From Ashley’s Journal

Journal Entry, Ashley Hahn

“But the soul has no culture. The soul has no nations. The soul has no colour or accent or way of life. The soul is forever. The soul is one. And when the heart has its moments of truth and sorrow, the soul can’t be stilled.” -Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Creative Education at Udavi School

Play of Paint, AUP students are given a tour of the Udavi school led by the students

One of the final stops on our tour of the Udavi School was a room in which students were free to paint without evaluation or instruction. The technique is meant to allow and encourage the free expression of creative thought.

Photo by Susanne Spahn

Happiest of New Years! from Auroville

Children light candles outside the Tibetan Pavilion

Our second home became a place of meditation as hundreds of people gathered to reflect on the past year and light a candle to welcome the new one. Buddhist chants echoed throughout the atrium as the laughter and chatter of friends and family surrounded the pavilion.

The City of Dawn sees its first sunrise of the new year

The amphitheater at Matrimandir was lined with candles and new years greetings in a dozen languages written with flowers. The Mother’s organ music played as visitors watched the first sunrise of 2010.

The Mother’s New Years organ

Photos by Pushan Bhowmick


When we arrived in Auroville in December I was really pumped for my sustainable living project. I was looking forward to seeing what it was like to get around without gas, and if it made any difference at all. It quickly became obvious that it did. Unlike living at the American Pavilion my quest for green transportation has not been easy here.

The monsoon rains was the first thing to throw a wrench in my plans. The electrical bikes can’t be used in the rain, and if they even get rained on that breaks them. So no bike for me in my first couple days here it seemed like at the time. The rains continued though, and we didn’t get our bikes until we’d been here for at least a week.

Something else I didn’t think about when I choose my green option was sticking with the pack. Its’ my first time in India, and as I didn’t really know where anything in Auroville was then I did’t want to be riding around lost by myself. So between the rains, and my sheep mentality, I was riding on the backs of scooters for a good few days. So ungreen of me!!

After a few days of the monsoon rains, Tanya, one of our professors on the course, was really great and rented a normal bike for me to support of my green initiative. I had a bike! No gas for me! I was so excited!

Off I went, happily biking to and from work on dirt roads that had been held together by the rains. It was hot, and I’m not an athlete, but I tried to be cheerful because now I was living green!

Then the electrical bikes arrived! Right on the day I wanted to do a lot of running around Auroville so I was pretty excited. I took one out and happily buzzed along to my destinations, going only a little slower than a gas run scooter. The bike ran easily, and if I stood up when I hit potholes it didn’t matter that there were no shocks in the wheels.

Alas, that was not the end of the story. I innocently put my electric bike key back so that Martanda (one of our trip coordinators) could redistribute bikes and scooters on the next day. That’s when I got given the key to a different bike, which was much to big for me. Not a big deal, Martanda came to the rescue and switched it, and I figured I finally had a bike of my own!

It was broken; But Martanda said it could be fixed, so I took my normal bike out again for the day. I figured I have two legs and they are definitely green so that’s what I used. Thanks to Martanda my bike was fixed by the next day, and after a day riding in the heat I was really looking forward to my electric scooter.

So off I went again, on my fixed electric bike! It wasn’t meant to be though, and my cute orange electrical cycle died on the first leg of my ride to work. I biked it myself all the way to work and back, and pronounced it dead to Martanda the next day. There was something seriously wrong with it. I figured that by now Martanda was done with me and my electric bike saga, but no! He persevered, and gave me yet another bike.

Finally, Brendan the electric bike and I rode out and I haven’t looked back since. He is a wonderful bike, and I hope that that is the end of the story …

– Cassandra Francis

Practical Teaching methods at Auroville

There’s this joke in the education world that goes something like this…

After many years of being in the classroom molding minds of the students… the teacher moves on in life… and then comes their time standing at the pearly gates… St. Peter greets the teacher with open arms… Welcome to heaven he says… lets have a look around. So the teacher and Saint Peter begin strolling through a beautiful neighborhood with magnificent houses and gardens…  You can see indiviuals  who have had a great impact on the world, in their time… Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud,  Marie Curie, etc.. So the teacher and Saint Peter move on to another neighborhood… The houses are even more magnificent…. And the teacher is mesmerized by who she sees… she sees Mother Theresa, and Gandhi strolling through he neighborhood… Saint Peter and the teacher move on to another neighborhood… and the houses are just absolutely splendid, the biggest and most beautiful …but there was no one around… so the teacher asks well who lives here?… world leaders, rich people? The teacher is somewhat confused because there is no one around… just houses. Saint Peter responds: No, this is for you and all other teachers, for all the work, time and heart you have given to educating and forming some of the greatest people in time… the only thing is that all teachers have to go to Purgatory for Professional Staff Development Training…

