Auroville Village Action Group: Bridging the Gap

by Angelina Bouchard

The Auroville Village Action Group is an organization that works with local villages to develop programs that benefit the members of rural communities, focusing especially on the marginalized. As the first organization visited during the practicum, we were all eager to learn about the impact of AVAG’s work. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a brief tour of a workshop, where a group of women crocheted, sewed, and trimmed fabrics. Next door, a small boutique displayed the finished goods. There, I noticed some products that are also available for purchase at the Visitor’s Center. Nearly everyone in our group walked out of the shop with a new shirt, bag, pouch, or pair of pants. Some even adopted a new animal, albeit a crocheted one.

We met Anbu, who currently runs the NGO. Founded in 1983, the Auroville Village Action Group is one of the oldest organizations in the area, and their mission continues even after the founder, Bhavana, passed away in 2011. In societies that place men in superior positions to women, inequality is so ingrained that it becomes normalized and internalized. As explained by Anbu, AVAG’s efforts to combat social injustice result in initiatives such as the Economic Development Program, which aims to reduce poverty by increasing financial opportunities within these communities. They provide women with profitable skills training and then employ them at AVAL, their own fashion brand. Working women gain confidence in being financially supportive members of their households, families, and communities. Strategies extend beyond economic security and delve into emotional and physical wellbeing as well. They offer psychosocial services, which have decreased the suicide rate among women by holding counseling sessions and collaborating with self-help groups. Additionally, the organization’s emphasis on community development encourages people of all genders, castes, and religions to find solutions to common problems and build a better bioregion for all to succeed.

AVAG is a central pillar that bridges the gap between Auroville and surrounding villages. They not only advocate for progress but actively create change.

OK Upcycling Studio

by Angelina Bouchard

When we throw something away, we are effectively denying ownership of it. Most of what we own is purchased, if not gifted, meaning that at some point in time we claimed responsibility over an object for reasons of necessity, convenience, or indulgence. Yet, it is so easy for us to take items that are still in good shape and toss them in the bin, never to be seen again. We could reduce waste and make the world a better place if we valued our possessions for the use we could get out of them rather than chasing the next new, shiny product. If that still doesn’t appeal to you, a lot of money can be saved in the process as well. It is no secret our society has a serious waste issue, but a lack of awareness and education on the topic prevents real change from taking place.

The OK Upcycling studio in Auroville is dedicated to tackling the waste problem at a local level. By reusing discarded materials, they create products and give them a new purpose. Upon entering the warehouse, AUP students were amazed to find artwork, handbags, furniture, and clothing all made from what we usually consider to be garbage. Ok-jeong, a South Korean artist who runs the studio, shared her passion with us during a tour of the studio. Perhaps the most striking aspect of our visit was learning about the team’s expertise in lighting fixtures. After a brief lesson on how lighting can affect our mood and behavior, designer Darren demonstrated his light beam diffuser made entirely out of DVD casings. My peers and I were enlightened, to say the least. His apprentice, Jasper, then showcased his own creations, which included an old orange umbrella repurposed as a lamp with a warm glow. Another ceiling lamp hanging in the studio was made out of sunglasses in the shape of an orb.

Seeing the beauty in trash is a skill that takes practice. The team has a sharp eye for style and practicality, along with an unmatched sense of creativity. They highlight imperfections and flip our perspective of what can be considered valuable.

Mohanam Cultural Center by Shandiin Vandervere

Launched in 2001, this community cultural center was designed to serve as a needed connection between Auroville and its surrounding Tamil villages. While the majority of Aurovillian residents hail from international origins, the communities in the surrounding bioregion are mostly Tamil. While each are connected in their appreciation of spiritual and environmental protection, Mohanam Cultural Center adds another layer of protecting the art, music, and literature indigenous to Auroville’s chosen setting. It focuses on preserving and showcasingthe traditional and cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu’s people, self-described as a, “hub for bio-region art, culture, education. 

