Arrival to India and Mamallapuram Hill

When we touched in India, the group was filled with fatigue as it did not yet only knowing a little bit about Auroville and the country as a whole. Auroville is an international community seeking to live in peace and unity following the Dream and the teachings from Mother.

As we left the airport, many of us had to use the toilet and had our first experience with the squatting/wash technique. It immediately became a learning environment for us all to put judgment aside and simply get used to a new way of using the restroom.

Immediately we were greeted my Shanthi our guide and translator for the duration of our trip. Tamil is the local language of the Tamil Nadu region. India is a huge subcontinent that is often thought of as north India and south India. The country is comprised of over 29 states with their own special autonomy. India also has a huge population being the second most populated country in the world.

This was clear when leaving the airport in Chennai. There was a constant bustle of people walking around and heading to their destinations. The city was busy with a high concentration of people everywhere you looked.

We had more travels with a long bus ride from Chennai to a hotel for breakfast and from there to the Auroville area. This breakfast was our first traditional Indian meal of the region. One many of us tried dosa, which is a crepe like item. It is often accompanied with an array of chutneys to dip into.

But first we made a quick stop to look at a famous historical site; Mamallapuram. This site is very close to the beach. Just off of Tamil Nadu coast, Mamallpuram dates back from the early 7th and 8th centuries. The hill is open from 6am to 6pm as we arrived around 9am. One highlight from the visit was seeing Krishna’s Butterball, which is a huge boulder that remains immoveable.



Much further South is Raya Gopura, which is a huge tower. This Hindu monument dates back from the 16th century. As the hill continues just close by is Varaha Mandapa composed of lions on top of columns, finely carves out of stone. We walked around the hill, basking in the great work of the stone. Animals were a big part of these monuments including elephants, and lions.

Of course what brings the hill together is the Hindu trinity: Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma called the Trimurti Cave Temple, this of course, has elephants on that back flanked by the guardians.





To know more about what wasteless does, AUP students visited wasteless where a presentation was done by the founder Ribhu Vohra. During the presentation he talked about his journey and how wasteless was founded. Ribhu seems very passionate about what he does, he has committed himself to waste-related issues after his visit to Auroville in 2008, he began with a creative anti-litter campaign targeting children in India. After the campaign, he spent 3 more years working on grass-roots waste management projects with residents and local government, researching innovative and sustainable methods to increase resource recovery from Indian waste. Simultaneously, with a small team he developed Garbology 101, a creative activity-based educational programme on waste. This led to the founding of WasteLess. 



He took the time to explain the different kinds of waste to us and how they are recycled, he also  discussed the importance of waste management and his project, Garbology which educates the newer generations to waste less and manage their waste. I think the approach he has to saving the environment is an excellent one, he is trying to teach the children how to pay more attention to the environment in an entertaining way. He has made books which are now used in the schools, these books help the Indian children know what materials are bad for the environment and encourages them not to purchase or use it. He believes that what we are doing is unfair to the newer generations and he wants to educate the new generation because if they don’t learn then the world will be destroyed forever.  


He mentioned that not all waste can be recycled because only a few people separate their waste and once the waste isn’t separated, it’s very hard for the recycling companies to recycle. While others can’t be recycled because of the components they have put together. He also showed us a picture of one of the dumpsites in Pondicherry and compared the differences of how it was years ago and what it looks like now. The picture was shocking! The amount garbage in it was unbelievably too much. He also added that if people do not start wasting less and separating their waste, it will result in destroying the earth and damaging our health faster than most of us can imagine. He quoted that “Our planet can’t handle it, and neither can we”.  


He concluded by passing around some plastic materials and telling us which ones are recycled and which ones aren’t. In addition to that, he told us about the different types of plastics and the ones which are bad for our health. Which was very interesting because most of us found out that even the water bottles we were using were bad for our health. It was definitely a great presentation, full of useful information and he concluded with asking us to be more responsible while purchasing products and creating waste.  






wasteless team. AUP students

Gypsy Community

I chose to work with Samugam foundation during my internship period in India and Samugam works with the Gypsy and Tribal community. To understand more about what Samugam Trust does and how it changes people’s lives for better, they took as to the communities and showed us around. As we entered the place, I was shocked. The first thing I saw was a half naked man sitting in the garbage, where his home or what I would describe as a torn tent was. Seeing people suffer and live such a life did not feel good. The fact that they had a smile on their faces was a hope that things can be changed. Here is what you want to know about the Gypsy community;

gypsy community 2

gypsy comunity 3

gypsy community, gypsy life


They live in a country side in Pondichery away from the rest of the people and world. While talking to them I could feel they were uneducated, never went to school and do not have any official job. One of them said that they usually get their money through begging and donations. While visiting their community, I realized that they live alongside the animals and garbage. They mostly collect garbage including food and non-food items. They eat the food and try to reuse or repair the non-food items to use or sell it later on. The children were naked and playing with the sand which had human waste, animal waste and garbage on. So neither the children nor the adults looked very healthy.While going around the Gypsy community most of the people started begging for food or money.

