As its name would suggest, the Life Education Center is the embodiment of educational activity as a sustainable practice. Since it was established in the early nineties, the LEC has embraced diverse projects with the intention of empowering local women through the development of skills and confidence. While tailoring is currently the programs centralizing activity, LEC students also participate in the preservation of traditional cultural knowledge through local produce based cooking classes and nutrition workshops among others. The workshops and programs, some of which are open to the public, facilitate an interesting balance between progress and preservation, which serve local women in different ways.
After speaking with some of women currently enrolled or working at the LEC the notion of progress on a social and personal level was clear. All of the women described a childhood which is typical of young women in India, especially in the villages. The girls were expected to stay home, caring for their families before being married and managing the house for a husband and children. Meanwhile the describe how their brothers were supported financially and given opportunities to pursue higher education and professional training. The women often gravitated to the LEC later in life after hearing about the program from a friend or acquaintance. After winning the approval of family members, the women were able to join the small learning community at their center in Auroville. During the program women learned not only tailoring skills which are taught in such a way as to allow the women’s creative input, but a myriad of practical tools which develop a practical and emotional independence. Women learned to speak with confidence in public and on the phone, to drive scooters, manage work schedules and even become teachers themselves.
While LEC strives to abandon the confines of traditional gender roles, their programs selectively hold on to some of the cultural practices at the heart of Indian society. The integration of traditional knowledge as a sustainable practice creates a balanced environment in which women can comfortably explore their identities through dynamic activities. The cooking workshops hosted by LEC emphasize the importance of local produce and holistic nutritional knowledge in the traditional cuisine of the region. Through the presentation of the information and processes associated with meal preparation, the women of LEC are able to celebrate their heritage while simultaneously defying oppressive social structures. During the workshops the women act as cultural ambassadors, communicating systems of nutritional wisdom and local tradition which are unique to India and the Tamil Nadu region. As India compromises it cultural history and environmental wellbeing in the face of rapid development, the LEC embraces elements of an inspiring traditional culture. Ultimately, their approach to women’s empowerment is being defined in terms which are appropriate and unique to local culture, rather than a western standard, facilitating a practical progression toward women’s independence.