Ok.. so unless you have been a teacher you probably don’t get the joke…

Before I was a student at AUP I was a teacher. I was the one at the front of the class supposedly molding minds of future world players… I was the teacher stuck in staff development training when the students get a day off from school… Now I have not been to Purgatory, yet, but if I had to describe an all day staff development training session… I think purgatory would be pretty close… So after several years of teaching I grew tired of the control the state has over teachers and how limited I was in the classroom to educate and motivate the student, therefore I became the student…

When I left the teaching world, I had in mind, never to teach again. Apparently that is not possible… Once a teacher always a teacher.

The first few days in Auroville I had the opportunity to visit schools for the children of neighboring villages. As a teacher I was drawn to the openness of the young children.

The first school is called Isai Ambalam. This is a primary school starting at the kindergarten level up to about the equivelent of 6th grade.  Education in and around Auroville is not your traditional education.  Many schools in the local villages still believe in physical punishment, and in many cases the children do not go to school at all. Auroville has opened its doors to provide a safe learning environment for these children.  When visiting these schools you cannot walk into a school with a set image in mind about how the class is being led. This school and many others use alternative methods of teaching. I am not saying there is a right way or wrong way. Many of their methods of teaching actually involve a lot of learner led instead of teacher led classes.  What concerns me the most about this school in particular is that many of its teachers have not been suitably trained and do not have the knowledge necessary to successfully teach the students. The school itself is testing out new methods of teaching but unfortunately does not have the proper training to assess and evaluate whether or not the students have acquired or mastered the objectives and competencies required.  It is difficult to say you want to be a model school, when you have no verification whether or not your methods are successful.

On the other side of town we visited another school – Udavi school –  which provides education to children from surrounding villages at very low cost. Our visit to this school was a great experience. Eric, a history-geography teacher there,  had a group of his students guide us around school. These are all young Tamil children, there english was very strong and the willingness and their wanting to learn was visible in every action they took and word they spoke. These are children from surrounding villages who some before coming to the Udavi school were abused by teachers and definitly limited to their learning experience. Here at Udavi the children demonstrate an ownership of the school, by the school’s cleanliness, and especially by how they presented the programs to us visitors. Like many other schools in and around Auroville the classes are definitely not your standard classrooms, yet learning is constant, Udavi in particular prepares the students to pass the national standard tests after the 10th standard (grade). The members of faculty are continually adapting to the students making changes in their teaching styles to accommodate the learner; as a teacher at the Udavi school you are as much a teacher as you are a learner.  Each child has his or her own level of motiviation that varies with subjects, therefore the class is often designed to focus on what the learner wants to learn, resulting in greater success, retention and continual learning; this does not mean it is playtime all day, because the students have greater control over what they learn, they individually are more motivated. Udavi offers classes  that educate the students both on an academic scale as well as vocational. Learning is combined in a variety of forms, learning through physical activity and sport, visual and performing arts, manual work… If you’ve studied Garner’s theory of multiple intelligences: Linguistic words and language/ Logical-Mathematical logic and numbers/ Musical music, sound, rhythm/ Bodily-Kinesthetic body movement control/ Spatial-Visual images and space/ Interpersonal other people’s feelings/ Intrapersonal self-awareness. (Find out more about Gardner’s theory here) You could claim the Udavi school follows Garner, it provides a variety of tools to help each student learn the best they can and how they learn best.

As a teacher the environment for learning provided by Udavi is an ideal one; many of their methods and approaches on teaching I tried implementing in my own classes, but state requirements limited how alternative or flexible teaching could be. Here in Auroville the open mindedness in education has its blessings and troubles; it is difficult to find evidence whether or not the opportunities provided to the children of the villages allow them to expand outside Auroville. It would be interesting to continue observing the classes more at Udavi and see whether or not it could be used as a model school demonstrating successful alternative forms of education. I personally am looking forward to the opportunity to observe in more depth the methods used at Udavi, and see the results of such methods with their older students; as well as long term results observing a group of students from their first year at Udavi all the way through.

By Jeanne-Marie Browning

Photos by Aimeé Betancourt

Living Green, at the U.S. Pavilion

Hi From the American Pavilion!

