A Visual Throw Back

By Mia Windisch-Graetz

It’s been a week now since our arrival in Paris and apart from that little sun burn on the nose and a bunch of insider jokes, especially one thing remains: memories. Memories from a life-changing experience in India we will be telling our children about one day. No matter if they are in our mind or on the SD card of our reflex camera: we will keep them forever.

The slideshow below features some pictures I took during this amazing journey. Tip: You can also listen to some Bollywood classics to get even more into the Indian mood while watching.

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Same same but different but still same. Or would you rather call it different different but same but still different? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the visual throw back to a world different but ‘same enough’ to call it our own.

Nandri et bisou

An Afternoon at Auroville’s Fisherman’s Beach

Participant Observer Report


On December 20th my friend Claire Clark and I decided to go to the beach to get some sun and relax in the water. After all, it had been a pretty cold year in Paris. Our experience was fascinating and ever since that day I have been thinking to go back and do my participant observer report on that place. And so, today Sunday January 17th, I find myself at Auroville’s fisherman’s public beach about to begin my observation report.

January 17, 2016 1:40PM – 4:30PM

It is a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. As soon as I park my moped, I find myself walking through the same beach entrance. I can see a big family coming out of their car heading to the beach just a few steps behind me. The coconut water man I saw only a month ago, is still sitting in the same place probably smoking the same type of cigar telling me exact same thing: Coconut water to refresh! The last time I was there I told him I would get one on my way out, and didn’t. I guess in a way I felt a little guilty so this time I happily accepted the refreshment for only 40 rupees. He smiled back at me with only a few teeth in his mouth. It was in that moment I decided to leave some change for him. He loudly said: Nandri, which means thank you in Tamil.

As I’m walking through the beach with my coconut in my right hand and my sandals on my left hand, I find the beach much less crowded than the last time I was there. I couldn’t help but wonder if Pongal Festival had anything to do with it. I carefully take out my big elephant blue blanket to lay and start observing the interactions in the beach. In less than 5 minutes, I have three teenager boys coming close to me to ask me the most important question of all: Can we take a selfie?

Once again, these teenagers made me feel like a celebrity; but celebrity for what exactly? Two of them ask if they can sit next to me in my blanket and I nod with my head to give them the OK. I now find myself around two boys eagerly wanted to take a picture with me. They start yelling to his friend to take a few, not just one selfie.

After a 5-minute photo-shoot they asked for my name. I replied: My name is Daniela. What about yours? I saw the window of opportunity to ask these boys why a picture with me was so fascinating. It was the second time I found myself to be quite the attraction at the beach and was wondering why. The boys start laughing amongst themselves, until one of them finally tells me that it is to show their friends. Very politely, I smiled and said I would like to lie down. They respectfully left. Here is where my observation truly began:

These three boys were wearing their swimsuits and the smiles in their faces. They must have been around 14 to 16 years old. I couldn’t help but to observe them having probably one of their best afternoons. They enjoyed themselves with just their company and nature, riding the waves and floating in the ocean like time wasn’t passing by. It reminded me of my childhood… and I immediately felt blessed for having a childhood where no technology interrupted my time with nature or distracted me from truly being a kid.

Looking to my left I can see a family approaching towards me. One male, two adult women and four kids; two boys and two little girls. The women were wearing long and colorful saris; one really caught my attention because it was turquoise and blue, two of my favorite colors. The other sari was a beautiful dark pink with yellow embroidery. The adult male asked me if I could take a picture with their children, I quickly replied: absolutely. The little kids are timid and don’t know how to approach me, so I grab the little girl’s right hand and asked her to sit next to me. The three others follow her younger sister. A lot of laughing takes place and more people start getting closer to us to witness who this “celebrity ” is. I must confess these thoughts also came to my mind. As we are sitting smiling to the camera, three older men start getting closer to us and take their phones out to start taking pictures of us. I will not deny that the whole spotlight made me a little uncomfortable after all this attention.

As the family waves goodbye to me, the three teenage boys come back running to my spot to ask me if I’m being disturbed by anyone. I was happily surprised by their concern and replied to them: No, nothing to worry! Nandri.

As they walked away, one adult male I had previously seen while parking my moped started walking towards me. I was a little hesitant I would have to once again take pictures with strangers, however I was happily surprised by our conversation.

– “Hey” he said…

“I hope you don’t take this whole attention in a bad way, all they really want is a picture with a white person. You know, skin color matters here, and you are white and nice. We want to welcome you to our country”.

(I must confess my heart dropped for a second when I heard how skin color is still such an important issue nowadays)

It is not a problem at all, I replied with a smile.

If you would like to get into the water, my family and I would be happy to watch over your things, he said.