Balasundaram, the Founder and Creative Director, has led the center and its experimental bamboo farm for its full two decades of existence and has experienced each success and hardship in tandem. Mohanam began in the oldest building in Sanjeevinagar, after being restored by the initiating group. The current five-acre campus of the new Heritage Center and Activity Hall plans to celebrate their official inauguration in February 2023 after undergoing final infrastructure renovations.

The center itself hosts an impressive array of events, both educational and engaging,that invite all in the area to learn more about the culture they are surrounded by. Mohanam works to educate youth on local, traditional history through activities like yoga, folk dances, class trips, art therapy, and many more. Because of the challenge felt by increasing globalization, many traditional customs are more vulnerable and subject to loss. In direct resistance of this possibility, the center chooses to focus on preserving, “the beauty, traditions, innovations and the continuing evolution of South Indian arts and culture.” 

They also organize a night school, summer art camps, and a heritage kindergarten to help foster education of many different generations. They have held Village Heritage Festivals, offering traditional Tamil games, craft markets, and performances with the help of the Puducherry tourism department.

A strong focus of the center is also water conservation education, headed by women in the community. This water project has been in place for over 20 years and reinforces the shared responsibility of clean water stewardship. Our group was taught the strong cultural link to water in Auroville’s bioregion, specifically with lakes being used as sites for weddings, ceremonies, and other sacred gatherings. The project also serves as part-time livelihood for the women, providing both income and a safe environment to share. This unique blend of environmental sustainability and inner development is truly emblematic of Mohanam’s guiding values.

Our French program visited the center within the large array of Aurovillian NGOs and non-profits to learn more about their unique position striving to serve as a bridge between different crafts, cultures, and generations. Specifically attempting to bridge the gap between Auroville residents, who often come from other countries, and the Tamil speaking communities that surround the eco-city has been a difficult task. Balasundara shared some of the innate obstacles that come with trying to realize their mission, for instance becoming a scapegoat for many issues or facing stagnancy from governments when discussing environmental protection.

This governmental hesitation comes from, again, a unique obstacle faced by many environmental sustainability NGOs in the region. Because of the preceding colonial French territories, Puducherry is made of geographically disconnected areas within Tamil Nadu. This makes any project aiming to help protect or revitalize the environment difficult to pass through two separate bureaucratic approvals. 

But the split between Tamil communities and Auroville was among the most interesting dynamics our group learned through our visit. Many within Auroville’s core leadership team that hail from the overarching government have been advocating for the city’s expansion of both infrastructure and population. A proposed numerical goal of 50,000 within the next 10 years has failed to include the surrounding Tamil villages as part of the existing community. These numbers plan to bring more residents from outside countries instead of incorporating these communities that are already in place. To hear from this community center about these issues was very illuminating and could serve as a case study for others to learn more about techniques used to connect different cultures in a united cause while being cognizant of its unique history.

Dahistki Physical Exploration Center

 

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This is not a Gym. This is a Physical exploration center where we train the body in relation to the mind and the spirit”Vikram explains.

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Vikram is the founder and chief trainer at Dahistki Physical exploration center at Auroville. He began training back in 2000 and so far has trained 3,000 people, tailoring a custom based training for each individual.

He came from a rough neighborhood in Chennai and overcame physical abuse to pursue a successful career in cricket for the Indian League. He was catapulted to great wealth and splendor when he played cricket, however, he walked away from it all to start his journey of self healing.

In Dahistki there are no mirrors, he explains that there is no time for vanity here just working on the body, mind and spirit. We are invited to explore and tinker with the gym equipment and feel free to ask any questions.

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Vikram is calm and speaks in a low monotone, and I listen closely to every answer he gives. I start with a light question. “How many Tatoos do you have?” Which he responds “95”.

Most of them are Hindu and others connect with The Mother’s teachings. On his forehead he has the words inscribed in French “Raison d’etre’’loosely translated in English as the reason for being. He explains that we all need to know why we are alive, once you don’t you are dead.

