-disabled children grew, preparing for adult life with employment, education and marriage, the disabled-children remained attached to a child-like state of affairs. They weren’t being prepared for adult life, they weren’t being guided to a purpose in life. According to Karthikeyan. With that void of purpose, the disabled would turn to aggression amongst each other, or they would fall into states of outright discontent and depression. These where his siblings, his family, their struggles touched him as much as anyone’s would. One such brother, wanted to live his life as an auto-mobile mechanic. He was skilled and capable, yet when the time came for employment, his disability assured it wasn’t possible. Karthikeyan attributes that story as the catalyst to his life’s pursuit, to give a place and purpose to the disabled.
Through farming, Karthikeyan sought to create a place where the disabled may find a purpose in life. After nine years as the director of the orphanage he, himself was raised in, he sought to create a place that didn’t help disabled children, there was enough of that, but a place which helped disabled adults. He realized the help disabled adults needed, was help finding a purpose. The answer to his inquiry came with a single sprout. Before Sristi farms came into fruition, as it is today, Karthikeyan showed on of his disabled companions a seed. He tried explaining the seemingly divine process of a seed sprouting, how a seed could become a tree. Shortly after, his companion returned to him in a burst of excitement. He planted a seed, watered it, and days after that seed became a sprout. For Karthikeyan, that excitement solidified the idea which would grow into Sristi Village. The purpose he sought to provide would through farming, he would teach disabled adults to farm, and he would do it in an environment where they would live side by side amongst each other, and non-disabled adults.
Now, the idea continues to grow, Sristi Village continues to thrive in its pursuit. Karithikeyan has successfully achieved a unique form of social development in an area where it is direly needed. With that success, Sristi Village has become a template for future organizations to learn from, in India and beyond. The fact of the matter is, the whole world could learn from Sristi. Intellectually disabled persons have been relegated to the back drops of society the whole world over. Karthikeyan has made it clear that the best course of action, is perhaps not treatment, medication or isolation, but purpose.