Oh thank you Sir, I replied. Not necessary. I’m planning on staying for just a bit longer to observe people’s interaction with their family and friends.

Do you like the beach? He asked.

I do. Thank you sir for offering help to watch over my stuff. Very nice of you. Enjoy your time with your family, I replied.

Not a problem dear, we will be here if you need us, he replied and headed back to his family.

I laid for another hour or so; most of the time pretending to be asleep with my sunglasses on, that way photo-shoots requests would not happen. I was fascinated by the fact that all the teenager boys at that beach didn’t have any cigarettes, alcohol or cellphones with them. They were simply enjoying life. Laughing, running, swimming and playing with each other.

As I started collecting my bags, one couple came to me asking for one last picture. I accepted with a smile. I couldn’t help but wonder what the older man had mentioned to me about skin color and kindness just one hour ago. As a walked out of the beach, I had a lot of thoughts in my mind… I saw the friendly coconut waterman once again smoking his cigar and thought, what a better way to end my day with another refreshing coconut. This time, the coconut was a treat from the toothless old man.


Although the fisherman’s beach is probably not the most beautiful and private beach in Auroville, I strategically chose it for one reason. In this beach there are no tourists. There are no kayaks, no floaties, no paddle boards and no water bicycles. In this beach you get to see the real India. Men are the lords of the beach. They are barely any women present, and the few women that are there, are covered from head to toe and always accompanied by their families.

It is because of this reason I found the interaction to be incredibly interesting with the people I met today. Today I became the beach’s attraction because of my skin color and because of my gender. Today, I was a celebrity for about 2 hours and I absolutely hated it. Don’t get me wrong, it felt incredible to be able to get smiles and even some laughs from the people I met today, but not because of how I look. At the beginning we might find it cute and adorable, but the main issue still remains there… Why should skin color and gender be so important that you go from being nobody to suddenly becoming a big sensation for not apparent reason? At the end we are all the same: Male, Female, Black, White, Indian, or Hispanic.

The words the older man shared with me today will stay with me forever. Always reminding myself to be kind to others but most importantly, to prove him wrong. Skin color does not matter, at least not to me. If it doesn’t matter to me, why should it matter to them? Definitely something to reflect on…

– Daniela Moreno

‘We just can’t’

Two toilet paper rolls, six dresses, twenty-seven cold showers, no laundry load (hand-wash only), and 1.5 Gigabytes of internet. – All in one month. If you had told me that I would be able to ‘survive‘ this way before I left Paris, I never would have believed you.

Right after our arrival at the Chennai airport we went to a restaurant where we did not only have our first ‘real Indian‘ dinner but were also confronted with a ‘real Indian toilet’ for the first time. As soon as you entered the bathroom, the hygiene standards were not the same as we are used to back in Europe because there was no toilet paper instead you could only find a dirty bucket. Some of us went, while others kept saying ‘I just can’t, and waited until they arrived at the hostel. On the bus, some of us were dying to go to the loo because our bladders were about to explode.

Toilet, bed, toilet, bed. – While everyone was out and about visiting NGOs, I was running back and forth from my room to the toilet. Suddenly, I realized that the toilet paper was all gone, which gave me no other choice but to use my hands and a bucket.  And guess what: it was not too bad.


When we found out that the washing machine broke down at our hostel, I asked myself: am I going to wear the same dirty clothes all week? Consequently, we had no other option than to hand wash our towels, dresses and underwear.


During our stay in Auroville, the most problematic issue was that internet was almost non existent. Thus, we had difficulties communicating with our families, friends abroad, students from our group and the NGOS we were working for.


This month was not about sitting in a classroom and learning about sustainable development from the books. We were actually living, breathing and talking sustainably. The problems we were confronted with lead us to find more sustainable solutions.

A question we could all ask ourselves after this month: how much toilet paper, water and energy did we actually save here?

By asking several students and according to the data I gathered from doing some research I found out that our group saved 38 toilet paper rolls composed of 38,000 sheets of toilet paper, which is equivalent to about 2 miles. Moreover, a standard toilet uses about 3.5 gallons of water per flush, a low-flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons whereas for squatting toilets only 0.21 gallons are needed. With the average person flushing about 8 times a day, (not accounting for the people who had diarrhea) we saved approximately 13 502.16 litres of water in total or the equivalent of a swimming pool.

Considering that none of us used a blow dryer or a washing machine, and as we were mostly cycling around with our bikes, we saved a great amount of renewable energy as well.

What will happen when we get back to Paris? Will we ever able to continue the ‘Aurovillian lifestyle?’ – This month, we made it happen, so the answer isDSC_0186: Yes we can.

by Mia Windisch-Graetz

Why come back to Auroville?

