Humans of Auroville

Auroville is unlike anywhere that I have visited before. It is quite hard to describe what it is like here. I thought it would be fun to interview two people, one of which I had the honor of working with for 2 weeks and the other a complete stranger. I got the idea from one of my favorite blogs known as “Humans of New York”. It is a blog in which through its people, tells the story of a place and what makes it so unique.

Meet Shrimayee- Delhi, India

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“I came to Auroville the first time in 2016 to meet a friend who was working on a solar energy project here. I had no idea that a place like this existed in India, but the moment I came here, I instantly knew that I wanted to come back. Coming from a development sector background, I was always intrigued by the work that was being done in Auroville these past 50 years, especially in community and sustainable development. Also, I was fascinated by the attempt to follow a utopian and egalitarian approach that is followed by people from over 55 countries of the world. Another motivation for me was that I wanted to take a sabbatical form my work to figure out what my next steps are. That is what brought me to Auroville. In January 2018, I applied for an opportunity in Auroville and was here within 6 months. The last four months of staying and working in Auroville have changed me in more ways than I had anticipated before I embarked on this journey. I have grown a lot in terms of skills and knowledge and have become a lot more conscious of myself and of the environment surrounding me. The cosmopolitan culture brought in by people coming from all over the world has given me the opportunity to understand different perspectives. I feel as though I have grown to be healthier, both physically and mentally. I practice yoga and eat right now. Obviously the clean air and plethora of trees have contributed to. Remind you, I come from Delhi… The alternative lifestyle followed here has given me a fresh perspective on life and I’ve started to actually prioritize things that actually matter to me the most. I am able to think more clearly on what I want to pursue further in life”.

Meet Nishant- Delhi, India

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“I came to Auroville because I was looking for new opportunities and wanted to work on myself. I have always been a part of theatre. In Delhi, there is a hierarchy in the theatre that I was fed up with. I wanted to be able to try new things, whether I was a senior in the theatre or not. Auroville Theatre Group gave me the opportunities I always wanted: to learn and to explore. My director gave so much to me. She gave me her time. She allowed me as much time as I needed to prepare a character, whether that be one month or two months…in Delhi it is not like that. You usually only get one week or two weeks to prepare a character. To me, that is not acting. Here, I had the opportunity to dig into characters. Being here boosted my confidence. I decided to apply for drama school and was accepted. I leave on Tuesday (January 8th) to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. I came to Auroville very clear-minded. I knew why I wanted to be here. I came here to work on myself as an actor. To explore the possibility with the time I was given. With the months I had to prepare characters, I grew so much. Being on stage and  being somebody else is just a sheer pleasure. Being here has been life changing for me.”

Written by: Caroline Dougherty, Photos by: Caroline Dougherty

Ageless Auroville: the Source of Never-Ending Youth

Auroville is many things.

It is an experiment. It is a civil society. It is a tight-knit community. Auroville is also a place where people mix together, no matter how old they are.

I have heard the sayings “age is just a number” or “age is not a thing” too many times to count in Auroville. No one ever asked me how old I am. It is truly when I went to visit the Granite Mines, 45 minutes away from Auroville, that I realized how accurate it is.

Picture 15 bikes going fast on dangerous roads. Picture a bunch of 17-year-olds being friends with 30-year-olds, all harmoniously laughing at the same things, being open-minded and respectful. Picture all these people being together, talking together, understanding each-other. People jumping in the water, laughing, having coffee, partying together, talking about the same things, having fun together and understanding each-other. That is not Auroville, it is the spirit of it. It is the way Aurovillians are raised, taught to look at the world and at other people. For a foreigner, for a group of foreigners like we were, it is a concept that is hard to understand. Auroville pays no heed to social diktats about a lot of modern concepts such as money, state justice and… age. Auroville disregards outside social obligations and created its very own social norms. Progress and social evolution are not only depending of technological progress but also on personal fulfillment and improvement. This is, however, not a naïve way to look at Auroville. Auroville is not a utopian community. Character and maturity prevail over notions of age and seniority, it goes beyond social and work obligations. Aurovillians choose to spend time with people that are from different generations.