Vikram came to Auroville because of the Mother’s teachings. During his study and journey of spiritualism and self-healing, he came across her teachings and was inspired to visit. While he was at Auroville he was inspired by how Aurovillians used their work in service of others and wondered how he could contribute. He decided to open the Dahiksti Exploration center to train and guide others on their own self-healing experiences as well.

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Vikram has more peace and balance in his life but admits that he still struggles with his own personal baggage. “I know, I look like Gorgio Armani on the outside, but inside I was rotting”. We all struggle as a human race but life is journey and we all stumble from time to time.

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Dahistiki is free of charge to all Aurovillians and he doesn’t accept any gifts or donations from clients. He notes that some clients are ecstatic about the major transformation in their lives after the program and prod to donate. Rejecting one’s money makes clients uncomfortable as they aren’t accustomed to this in the outside world. However, he insists if you want to give back, clients should do it in service.

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We have visited social enterprises and other non-governmental organizations that deal with climate change, capacity building and recycling but this was unique, as it falls under physical exploration. Its vision isn’t run by any goals like the MDG’s but a growing need to reflect on Mental Health. In 2019, Prince Harry   launched Heads Together and initiative aimed at changing the conversation and stigma around Mental Health. Prince Harry has called for the “grin and bear it” culture of mental health to be reassessed in the wake of his controversial decision to step back from the Royal Family. The Duke of Sussex and Oprah are currently working on a TV series to be launched this year discussing the importance of mental health.

According to the World Health Organisation report in 2015, over 56,000,000 people suffered depression, that is 4.5% of the Indian population. India is arguably the most depressed country in the world.

Similar to some of the discussions we encountered at Upasana and RainFed Alliance, India farmers are battling depression and anxiety more today than previous years. Whether its due to low yields, societal pressures and family dynamics, there is a growing need to make mental wellness services accessible to more people.

“So how does it work?” I ask curious about this life changing experience. “You will have to come and find out” Vikram concludes, Its an indescrible experience that can only be explained through emersion.

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I did not go back. I am already set in my ways but I recommend this experience to anyone who is seeking mental wellness and is open to receiving new life lessons.

Sistri Village

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Sistri Village began in 2013, as an orphanage for mentally and physically challenged children. The Founder Karthik, had difficulties in the beginning getting the children admitted in Indian public schools. The ones who did were often ignored by both teachers and students therefore remained idle for days on end. The teachers lacked the patience or training for special education to give these children and the other children were often afraid of them.

Karthik didn’t like that his children were idle, he said that it created bad energy and aggressive behavior within the child.

Indian culture has a great believe in re-encartnation, a disability is a re-birth of a person cursed by the gods and therefore the family shuns or abandons these children. Some of these children get locked up by their families to hid them from the society.

He sought out vocational training, certificate courses and when they grew in adulthood, he worked with local businesses to get job opportunities for them. He faced many challenges one been local businesses in need of labor, would make up lame excuses to avoid hiring Sistri Village members. He then overcame this barrier by initially placing his students in missionary based institutions and slowly as the community began to see a transformation, they slowly accepted to hire some of his students.

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However, a majority of his students work and live at Sistri village. He began vegetable gardening as a form of Green Therapy for his members. He believes that nature heals and restores balance to mental retardation. Sistri Village members have continually shown improvement in their mental and physical state. Medical volunteers come over to offer free medical treatment and physiotherapy sessions for the members. Mental and Psychical challenges are very different from Celbral Parlsey, Autism, and Down Syndrome require accurate diagnosis to begin a succeful therapy treatment.

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Sistri Village members earn a living from their work on the farm, by selling fruits and vegetables. They also rear a lot animals for sustenance use and for sale. Sistri members all have daily chores but work out of their own volition, work is never forced on any member. Keeping busy through work is also a form of therapy that creates a meaningful routine that members can look forward to. Sistri members are contributing to the society instead of a hand out thus significantly increasing self-esteem. The Capacity Building efforts of Sistri Village have enabled its members to make a productive contribution to the society.