By Lory Martinez

As our time here comes to an end, I think a lot of us are asking ourselves questions about how Auroville has changed us, whether we will translate the environmental consciousness we learned here to our lives din Paris and beyond, but I’d like to add another thought to that…

Will we continue to think about our own self development in the same way?

I’m not talking about Spirituality per se, I do not know enough about  The Mother’s teachings to put forth her philosophies, but there is something  that happens in Auroville that happens in few other places: self – development, a questioning about our role as humans and what we can do to better ourselves in a transforming  world. This role can be anything from documenting bird sounds, to teaching greener waste practices to inspiring healthier eating through permaculture farming and so on.

There are many reasons to come to Auroville, but they all have one thing in common: a development of both the world and the self in one.

In this program we are all at a point in our lives where we wanted to make a change- turn left instead of right and continue our studies to learn more about what we can do as citizens of the world. For those of my peers who wish to go into the field of development,  there is a desire to create change on a global scale, but , at the same time achieve a  kind of self realization: to ultimately do a job that fulfills you, in any way. And we all feel that way.

This is a place where people have the opportunity to discover what they can do to contribute to a community. It is a place  where families have the time to be with their children while still trying to achieve their dreams of more sustainable living. It is a place for self-discovery.

The people I’ve met  here come from a number of different backgrounds, but they all do work they love, that they are passionate about, that makes them feel fulfilled.

And yet, many people come and go from Auroville: Guests and Tourists circulate this intentional community regularly. And even Aurovillians leave .

In fact, I’ve spoken to many Aurovillians who have left for many years only to decide, that Auroville is ultimately where they’d like to live.  Many leave for the same reasons people everywhere leave small towns: wanting to see more of the world, to discover who they are in a different space etc .

But the difference is, the ones who return to Auroville come back for the same  reasons- to find themselves, to discover who they are, whether they have changed for the better over time, whether  they have in fact had that moment of self-realization.  The difference is, Aurovillians who return understand the spirit of Auroville is not just an example for a better world within the sphere of sustainability, but also an example of the best self we can put forward to a world that needs our help.

And that’s why coming back here, whether it’s a year from now or ten years from now, isn’t such a bad idea. And even if we don’t come back, I’d like to think that we carry that spirit of changing ourselves for the better with us even as we fly back to our lives in Paris this evening.

Sari’s and Sandals: A “need” for Development

Sunday January 3rd, 2016 was an unforgettable day, like most days throughout this experience, but on this particular Sunday we weren’t students, we had the opportunity to be true tourist. This was our second excursion outside of Auroville and it was not a trip to be missed, plus for lunch we were given the most amazingly flavourful egg salad sandwich which felt like a reward after the climb. This time around we found ourselves at Gingee Fort, collectively the unspoken goal was to make it to the top of the mountain to capture a bunch of photos which could later be used as Facebook profiles, Instagram post, and a host of other social media contributions. Commencing our climb it was immediately apparent to the group the climb would not be as easy as previously discussed. There was minimal shade and the angle of the rocks and steps were positioned at incredibly steep angle that it appeared unnatural for a climb, but as I looked ahead of me in the direction of the group already attempting the climb, I blurted out “if they can make he climb in sari’s and sandals we can do it in sneakers and sweats”, and I was right. The entire group successfully made the climb. Making the climb down the mountain made me more aware that our group was the only group equipped with sneakers or climbing shoes. Everyone else wore sandals and some were even barefoot. This was truly amazing. This awareness triggered a connection to our greater presence here in India, that of development. Taking a glimpse down at my colourful blue and pink Nike’s, you could assume that I was well prepared for the climb. Nike’s are advertised to make you run faster, go further, climb higher, and transform you into a athletic master, but my masterful shoes failed me, I tripped during my descent. The rubber sole that served the purpose of gripping to the surface did not work and I landed on my bum. The Nike’s were not as masterful, as portrayed and widely accepted to be, but the sandals the ladies in front of us wore did not fail them. IMG_4336.JPG

For me this scenario forces us to evaluate the measurements of development. Are we using the Nike Standard, that advertises it’s shiny more equipped and superior characteristics, or by that of the proven capable sandals that are not so shiny but capable and equipped to make the climb. As we near the end of the trip I believe our presence here is to critically critique the phenomena that emerged in the 1960’s as sustainable development. How does development take into account culture, religion, and society? Is our presence problematic or are we successful in our goals? And how do we decide what success is? There are many questions and at times very few answers. Within in this current moment I am not sure how to receive the idea of development. My current state is evaluating those who are initiating the  development and those who are being “developed”, who’s need is it to develop? IMG_4325.JPG

Azalea Capers

I cannot help my self

It has been argued that one can only recognize the self through the “other”. This is because the “other” confirms what the self is not. This argument is one which is salient when people promote “colour blindness” as a solution when it comes to racial prejudice. Those who are in favour of the understanding of the self through the “other” bash the notion of colour blindness because of the perceived inevitability involved in self identity formation of identifying the other and participating in “othering”.