Some people might even think “I don’t want to hang-out with a bunch of 16-year-olds”. But what if maturity, knowledge and experience had nothing to do with how old you are, with how old you see yourself and consider yourself next to teenagers or millennials? Being with these people from different backgrounds, cultures, education processes made me realize a lot. It is not about how old you are when you experience or learn something, it about who you are and what you are ready to learn or be taught. They all benefit from each-other. They all listen to each-other. They all respect each-other. They see friendship and human relationships as bilateral, managing to learn from everyone, anyone that wants to speak up, being opened to anyone that wants to listen. Auroville is many things. It is an enlightening community. It is a respectful society. It is a learning experience that changes the way you see the world and human interaction forever.img_2966

Solitude Farm: A “Nutritious Revolution”

Solitude Farm is a farm which was founded by Krishna McKenzie in January of 1996. He was inspired to start his farm because of a Japanese farmer/Zen master, known as Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote a book entitled “The One Straw Revolution”. The basic idea of the book is that nature is already perfect, you can’t improve upon nature, but as a whole, we just seem to continue to destroy it. Krishna questions how we can reconnect with nature and bring value into our daily life—what is the simplest thing we can do? The most basic thing we do every day is eating, but the problem is, the majority of the time we have no idea where the ingredients used to make our food comes from. Who grew it, where was it grown, how is it stored, how is it transported? These are all questions that we fail to ask ourselves when we go to buy food and then consume it. We have no relationship with this basic thing that we do on a daily basis. The truth of the matter is that we are privileged, and we are in a bubble that has lost the value of the importance of connecting with nature. Industrialization of our most basic need is what is killing our planet. So, what do we do? Krishna suggests that the most basic thing that we could start to consider is to discover local foods and which foods in particular are growing locally. It’s up to us to start eating foods that do not have a high carbon footprint, that will not have a negative impact on our planet. That is where Solitude Farm comes in. It is a farm in Auroville that is entirely dedicated to rediscovering and reconnecting the relationship to where our food comes from in a practical way. This all starts from the exploration of local foods. For Krishna, he struggles to understand why us as a society overlook local foods. It is something so obvious and practical, yet we are too lazy to realize how impactful local foods can be for our planet and for our economy. Local foods grow easily and in abundance. They are growing all over and so at the end of the day, they are NOT EXCLUSIVE. Everyone has access to these local foods. It makes me think of a term used quite often in economics: public goods. Goods that are 1) non-rivalrous and 2) non-excludable. These local foods are just that, but we as a society struggle to realize that and we struggle to take the time to consider that. If we would take the time, we would recognize that local foods actually have a higher nutritious value than the more industrialized products. These industrialized products have an extreme ecological cost to be able to produce them and then transport them.

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Solitude farm has more than 140 plants that are used throughout the year. Krishna took us for a walk around his farm where we were introduced to several different plants. Before his explanation of plants, he discussed soil. How it is built up simply because organic matter falls. Solitude strives to recognize how everything around them, all the organic matter in the farm, is a bioresource. Bioresources are the “nutritious prophet” as Krishna explained to us, as the nutrition in the soil is directly related to our wellbeing. There are millions of microorganisms that are alive, and this healthy soil is the basis of our existence. Krishna explained that to him “it is an act of love to eat these (140) plants, it’s almost like a spiritual path”. Mother Nature is able to offer us so much, but we neglect to receive what she has offered. Obviously not all of these 140 plants will be found in Paris, America or any other part of the world, but there are plenty of plants that we have access to. It is up to us to find which plants we do have and how we can implement them into our daily life. In his discussion about the plants, we all realized quite quickly how many positive effects these plants will have on our wellbeing.  One of the plants is good for cognitive abilities, pregnancy and asthma. It is high in vitamin C. This particular plant is used by Solitude Farm in their green smoothies, green ice cream, pesto sauce, kimchi, and many other things. The whole idea that Krishna stressed was creativity. There is a wide array of possibilities for these plants to be used, it’s up to us to experiment and figure out what we like. The problem is that with such a plant like this, there are less than 2% of the bioregion who actually are eating it, as most have forgotten what grows around them due to industrialization and money. If we just put our best effort out there to make a difference to change our habits, there could be a revolution in our society, what Krishna explains is a “nutritious revolution”. This revolution would be touching on so many of the sustainable development goals, as it would affect matters socially, economically, ecologically and culturally. It starts with such a simple thing as this.

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Other than just growing food locally and providing, Krishna believes that it is important to also celebrate and have festivals. Coming together is really our humanity and celebrating each other’s existence is something very special. For him, it will bring society together. Culture is something that can bring our society together and will help us get us back to our roots, back to nature. Every year, Solitude Farm hosts a festival that goes from dusk to dawn with 14 different food stalls. These food stalls are very important to Krishna, as these people working them are striving to bring awareness to locals about farm to table food and the importance of shifting one’s lifestyle back to nature. Personally, I am someone who does not spend time thinking about how I can make smarter choices with food and how my food choices can really have an impact on society. Hearing Krishna speak changed a lot for me. He is right. It is really just the fact that we as a society do not place importance on something that is so practical and really easy to do. His efforts to bring awareness to people about this issue really inspired me to want to make different choices in my life. It is definitely time for a “nutritious revolution”.

Written by: Caroline Dougherty, Photos by: Caroline Dougherty

Creating Independence Through Solarization

AUP students met with Auroville Consulting to learn about the Solar Village, a project dedicated to eradicating electricity inequalities in rural India.