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In the past, they received donations from the government and organisations like Rotary International Club. They have managed to donate desk, chairs and help build part of the new administration block. However, for day to day running of the farm they rely on a mix of proceeds from farm sales and support from the Tamil Nadu government.

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Living a meaningful life that’s the mission of Sistri village and the stigma of disability has slowly been lifted within the community. Families are now more accepting and engaging with mentally and physically challenged members of their community.

Eternal Divers Presentation

 

cropped-logo-eternal.jpg Eternal Divers

https://eternaldivers.com/

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.

 

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Mason listens to the Eternal Divers presentation.

Sahodran and LGBTQ+ Rights in India

Ari Price

During the expansive world HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, Sahodran was established in South India. While it was one of many Non-Government Organizations created to educate society about HIV and AIDS, it was unique from other organizations. Sahodran, also known as the Sahodran Community Oriented Health Development (SCHOD) Society, specifically targeted the education, support and advocacy of men who have sex with men, as this population had a higher risk for acquiring HIV due to a lack of safe sex practices and support. As they only worked with men in the beginning, they decided on the name Sahodran, which means brother in the local language, Tamil. Presently, the SCHOD society has drop-in centers in both Chennai and Puducherry to aid in the education and peer support of all LGBTQ+ persons who face discrimination in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. Since 1988 Sahodran has continued to expand and provide interventions at the individual, community and national level. They currently work with a variety of professionals and volunteers including physicians, advocates, academics and researchers. According to staff, approximately 130 people were served in 2003 whereas about 1233 people were served last year. This shows the community demand for services continues to be necessary and to grow.

MEMBERS OF SAHODRAN AT THE LOCAL 2018 LGBT PRIDE MARCH

The work the Sahodran is taking on is not easy, but it is immeasurably beneficial not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but the society at large. In terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for , SCHOD aims first and foremost to promote the goal of good health and wellbeing, but it does this while also addressing the goals of gender equality and reduced inequalities for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Since their inception, they have continued to see progress for equality in the Indian society, at least in part due to their national advocacy efforts. Beyond the decreased rate of HIV and AIDS in the Tamil Nadu area, SCHOD has also seen the recent overturn of section 377 of the India Penal Code a law in 2018, which criminalized intercourse between men and the national recognition of a third gender, transgender, in 2014. While these policy changes are steps in the right direction, the staff at the Puducherry branch of Sahodran informed AUP students that there was still no policy to promote and protect LGBTQ+ peoples in cases of discrimination and definitely no marriage or family law in place for LGBTQ+ couples. As time moves forward they hope to see a society that understands, supports, and cares for all of its people, regardless of HIV status or LGBTQ+ Identity.

Eco Femme: Changing the Relationship between Women and Their Periods!

By Sanna Rasmussen

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between an NGO, for-profit business, and social enterprise? NGO’s are non-profit organizations whose aim is to help a community in need. A for-profit business is a company whose goal is to make a profit and accrue capital. A social enterprise is somewhat a combination of the two. Located in Auroville, Eco Femme is a social enterprise that produces and sells re-usable sanitary napkins, also known as menstrual pads, while simultaneously supporting the community of women who are behind the production. More than that, Eco Femme has created development programs, connected to the global consumption of their products, which educate women about menstrual hygiene in rural villages around India.

Around the world, many women choose to use disposable menstruation hygiene methods, as it has been marketed as being the normal, if not only option available. However, with increasing focus placed on the environmental impact of single-use plastic, menstruation hygiene has a place within this dialogue. Disposable sanitary pads and tampons are made of plastic that cannot be recycled, therefore, after the six-eight hour viable life span, these plastic products sit in the landfill for over 800 years before beginning to break down. Clearly the women of the world have been shown a norm that does not benefit anyone besides big industry; the giants who produce all of these single use products. Although pollution is a global issue, India in particular is a country that is highly populated, where many women do not have access to menstrual hygiene. In 2000, in a quest to redesign how women in India engage and manage their periods, Eco Femme was created.