Talking to a girl from the Gypsy family, she said that the Gypsies don’t really believe in education and that her parents did not want her to study, they wanted her to marry as soon as she got into her puberty so that the family can get money and be able to buy food. Which is sad, because they are teaching the newer generations to live in the same way as well.

During our visits we saw a project which was renovating the toilets, we were told that they initially didn’t use the toilets because they were not used to it and most of the people broke it, that’s why it had to be renovated, and this time raise awareness on the importance of sanitization and cleanse. It’s unfortunate that these communities get very little to no help at all, this community we visited was getting help from only one organization. Therefore if there is no help or focus on helping these communities, then these communitieswill stay unaware of the importance of health, education, and even the importance of being financially independent.



Chidambaram Temples

IMG_1309.JPGIMG_1312.JPGJanuary 5 Sunday

Chidambaram temples

Shiva’s Temple

When we get off the bus, it’s hot and we’ve already been to the mangroves but are not out of energy yet. Although this blog entry is not about one of our NGOs, it still has connections to my studies and I am grateful for it. When I think about temples and communications, I can ask of the architects, artists and those who commissioned the building and design of the temple and what was their message and who was their audience. The message was that Shiva was powerful and deserved, possibly needed praise, adornment and worship. The temple was designed in a way that that would communicate power, grandeur and idolatry at its finest. The first thing we all notice is the size of it. We approach through a alleyway or street that really crammed full of shops and stands and kiosks and people. Holy men are dressed very differently from us and differently from even the rest of who appears to be Indian or of Indian decent. The holy men have shaved borders around the crowns of their heads and are adorned with white yellow and red chalky paint or dye. Our group walks somewhat together and somewhat apart and I always find that I’m checking to see if we’re really together or have lost anyone. Shanthi is with us and whenever she is, I always feel better. The youth, Nirmal and Gautham are with us and I like their energy very much. Before we can enter the temple, we have to check in our shoes and find coverings/sarongs for Kevin, Nirmal and Gautham because they wore shorts. We also get a guide, who was quite cute. He talks us all the way through the temple and the idols but the thing I find the most fascinating is what happened with the boys, collectively.

When we walked our way into the inner temple, we were invited to enter a sacred space which was occupied by an idol that represented Shiva’s second wife, Parvati. We were invited to take part of a blessing ceremony. Women could enter the way we were, however all males had to remove their shirts. Anthropologicaly and sociological, what happened next what truly perplexing. All the male son our trip, who we had seen multiple times, decided not to remove their shirts and do the ceremony with us. The men collectively seemed uncomfortable with the idea and all decided (with the acceptation of Mark Ennis) no to remove their shirts and even seemed bothered by the idea. I found this so fascinating because throughout time, women are told to cover up, uncover this, cover that, wear this, don’t wear that and so on… this is one of the rare times I have witnessed the opposite situation. We had all seen all the boys with their shirts off before because of the beach, pool or just around the Pavilion, but they would not participate if it meant they had to take their shirts off. In retrospect, I wish I asked them what they felt about that situation; however, I didn’t want to make anyone more uncomfortable than it already was for them. The rest of the tour of the temple was unmentionable and we finished up very quickly after this ceremony.

I have special feeling toward Shiva and his wives, I suppose. My name means the same in Greek Mythology. I went into this temple excited and happy and I left just the same, if not slightly perplexed. I think that the importance and the communications of the temple were clear to me. Communications isn’t always words. It can be sculpture, art, rituals and more. I love the idea that we can apply communications to different mediums. This visit would have been even better with an art or architectural historian, but our guide did well and I believe that we received our own message.


Mohanam Village Heritage Center

Mohanam HouseWhen we arrived at Mohanam Village Heritage Center, my inner child leapt for joy.  The center is made up of large open spaces perfect for running around and several large bamboo hut like classrooms.  There are tree houses, a seesaw, and tons of legos.  We were greeted with jasmine flowers as we entered one of the huts.  Bala, the creative director, introduced himself and shared with us a little bit about the purpose of the center.             