By: Nicole Curren 

Solar Village Initiative – Solarize 100 Villages by 2030

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As dusk falls upon the villages of Tamil Nadu bright red clouds of dust fill the air, marking the return of children from school and husbands from work. Mothers and wives prepare dinner while daughters fulfill their daily chores and start homework.

Without warning, the power suddenly shuts off throughout the community. Street lights darken, and simple tasks become near impossible, not to mention dangerous. Cast in shadows, villagers adapt to these regular outages which can last anywhere from 4-6 hours on any given day. During festivals and holidays, energy consumption skyrockets and villages are forced to go days without power.

Yet, in nearby Pondicherry the energy required to maintain the hustle and bustle of city life endures without interruption. This is not by chance, nor is it based on a computer run schedule or automated response. Systems operators of Tamil Nadu’s government-run electric companies manually shut down power to villages and divert electricity to major cities.

Maintaining this hierarchical scheme is strategic. Due to water scarcity coal-fired power plants, which account for 70% of India’s power generation, regularly shut down. Because ownership remains concentrated, current Indian law allows for the prioritization of cities over villages.

This clear-cut inequality is the driving force behind the Solar Village’s goal to solarize 100 villages by 2030. Working alongside the government and its electric companies, the organization intends to provide independence through the implementation of sustainable technologies. The Solar Village is also ensuring that 10% of the revenue from the sale of solar energy is to be returned to the villages and used for development.

AUP students got the chance to speak with Jaswanth, a representative from Solar Village, to learn more about the project. By providing this type of independence to villages, Jaswanth assured us that if residents are able to produce more energy than they consume they can actually redo their paperwork to reflect city status. In other words, during limited power supplies they will not be subjected to power cuts. Empowering villages to produce their own electricity is the first step in reducing this disparity.

Throughout the discussion students dug deeper into the logic behind solar, learning that Tamil Nadu’s infrastructure is much more easily adaptable to harvesting energy through solar panels, rather than wind turbines. Not to mention, in terms of sustainability, panels typically last 25 years whereas the lifespan of turbines ranges between 5-7 years. Amidst climate change and the pressures of rapid urbanization, Jaswanth outlined the instability of the current power distribution for the future of India. Indian electric companies simply cannot create enough for everyone, making a shift toward more sustainable energy sources absolutely critical.

Despite roadblocks in the initial planning phases, Jaswanth remains confident panels will be installed over the next three months in the first village, Irumbai.

Making the World a Better, Greener Place

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Founded in 2010, Auroville Consulting follows a multi-faceted approach to sustainable development, focusing on collaborations within the public and private sector both nationally and abroad. From research and innovation techniques to operational planning and policy work, the organization provides a multitude of resources both to producers and consumers. This is accomplished through workshops, capacity building and training, and the maintenance of partnerships with major organizations like Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC).

Get Involved

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The next time you need to search for something on the web simply go to www.thesolarvillage.org. It works through the support of Bing, just like other major engines online. Search ads then generate income that return directly to the Solar Village to support their efforts in the purchase and installation of panels. With the click of a button you can help provide a renewable source of energy to rural communities across India. You can also support their initiative by going online and making a donation.

 

Offsetting our Carbon Footprint With Sristi Village

Today we calculated how many trees we would have to plant in order to offset the carbon footprint of our travels to India.

CALCULATION INCLUDED: **actual calculations are a little more complex than this.**

✈️ Round-trip air travel (Paris to India) + Total estimated auto travel (1 month in India).😅Turns out i have to plant 4.13 trees to offset 16,032 km (air)+ 1,250 km (auto)

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To makes things even better we had the privilege to work with this beautiful farm (The Sristi Foundation, or Sristi VillageSristi Village (Joachim)) which was founded by G. Karthikeyan. He conceptualized and built this beautiful community on the passion to include and empower people with intellectual and development disabilities from the local villages by offering shelter, general education, farm training/certification, a role in society and most of all love and support. The man who created this Non-Profit Organization saw first hand the life these types of people had to look forward to. In the villages, people with any kind of disability are often hidden away as their families are ashamed. Most believe these disabilities are a punishment from something evil/wrong the person, or the parents, may have done in a past life. While living in an orphanage as a child he witnessed children with disabilities being drugged in order for people to be able to easily manage them. Their life was a cycle of eating, sleeping, taking medication, sleeping & repeat. He knew they deserved more and wanted to create an environment that supported this idea. 🙏🏽 Today this idea has evolved into an entire village with an inclusive society whose focus is to be self-sustaining and Eco-friendly.