I’m Cassandra. I’m Canadian and I’m here designing a website for the Auroville Botanical Gardens.  Before I got here I was really excited about what I’m now calling my sustainable living month. I thought I would get the chance to really understand what it is like to live an environmentally friendly life by staying at the American pavilion here in Auroville, riding an electrical bike, and working on a project that is trying to save a precious forest type in this part of the world.

I guess now I should explain what the American pavilion is. Here in Auroville they have devoted a particular section of the town to a place called the international zone. This area is meant to be place where each country participating in the Auroville project can build something to represent their countries addition to the evolution of human consciousness. Right now there is the Indian Pavilion, (Bharat Nivas), The Unity Pavilion, The Tibetan Pavilion (where the other half of our group is staying), and The American Pavilion.

A group of about 30 students from the university of Washington came in 2001 to build the pavilion and they wanted to use alternative technologies to make it completely sustainable. Today this means that the pavilion runs off of solar energy, has compost toilets, a wastewater treatment plant, and rainwater collectors.

I wasn’t sure what living here would mean, but these past weeks have actually turned out to be pretty normal. Running off solar energy means that we need to be extra careful to turn off lights, fans and electrical outlets. We haven’t run dry on power yet though, so I guess we’re doing ok. And as for the compost toilets, that is slightly more difficult to get used to, but not life changing. The toilets work off separating liquid and solid waste so that both can be used for agricultural work. Once the solid waste container is full it is removed and left for a few months to turn into safe and nutrient rich compost. This system reminds me of using the latrines at campsites I went to as a kid, but these are better because they don’t smell.

The building itself is actually what has been the most enriching about this experience, because it was designed to have direct relationship with the nature around it. The roof of the entire pavilion is arched like a sail to catch the wind and keep it shady on the terrace. Then each of the rooms has an angled roof that then brings the breeze inside for ventilation. All of this keeps the temperature inside lower than outside, by up to three degrees, keeping our living space comfortable without using air conditioning. An open terrace surrounds the four rooms, and this is our communal living space. There’s a kitchen with a fridge that runs off the solar panels, and an area we use like a living room. Then a pond surrounds the entire complex, which keeps out unwanted visitors like snakes and scorpions. Still water is always a concern though, so frogs and fish have been put in it to eat the mosquito eggs that the pond attracts.

When I came to live here I expected to have to change my habits to live more sustainably, but this hasn’t turned out to be the case.  My every day routine doesn’t seem that different from the one I have in my apartment in Paris. What is different is the closeness to nature in my everyday life; this has affected me the most. Sitting in the “living room” reading a book, and having frogs jump by as they explore the pavilion. Being visited by a stick bug in the kitchen one night. Waking up every morning and exiting my room to face an expanse of green. These are the most noticeable signs, but the relationship the pavilion has with the natural world is the very philosophy of its’ design; A pond to keep out predators instead of a wall, a roof that catches wind and rain instead of blocking them are only some examples.

This place makes me realize that living sustainably means so much more than using solar energy or a new kind of toilet. It means finding a new way to live with the natural world, not just saving the environment so that its’ there when we need it, but being with it everyday.

Carbon Neutral

Hai. Aimeé here, wishing you a happy new year! Josquin and I are currently working on a communications plan for the Carbon Neutral Forest Fund of Auroville.  We’re in the midst of developing a strategy with a couple of executions including posters and a brochure to raise awareness of the need to offset our carbon footprint.  We want to communicate how everything we do, from traveling on a plane to preparing food impacts our environment and one of the best ways to offset carbons is by planting trees in Auroville.  The trees here can offset up to 1 ton of CO2 in their lifetime!

In our second meeting with our “client”, Josquin and I found ourselves at Martanda’s house where he explained the start of the Auroville’s Forest Fund and the many benefits it has produced throughout the years.  He took us on a tour of the Tropical Evergreen Forest and before we knew it, we were on top of the property’s water mill, over looking exactly what we are working for… a breath taking, green abyss.  It was a sight I will never forget.  Being up there put my work here into perspective, I feel this is the most important initiative I’ve ever been a part of.

Reducing what we can and offsetting what we can’t is the only way to sustain our environment.  It’s in our hands.
Here are some practical ways to offset your carbon footprint:

1. Buy organic and local
2. Ditch bottled water
3. Unplug it!
4. Use cold water
5. Use native plant species to landscape around your home or business

Until next time, take care and “think sustainably”.