Mohanam welcome

The mission of Mohanam Village Heritage center is, “To act as a bridge between Auroville and its surrounding villages and to keep alive the local, rural Tamil cultural heritage.”  Bala explained to us that the spread of technology like smart phones with internet access has also brought with it the spread of western culture.  Young children are often more fascinated by what is different from what they know than with learning about the traditions of their ancestors.  The center is working to preserve Tamil traditions lest they be forgotten. 

Kevin playing Mohanam

During the week days the center functions as a kindergarten for over 85 children, some of whom were there during our visit, watching us with curious eyes.  On the weekends, they teach stick fighting, Tamil language classes, classical dancing, and traditional cooking.  At night they operate as a night school for teenagers who did not do well on their exams. They also run several different programs outside of the weekend classes. There is a Daksha youth life skills camp, for inner leadership skills.  An Auroville jungle camp to reconnect the children with nature.  An adventurer camp that includes horse riding, circus training, and surfing.  A summer camp run in the months of April and May, to keep the children busy when children are not in school.  With the center operating as the hub for so many different things, it was clear to me that this heritage center cares deeply about the local village children and making sure they have every opportunity to learn as they grow.

Mohanam dancing

Bala was gracious enough to have some of the centers full time employees demonstrate some traditional dances for us while they fed us some snacks.  The center operates with a barebones staff, and relies heavily on donations and volunteers who feel moved to help.  A true pillar of the community, Mohanam Village Heritage Center partners with other places in the Auroville community such as the Bamboo Center, Auroville Village Action Group, and the Lively Boutique.  In addition they partner with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and the Puducherry Department of Tourism.  For those interested in volunteering with the Mohanam Cultural center, they have guest houses available on site.

Transgender and HIV+ Rights at SCHOD


Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development Society

This is a community development center that works with the transgender and HIV+ population of Pondicherry. It’s on a beautiful, tree-lined street with colorful buildings that definitely put into perspective the grey monotone of Paris. We were welcomed whole-heartedly by a group of transgendered women, their “mother” and a few other people. We spent most of the time discussing transgender issues as that seemed to be the most pertinent. HIV treatment is fully covered by the Indian government so although it’s a serious issue, it is at least fully taken care of.

In India, transgender people are officially recognized as a 3rd gender. There’s a huge amount of discrimination at the societal level, but officially, it is permitted. They are also given ration cards, which act as an identity card. This center works with approximately 1500 people in both the transgender and HIV+ community. Some people live on-site whereas others use it as a center where they are free to be themselves.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing the stigma and abuse these brave people face. Many of them lose their family and their friends and are not able to find much in the way of employment. When asked why they continue the process they said that they’re so determined to live their true selves that they’re willing to live with the consequences. We learned that male-to-female is the most common by far and that female-to-male is even more rejected by society and to pay for the process many resort to begging and sex work. Sexual abuse as children is very common as well.

Again, HIV wasn’t discussed as much. The center links HIV+ people to hospitals and care networks. The government pays a 1500-rupee stipend every month. That amounts to approximately 19euro. It isn’t much, but it’s something. And as mentioned earlier, treatment is fully covered by the Indian government.

In terms of UN Sustainable Development Goals, SCHOD promotes good health and well-being (goal 3), gender equality (goal 5), reduced inequality (goal 10) and peace, justice and strong institutions (goal 16).

This center was so full of warmth. As a gay, HIV+ man, it recalls the various community centers I’ve been in throughout the years. They’re centers in which you can feel both pain and warmth. These are communities who have been marginalized by society and who turn to each other for love and support. These are networks that look out for each other; groups of people who form close bonds that often last a lifetime. From a Western perspective, this center itself is fairly rudimentary in appearance, but it doesn’t matter for these brave people. It was a beautiful place to see.



Sustainable Dentistry with ADCERRA

ADCERRA is a 25-year-old dental clinic that serves the Auroville community and several regions around it. Founded by a French dentist named Jacques, it is a public health center designed to promote basic dental health in order to reduce the need for serious dental procedures. It centers around the “0 Concept” which will be explained in more depth below. Jacques, his friend (and sometimes coworker) Jean-Claude, and his team of exceptional women warmly welcomed us.