image1.pngThe people living there were so happy, knowledgeable and extremely passionate with their work on the farm, from the type of soil to creating efficient unconventional planting strategies, THEY KNEW IT ALL! 👨🏽‍🌾👨🏽‍🏫 They taught us how to plant our trees and they will be the ones to care for them from this point forward…I can’t even put into words how incredible this experience was🙏🏽

IMG_2863.jpgActual footage of a thugg planting a tree. 🌳 🍃🌾🌵👩🏽‍🌾#Offset #CarbonFootPrint #CounterAct #Travel #Plant #Trees #Build #Clean #Energy

DID YOU KNOW: Travel is one of the biggest sources of personal emissions that can be offset. Transportation comprises nearly 30% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and this number is only increasing. With carbon offsets, like planting trees, you can counteract your personal carbon footprint by helping build clean energy and carbon-reducing projects. These types of acts also contribute to sustainable development in the project region. This means that it is not only the climate that benefits; the local population does as well.

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THE MORE YOU KNOW 💫

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The Gang Goes to Gingee

Photos by Jessica Voorhees

A Legacy of Empowerment

The Sharana Social and Development Organization is engraving a legacy of uplifting, educating and empowering the women and children of Puducherry, India.

Gabriel Green

Since its creation in July, 2000, Sharana has set its sights to working alongside individuals and families living in rural areas, slums and on the streets in and around the city of Puducherry, India.  The organization’s primary focus is set upon providing children from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, including low-income families, dalit–also known as ‘untouchables’ within the Hindu caste system–communities, or Irular villages, with the tools and support necessary to ascend to a more stable, prosperous future.

Sharana also attempts to take a holistic approach to development, using the skills, knowledge and abilities of its beneficiaries to promote community advancement. As their mission statement asserts, Sharana holds the belief that “all human beings are equal in rights and dignity, and everyone is entitled to food, clothing, and shelter.” The organization also has a firm belief that those who benefit from its programs should simply be given the tools necessary to help themselves and should not become dependent on its services.

In order to put this belief into practice, Sharana intends to and has ended several of its programs as soon as those who benefit from them become self-sufficient. In previous years, the organization provided a great deal more material support than it now does. However, as the needs were reduced or replicated by another organization or the state, Sharana has stepped back its provision of material support and now focuses more on what it calls ‘value addition’. This ‘value addition’ has come in the form of providing zero-interest loans to women in order to start small businesses, increasing educational programs for children  and other programs aimed at empowerment.

Today, the organization serves over 1,000 people, including 620 families, throughout 56 areas in the region.

A legacy of Social Entrepreneurship 

One of Sharana’s most successful and innovative programs to date has been the provision of zero-interest loans to 25 enterprising women and mentoring them as they use those loans to create small businesses. The businesses have allowed these women to access a sustainable source of income for themselves and their children. With this income, they have been able to escape from cycles of debt created by borrowing money at high-interest rates from money lenders. It has also provided them with a sense of independence, agency, self-esteem and confidence.

Amsam

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Amsam received a interest-free 15,000 rupee loan in order to start her fruit stand. She now makes around 200 rupees per day to support herself and her children.

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Parameshwari

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Parameshwari opened her snack cart, where she cooks and sells fried plantains, fried fish and other items, after receiving a 25,000 rupee loan from Sharana.

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Manjamatha

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Manjamatha, left, was able to open a breakfast cart near the Puducherry railway station because of a 15,000 rupee loan from Sharana.

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Latha

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Latha, right, received a interest-free 8,000 rupee loan from Sharana in order to start a fish-selling business in Puducherry.

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A legacy of education 

Sharana is helping to create the first generation of children in many families in Puducherry to advance to higher education. A number of these children had previously been required to stay at home and help their parents with their businesses, maintain the house and other children in the family, struggled to have a safe, comfortable and well-lit environment to complete their school and faced many other factors which prevented them from going to, or performing well in school. The after-school homework help program, créche and pickup/drop off program provided by Sharana has enabled hundreds of children to overcome these obstacles and excel in their studies.

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Sharana means shelter

Translated from Sanskrit, Sharana means shelter or refuge. When I first came to Sharana, it not only felt like a shelter, but was accompanied by a humbling sense of hospitality and familiarity. In talking with Vandana, Sharana’s coordinator and the advisor for my and my partner’s brief internship, she spoke of an old South Indian tradition of the front porch of a home being offered as a resting place for weary travelers. If the traveler chose to take their rest at your house, it was considered an auspicious sign and a great privilege. Guests resting upon the porch would be treated as family; being given food and drinks in order to make them feel comfortable and at home. This was the treatment and atmosphere my parter and I were greeted with throughout our stint working with Sharana. There was never a moment that we felt like outsiders or as though we did not belong there. We were indeed treated as the traveler who landed upon the front porch of their home. We were treated as family. For that hospitality, generosity and kindness on expressed by all those at Sharana we are deeply touched and eternally appreciative.

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