Eco Femme’s re-usable menstrual pads are fabricated from layers of organic cotton, which is sourced in Tamil Nadu, India. They produce four varieties of pads; heavy night, day plus, day regular, and panty liner. The nighttime pad is made with seven layers of cloth, the day plus with six, the day regular with five, and the liner with three. All pads include a finishing cloth layer that is coated with poly urethane and is anti-leak. The pads are made with wings that have a snap, so that they fascine around the underwear and do not move while being worn. Once the pad is soiled, or for means of transporting it, the pad can be discreetly folded and fastened with the snap from the wings to create a small square of fabric.

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For the logistics of cleaning the cloth pads, Eco Femme harnessed the power of mother earth. Once the pad is soiled, the wearer is to soak it in cold water and then hang to dry under the sun, which acts as a natural disinfectant. That being said, the pads are also machine washable.

In every step of the supply chain, the cloth pads are produced by women from villages near Bangalore and Auroville, India. The empowerment of women is a pillar of Eco Femme’s mission, and has led them to function as a social enterprise, with two developmental programs; Pad for Pad, and Pad for Sisters. Pad for pad involves international customers of Eco Femme, where for every pad bought, a pad is sponsored for an economically disadvantaged girl in rural India. Up to date, over 10,000 girls have been sponsored. Pad for Sisters is a program that subsidizes pads between 50 and 80 Rupees. On average, Pad for Sisters subsidizes 1,500 pads a month.

According to Eco Femme’s co-founder, Kathy, re-usable cloth menstruation pads have acted as a trojan horse by opening the once taboo dialogue around what menstruation is, and how women can understand it. Eco Femme promotes the message that women and girls should feel empowered by their periods, and embody all that it means to go through the transformative change of the body. Through the work of their development programs, Eco Femme is a model of what a social enterprise can do to benefit a community, while still engaging in a competitive business market. Eco Femme re-usable pads can be purchased in Auroville, throughout India, and on their website directly.

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The first field note…

16.12.17 Rubini & the Samugam Foundation 

by Dorothea Mursch-Edlmayr

We’ve started our second day in India with our first yoga session on the roof of our Guesthouse Mitra at 7 in the morning, before we took the bus to Pondicherry. On this Saturday we had four NGO visits schedule. The ride to Pondicherry – such a loud, crowded, colorful and culturally different place and the overall heat – was overwhelming. We were confronted with the real Indian experience already. And then we stopped at our first NGO, the Samugam Foundation. I was so fascinated with the city trying to absorb everything I saw, that I didn’t mentally prepare myself for the Samugam Foundation. So I stepped out of the bus and was completely surprised by the children that were waiting for us. They grabbed our hands, talked to us, introduced themselves, hugged us and pointed at different things. It happened so quickly and suddenly every one of us got picked by a child, taken by the hand and accompanied to the house they live and get educated in.

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Rubini (r.) and one of her friends

My girl was Rubini. She is 6 years old and wore a beautiful blue dress, my favorite color. She was smiling the whole time and was full of energy and excitement. She showed me the kitchen, the bedroom, the music room, she introduced me to her friends and taught me a clapping-singing game that they all love to play. She seemed happy and like a normal child. Although we didn’t speak the same language we communicated through gestures, pointing at things and facial expressions and hand signs. We spent 20 minutes together before she showed me my seat in the room we were about to hear a presentation from the founder of the Samugam Foundation.