The clinic aims to provide basic dental treatment for the general population using 10 sub-centers in areas around Auroville. It seeks to promote general health and well being, mostly to children in schools. The clinic aims to empower women, which they see as a key to a better functioning society (I agree). As such, all hygienists working in the sub-centers are women. He believes female hygienists help demystify dental care and make it less scary so young children won’t be as intimidated by dental practices. The idea is that the vast majority of dental procedures (up to 75%) can be taken care of with a basic level of training and at a reasonable cost and Jacques provides a 3-month hygienist training course after which these women are fully ready.

In India it is estimated that 250,000,000 children have no access to dental care. It is said that 2% of dentists are available for 72% of the population. As such dental hygiene is a huge public health issue and one that this clinic seeks to provide a treatment framework for, which can be exported on a national level.

Examining ADCERRA through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals I think we could argue that his clinic provides good health and well being (goal 3), gender equality (goal 4), and decent work and economic growth (goal 8). The atmosphere in the clinic was really wonderful and quite unique.

As mentioned earlier, the clinic operates on the “0 Concept,” based on an ancient Indian theory from Vedic times. “0” is both a number and a symbol representing both “nothing” and “all” and as it applies to health care, the “0” represents a perfect state of health and also the absence of care. It is with this theory that this clinic aims to promote basic dental health so that people don’t have to come to the dentist office except for more serious procedures.

Jacques’ methodology is certainly unique as it flies in the face of a typical business. His aim is not to make as much profit as possible. Naturally he needs to sustain the business so it can continue, but the traditional view of profit is upended here. As a management student who views traditional business practices with skepticism, it was wonderful to witness something so novel.

D. Saravanan and Aranya Forest and Sanctuary

The entrance of Aranya Forest and Sanctuary

The Aranya Forest and Sanctuary is a sprawling and lush forest that sits just west of the border of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The proprietor, D. Saravanan, walks the slight paths cutting through the forest easily, over the brush and under the branches of trees. “Look around you, how do you feel?” he asks openly but not rhetorically, stopping in a modest clearing. Answers to his question range from cool to peaceful. Though the forest is lush, full of various trees, plants, and wildlife, it is only 25 years old. Saravanan built it himself, from soil that was mostly sand and rocks, with topsoil that had been completely depleted and eroded from farming.

D. Saravanan walking through the forest that he built.

Though it has been over 20 years, Saravanan says that he still does not have topsoil in some places. The difficulty lies in the fact that in Tamil Nadu, as well as India as a whole, water and rain levels have been progressively depleting. Saravanan blames this on the lack of forest as well as the continual destruction of existing forests, as this is what keeps the topsoil and holds water. “This is life for us,” he says emphatically, “This is the main source.” By his estimates, the world needs to keep about 30% forest to survive, at least 11% in India.

D. Saravanan talking with our group.

Saravanan is not a botanist, something he makes clear early on in our tour but, he says, “I am learning.” While he started planting hearty trees that could survive the weather and lack of nutrients in the soil, he is now focused on planting what is indigenous to the tropical environment. Some of the 250 plant varieties that Saravanan started planting with include ebony, yellow satin wood, santolina, and sandalwood. He says that after a recent study, he found that there were now a variety of over 700-800 plants because of plants and animals. While his ambitions and forest fall under the United Nation’s goals for Sustainable Development #13, Climate Action, as well as #15 Life on Land, perhaps it is his wise words that really send the message home. “This land belongs to whom?” He asks rhetorically, “The future.”

Plants donated and planted by our AUP group.



Jaly House and Sewing the Seeds


The Jaly House, which has locations at 1st and 11th Cross in Pondicherry, houses over 100 children between its two buildings. The name ‘Jaly,’ pronounced like ‘jolly,’ stands for ‘Justice, Awareness, and Loyalty for Youth,’ the energetic owner Bruno Savio divulges to us on our visit on the 18th of December, 2019. The center, which houses children, ages five to 18-years-old of the local gypsy (or ‘Dalit’) population.

The Jaly House is part of the Samugam Foundation, which was started by Savio’s late father as a home to help those suffering from leprosy. The foundation takes its name from a word that means ‘society helping other society,’ as well as Savio’s personal acronym of ‘Social Awareness, Mutual Upliftment, Guidance and Motivation.” When Savio’s father had a stroke in 2006, he decided to take on the responsibilities of the foundation alongside his media and advertising career. In 2008, he opened up the foundation to include the housing and schooling of local gypsy children. Currently, they work with over 300 children and house 240.

Savio standing in one of the boys dormitories.

