A spontaneous trip to Meera Youth Camp; discovering beach conservation near Auroville

Yet another amazing day in Auroville. After a serene morning run through the red dirt and thick green forest, us AUP students met at La Terrace to check in and enjoy a delicious breakfast. We had the rest of the day free and decided to make the most of it. One of the students had met a beach conservationist named Mikael last week, so we decided to go back to try and find his organization to learn more about their cause.

We jumped in some tuk-tuks and after a bumpy and somewhat chaotic ride through speeding traffic and small side streets, we made it to the beach.

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We walked along the sand until we found Meera Youth Camp, the beach conservation organization that Mikael leads. He and an international group of volunteers work on preserving beach erosion, which has been a huge problem since a cyclone hit in 2011. Although we stopped in just to say hello, Mikael warmly invited us to stay for lunch, as they were just about to get fresh vegetables from the market anyway. We accepted his kind invitation and once the vegetables had arrived, we all began the cooking process together. It was quite a site with all 13 people in one open-air kitchen, each lending a hand. There was a real sense of community, one of Auroville’s key principles, as we all worked together to create the delicious meal. Image

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Once the meal was prepared, we all sat around a stone table and listened to Mikael’s story. Originally a prestigious tax lawyer in Paris, Mikael realized that his heart was not in this line of work so he decided to travel for a year, Auroville being on his route. After spending 10 days here, he decided that Auroville was where he needed to be. He gave up his job and material possessions and began to work on his current project to protect the beaches along the east coast from further erosion. Although he still goes back to Paris from time to time to work on his PHD in volunteerism, the Meera Youth Camp has become his ultimate passion.

Although the cyclone had displaced large amounts of sand, it usually comes back naturally with the tide within just a couple of years. The problem in this particular area is that the sand has not been able to come back because it is blocked by a nearby port that extends unnecessarily far into the ocean.  One of Mikael’s main goals is to shut down this port, that is apparently being used less and less, to facilitate the sand coming back. He claimed that if no changes are made by August 2014, the Meera Youth Camp will be in the water. For now they have sandbags out, ready to be used if needed.

 ImageDespite the risk of its disappearance, Meera continues to work towards its visions and goals focusing on sustainability. Although the youth camp is slightly outside of Auroville, Mikael’s vision for the facility has a similar concept, as he wants to make it entirely self-sustaining and autonomous. They are on their way as they already run on minimal electricity and have a small garden where they grow vegetables. Mikael hopes to purchase the neighboring plot of land to expand his garden and rely less on the village markets. He has a very minimalist outlook on life and believes that people consume far more than they actually need. He believes that what is important in life is love, hard work, and passion – everything else will follow. We spent the entire afternoon listening to him and discussing his visions, along with those of his inspiring volunteers. At the end, he gave us a tour of some of their tree houses that they live in on the beach, all built by the volunteers and Mikael together.

ImageIt was very inspiring to hear from Mikael and his eco-conscious group, as they are very determined to fight for their project to stop beach erosion in anyway they can, even if just by spreading the information. His ideas about consumption and how people too often take more than they need is relevant on a global level and is the source of many problems today including those surrounding waste, pollution and water consumption. I wish Mikael and his team the best of luck in his beach erosion project and in becoming a self-sustaining organization as he hopes for.

 

– Lara Heskestad, The American University of Paris

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