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.

Sistri Village

IMG_20191220_085503Image Credit: Stella Sagini

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.

IMG_20191220_085149Image Credit: Stella Sagini

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.

IMG_20191220_090359Image Credit: Stella Sagini

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.

IMG_20191220_090210Image Credit: Stella Sagini

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.

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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I cannot help my self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the AVAG self help group members

One of the AVAG self-help group members

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nolwazi Mjwara

 

 

 

 

A Utopia of Networked NGOs: Is it Scalable?

As an intentional community located in Tamil Nadu on the Bay of Bengal, Auroville is a place to experiment and bring forth innovative ideas working towards all aspects of sustainable development. Aside from the beliefs and values held within the Auroville Charter, it is also a microscopic model of how communities can operate collaboratively to achieve many of the sustainable development goals as outlined by the United Nations. The priorities and values of Aurovillians is admirable and desirable in my view as someone from a Western upbringing striving to work in International Development, however is this microscopic laboratory a replicable model throughout India and other communities in the Global South?

After visiting about thirty non-profit organizations in and around Auroville over the span of seven days, we have been exposed to a broad array of inspirational projects that are working towards one or many of the sustainable development goals. They ranged from environmental and agricultural sustainability, to social development issues promoting education, equality and empowerment. In Auroville specifically, many of these organizations and the people involved work as an interdependent public to support their overall common goals of sustainability and development. For example, several organizations that utilize recycled or reusable materials and have a zero-waste policy such as Upcycle Studio, Eco Femme and WELL Paper are supporting the primary efforts of the organization WasteLess whose main objective is to raise awareness and education on harmful habits that threaten the environment. Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) and WELL Paper are also both working to empower women through skills training and autonomous self help groups, or SHGs. AVAG assists in the selection process for the women who will be trained in creating eco-friendly products for WELL Paper. All of these are Auroville based NGOs, and there are many other instances of visible support and collaboration between the NGOs here.

It is clear that the organizations within Auroville support each other’s visions towards a common goal through various projects. However, even between Aurovillian NGOs and NGOs that we visited in Pondycherry, such interdependency and support is not so apparent. Therefore, can this model of networked NGOs who support and promote one another to succeed in their goals be applied in other areas of India and the Global South? Like anything in the field of development, it would need to be adapted for each particular culture and context. And it is likely that this is already the case in some communities, but perhaps not to the extent and concentration of Auroville…at least not to my knowledge.

While NGOs around India and globally likely do support one another within their realm of development, this high concentration of sustainability and development in almost every aspect of daily life and business that is visible in Auroville seems out of reach given the international complex systems of government, political views, social issues, and the corporate world…just to name a few. This paradox continues to follow me during my time here in Auroville, however I do remain optimistic as a future professional in the field that progress within NGOs and towards a healthy networked NGO model can be made as long as cultural context is first and foremost in assessing the development needs of any community.

-Cristina Castello

Auroville Invites Itself To a Great Challenge!

What does it mean to create a sustainable city? The citizens of Auroville attempt to answer this question with the creation of their innovative city in the South of India. This is a place where all the NGOs are invested in certain aspects of sustainability. From micro finance organizations, transgender politics to social entrenepreneurships, Auroville’s entire ecosystem is based on embracing sustainable lifestyles.

As newcomers, almost half of our team attempts to better understand the idealistic city by posing a lot of questions as student researchers. We are trying to understand if Auroville truly stands for what it aims to be. What will the future of Auroville look like? Is this type of city, free from independent organized governance, the only alternative way of establishing a democractic society?

So far, many of our questions remain unanswered.
However, it is hard to deny the power of knowledge and intelligence that are invested in this city. From creating a co-op grocery store, to creating a botanical garden in the land of red soil, and a library that includes a multitude of languages, Auroville puts great effort into achieving its goal. It is certain that Auroville Foundation aims to provide better life standards for those around the Auroville community.

For me, Auroville is a new born baby in a country with a colonial past. It is hard to assume that a place with social pressure would be attractive for entreprenual spirits and innovation. In fact, it is not only our group that has been trying to find answers to our questions about Auroville, nowadays Aurovillians are challenging themselves with the  same questions as well. “We are trying,” say the guest speakers from Outreach Media, who oversee the media in Auroville. We don’t know if we will succeed or fail, if the methods we are pursuing are going to help us to solve our difficulties or not.This is what almost every researcher who comes to Auroville asks. They are sceptical but we are trying. When we fail, we learn from our mistakes. Because this is an attempt to find better ways to live.”

Even with the best intentions, it is human nature to bring self serving qualities such as ego and greed. Not surprisingly, when a former worker from the surrounding village wanted to take what he has learned from the community and to open a pottery shop in his village, the situation created tension. In cases like this the community does not feel like a winner. It feels like one contributer less. It is the Foundation, what the Aurovillians rely on. Accordingly, individual attemps that are outside of the organization are not beneficial to community. And, since the Foundation has no juridicial power, Aurovillians try to prevent unwanted situations by using social pressure. Maybe I understand it all wrong. Maybe I am confused. But realizing the power of extraordinary know-how brought to the community by the villagers carries an importance. However, limited funds with great facilities that the Foundation provides for its villager workers, seems to be an another local employment challenge nowadays for Aurovillians to overcome.

Elif Ogunc

Decision Day

Today, most of us woke up with a mixture or nerves and excitement.  No longer would we spend the day completely together visiting different organizations-this early morning, we were going to pick which organization we would spend the rest of our time in India working with.

We sat down on the floor of our meeting room- where in the middle of the room Professor Talcott, in addition to the other organizers Sacha and Tanya, had fanned out pieces of paper each containing one of the NGOs we had visited.  There was over twenty-five in all.  We then had to go around putting our names on our top two organizations.

What is interesting about our group is that we are all coming in with different levels of experience and educational backgrounds.  Therefore, as we sat in the room ready to pick one of the amazing organizations to work with, there was some apprehension that went along with the excitement because of the responsibility we were about to partake in, especially among some of us who haven’t had this type of experience before.

At the end of our meeting, most of us were able to pick our first or second choice and it was time for our initial meeting with our NGO to go over their needs and come up with a specific project that we would be able to complete within our alloted time.  I think that this meeting revved most of us up to hurry to get to work and simply do the best we can.

For me personally, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that we are working within a Self-Help Group (SHG) framework.  The key is to listen first, act second in ways that our NGOs can later carry on themselves.  What we are doing is giving our skills to incredibly motivated, passionate and hard-working people who have so many odds against them, but are still able to make a powerful impact.  We are helping them with their vision-not forcefully imposing our own.

A few days back when we were visiting Mohanam Cultural Center, the owner Balu informed us before we entered the building that the door-frames were made low purposefully so that in bowing our heads in order to enter, we would humble our spirits.  I believe that this is one of the most important aspects while we’re with our NGO-to work humbly.

Mimi