While Savio’s goals fall under the UN’s Sustainable Development goals for good health and well being as well as quality education, he still has trouble regularly finding funding. The foundation was voted ‘the best child welfare center’ this year, however, the foundation is still waiting for a grant from the government. To combat this, Savio opened up his program ‘Sewing the Seeds’ which teaches skills like sewing to local gypsy women to give them a source of income. Right now, they crafts they make such as tote bags are being sold to countries like Belgium and France through their web shop.

Examples of work made by members of Sewing the Seeds.

Savio has many success stories that have come out of the foundation. He speaks proudly of the four women who have gone on to become nurses, two of which are working in Chennai. Another one of Savio’s students is to be featured on BBC Tamil for doing well in school and winning awards. Though the foundation has yet to hear back from the government for financial support, Savio is still hopeful, saying “when there are children, the community comes to help.” While volunteer donations help the foundation significantly, he says it costs over 450,000 rupees in expenditures to feed, clothe and house over 100 children per day. In his words, “I’m getting an elephant, but I’m not getting food for it.”

Eternal Divers Presentation


cropped-logo-eternal.jpg Eternal Divers

Eternal Divers is based just outside of the Auroville on the Bay of Bengal. The first thing we noticed as we approached the location is the beauty of the house, Eternity. Situated on the beach and surrounded by bush and sand, Eternity features a large, open patio that connects to the home and office of Jonas and Tracy of Eternal Drivers. Zeus, their grand Rottweiler greeted us with kisses and just a little bit of fur and slobber. The dog lovers amongst us were thrilled to meet him but we get situated quickly and open our hearts and ears to listen to “Joni” explain the mission of Eternal Divers and the issues that his team, Tracy and he are passionate about.

When Eternal divers first began, it was just another diving company and they wondered how to set themselves apart and make better use of their skills, talents and location. How to be a sustainable business and spread environmental concern and solutions is paramount for them. Yoni discussed something that caught his attention called “ghost nets” which are extremely concerning. A ghost net is a fishing net that has (most likely) become caught on something which makes it impossible for a fisherman to free it or has escaped the control of the fisherman and can’t be reeled back on to the boat. It is left behind, unattended and unchecked forever as it collects, catches and kills without consideration. In addition to the ghost nets, sewage, overfishing and erosion are all concerns for Joni and Tracy and their team. Joni told us that there is a visible line of sewage and ocean water and to help us understand just how detrimental ghost nets can be, he explained that ghost nets cause about 20, 000 US dollars loss per year. Nearby, a ghost net was discovered that had over 30 sharks caught in it and had been floating for what an estimated three years. Of course, nothing in a ghost net can be salvaged for food. It is just a true waste of resources.

Eternal Divers was enraged at the finding and asked us to consider what a tragedy this is when we reflect on the beauty and majesty of all the sea has to offer us. The pointless loss of life and the pollution caused by humans is unacceptable. Naturally, Eternal Divers found a way to expand the teaching and education of scuba and diving to the fisherman and villagers themselves to help them understand how precious their resources were and how carelessness could hurt their livelihood more than they had ever comprehend before.

We learned from them that what they are most proud of and would really like to continue, improve upon and increase the reach of is the education of the fisherman and villagers. Too many humans take the sea and all she has to offer for granted. What lies below the surface… or more importantly what is being harmed and killed off below the surface is unknown until we dive down and see for ourselves. All the incredible colorful life, both flora and fauna, are unseen, under-appreciated and unprotected. It is only through the education and the collaboration with locals that behavior change can occur. Seeing the deep for oneself may be the only way for many to understand what is at risk.

Within global communications, behavior change is the most challenging of all the goals. Behavior change, as in this instance, little to no money can be gained through the education of the locals. In fact, Eternal Divers may find that time and money are lost in their efforts; however, they feel that what India and the earth may gain is far more important if the sea and its life can be preserved through this tactic. The benefits of behavior change are often long-term rewards that seem less important in the moment. For example, a fisherman may be more concerned with how much money he can earn this week, as opposed to the concept that he may not be able to earn any money in a few years if the fish are either overfished or die off because of pollution.

Eternal Divers needs funding to help support the education of the locals, a strategic creative plan and social media revamping/attention, as well as social media viral campaign. I felt very strongly about joining their team and helping. The ocean and all the life in it and that it gives is incredibly important to me. Choosing my NGO was tough when I had to compare Eternal Divers to Marc’s Café, where I had so many ideas from the start, but I’ve loved hearing all about it from my classmate, Beatrice.



Mason listens to the Eternal Divers presentation.