This nonprofit organization gives shelter to the gypsy, street and poor children, providing them with a home, food, education, sanitarian care and overall protection with the mission of giving them a chance to become a part of the society. These children grow up in poverty and misery facing illness and death because of non-existing hygiene standards concerning food and body care, being unaware of their destiny because of a lack of education. This NGO tries to give the children a chance for a better life. I was sitting in this room, watching the videos about gipsy children eating dirty food from the dump, living so close to this polluted area being excluded from society with no possibility for a change. It was hard to take and almost overshadowed the fun playful 20 minutes with Rubini. She was one of them and I felt very helpless. My eyes were wandering around in the presentation room and suddenly I saw a quote by Ghandi on the wall that gave me hope in this moment of brutal reality; “only through education we can change the world”. Inequality and unfairness exist and there is no sense in being upset with the world how it is, we just need to keep this words in mind and help the people through education to change their destiny towards a better one. I went back to the bus with gratitude for my life and hope for Rubini and all the other beautiful children that welcomed us so friendly at our first NGO visit in India.

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Read more about the Samugam Foundation on their website: http://www.samugam.org

A Day With Disposable Cameras

By: Beatriz Salgado

 

My day started out with the usual morning breakfast at Morgan’s, scrambled eggs with toast and milk coffee. Then, I went to the Matrimandir for the first time, one of the most intriguing experiences yet, but I’ll leave that for another blog entry.

I’ve had an idea for my personal project before I even left for India. Working with children in Brazil and establishing a genuine relationship was always something I felt passionate about. So, my idea was basically to get children to walk around Auroville and take photos of something, I hadn’t really thought about what that something was until I started volunteering at Wasteless. I mentioned my idea with Rihbu, the organization’s founder, and thought he could help. He really liked the idea and thought it could be great if the project complemented Wasteless’ new educational program kNOw PLASTICS. Together we decided the kids would take pictures of plastics. They were to think about where they got their plastics? How did they use plastics? And where they threw their plastics away?

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I had already been to Aikiyam School the day before to observe the pilot testing for Wasteless’ new educational program, so I had met the principal of the school, Shankar and he said I could meet with the kids on Saturday afternoon. The next day, I got all my gear, which included three disposable cameras, a laptop, water bottle, my journal, and a charger and headed for Kulapalyum Road. While I waited for Shankar to confirm, I had a delicious lunch at Frites with my classmate Imani and later coffee and brownie at Marc’s café, an indispensable place to drink coffee while in Auroville.

Finally, I heard from Shankar and walked to Aikiyam School under the hot afternoon sun, not to mention it was winter. I went to the science room where the teacher and students were doing extracurricular work and waiting for my arrival. They usually have some activities during the weekends to keep the students busy. Before heading out for our photography exploration, I decided to talk to some of the students and interview them about plastics. Though they were a bit shy in the beginning, I was surprised by how much they knew about the issue.

To start our photography hunt, I divided them in groups, two girls, Deepa (13 years old), Roshini (13 years old) and two boys, Chandru (14 years old) and Chander (13 years old). Later, we met up with two other students, Arjun (13 years old) and Thiru (13 years old) who decided to join our expedition. I gave each group one disposable camera and explained to them the objective of taking the pictures.

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The purpose of the assignment was to take photographs of plastics in their point of view by keeping in mind the three questions mentioned above. As soon as we stepped out of the school, they immediately started taking pictures of the waste they found right outside the school: plastic bottles, bags and even a CD! We walked along the main road and headed towards Kulapalyum village where the kids lived. As we strolled around, the students entered different shops and interacted with people explaining to them what they were doing and why they were taking photos of plastics. Then, we started heading to each of their homes. What was interesting to observe were the different perspectives they had on what was clean and dirty. One of the questions was if they thought where they lived was a little, medium or a lot dirty. Most of them answered little or medium and that it’s sometimes clean and sometimes dirty. I remember thinking, ok, so they live someplace decent. I was wrong though, what was surprising was their notion of somewhere clean turned out to be a completely different conception from my reality.

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During the interview, they all answered that they threw their trash and plastics in dustbins in their homes and that they don’t throw waste on the streets. One student even said they separated organics from non-organics at his house and that after it was separated, the “people that do the duty comes to pick it up” (Arjun).

The small comfort that I did have, despite seeing those kids’ environment and their reality, was that they were still being kids and had so much fun taking photos with a simple disposable camera.

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