Some collectivist societies openly recognize that the notion of the self is one that cannot exist independently without the other. There are languages that do not have an equivalent word for “the self.” The pronoun “I” is often the closest word to the self. In South Africa where I am from, the philosophy of ubuntu summarizes how the self cannot endure independently from others.  Ubuntu is the belief that you are who you are because of your interactions with those around you who also contribute to your development.

In India this inability to exclude the self from community is apparent.  All of the NGOs within and beyond Auroville all participate in contributing towards developing India in a sustainable way for future citizens of India and of the world. Auroville’s charter is one that candidly echoes the sentiment of ubuntu and selflessness:

  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the divine consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

Here, the definition of the self is dependent upon the recognition of constant interaction with the other. In order for Auroville to keep evolving, individuals would need to continue to learn and share from each other.

The NGO that I am working with is called Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG). The organization has self-help group sessions for its members who reside in the local villages. This may seem a little contradictory in some ways right? A self-help group in a community that doesn’t fully recognize the self without considering its community and “others”.

Self-help is a process embedded within psychology. The field of mainstream psychology often promotes the self through wholly focusing on the individual and personal development. How then does personal development resonate within a society that prioritizes the need for the development of the self through others? AVAG has managed to integrate this within its organizational practices.

AVAG self help group health seminar which took place yesterday at the AVAG premises

AVAG self-help group health seminar which took place yesterday at the AVAG premises

AVAG’s self-help groups reflect the NGO’s ability to incorporate the concept of the self in a relevant, contextual manner.  This could also be an indicator of perhaps why the self-help groups have been sustainable. Anbu Sironmani is the Director of AVAG. She argues that AVAG combines the self within its collectivist context by putting emphasis on the fact that individual development is a precursor to the sustainable development of the community. Anbu mentioned that since the self-help groups have started, the suicide rates have dropped significantly within the villages.

AVAG’s model for its members recognizes that multiple factors contribute to the self reaching its highest potential. AVAG’s services include: self-help groups, education, microcredit, community service, social enterprise and community development.

The sustainable development of the community is the utopian ideal for AVAG.  It is the reason behind why I, as a self that is not mutually exclusive from my colleagues, have come to learn from this community. I cannot help my self but be inspired by the work of AVAG and its members.

One of the AVAG self help group members

One of the AVAG self-help group members

















Nolwazi Mjwara





Auroville, India: Building a Conscious & Sustainable Land

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I remember it like it was yesterday.
After extensive research, countless hours of writing essays and sorting out my finances, the time had come to make a decision about Grad-School. It pretty much came down to one distinguishable course none of the other universities could offer than The American University of Paris: a one-month Sustainable Development Practicum in India.

I have always believed that the future of our planet relies on people who understand the importance of nature, our environment, and those who have a true sense of compassion towards others.

As an activist, I believe that in order to make a difference, we need to educate people and educate ourselves. I have always known that knowledge is power; so learning the fundamentals of communications and understanding the development, transformations and challenges on today’s globalization is fundamental to me as a professional and as an individual.

It has been over two weeks since I first arrived to India and I have learned so much already from this wonderful country. Visiting over 28 organizations in Auroville the first ten days was not as easy as I had imagined. Between the jet lag, the extensive days and witnessing so much poverty and misery was physically and emotionally draining.


I have always felt very alone on my journey to a conscious and responsible way of living. In India, I don’t feel this way. The city of Auroville is one of the first conscious communities in the world and I get to live here for one month. Auroville is also known for its high spiritual vibration and the creation of eco-friendly, ethical and sustainable projects. People here truly care about making a better and more sustainable world for themselves and future generations. Their passion is fascinating and contagious.

During my time in India I’ve learned about the astounding variety in virtually every aspect of social life. Diversities of ethnic, linguistic, regional, economic, and religious groups make India a mystical and captivating country. Indian society also has an immense urban-rural differences and gender distinctions, and as a result from this, most of the projects that were presented to us were projects that had been developed in the past 30 years as response to social, environmental and structural issues in Pondicherry and Auroville.

I have always been involved with animal rights organizations, but I must acknowledge that becoming familiar with projects in the areas of education, women empowerment, sustainable and ethical fashion, waste management and sustainable economics was fascinating as well as awe-inspiring.

The perception of life after meeting people less fortunate than us can only make us more humble and appreciative for what we have in life. These people despite their economic situation strive to give back, to truly create change and impact people’s lives in a constructive manner. Getting to know them and work with them to communicate their mission is a real privilege.


– Daniela Moreno