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.

IMG_20191220_090031Image Credit: Stella Sagini

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.

The Buddha Gardens

 

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Situated throughout Auroville are gardens and farms created and curated by and for members of the community. One of these around 20 farms is The Buddha Garden operated by Priya Vincent. IMG_0715Over the span of 20 years, she has manufactured a sustainable and dependable system of farming that provides locals with fresh products year-round. Her agriculture revolves around respect for nature present in every step of the farming process from cultivating microbes in the soil to welcoming a diverse range of insects to operate as a natural pesticide, she aims to support natural methods to grow food organically. The garden is segregated into four different subsections with four different names for the four languages of Auroville (Tamil, Sanskrit, English, and French), each utilized in a cyclical growing pattern that preserves the soil in each garden. Depending on the season, only certain gardens are used to their full capacity allowing unused parcels of land time to recover lost nutrients from the previous season’s harvest. This farm has managed to remain completely solar-powered despite the general tendency towards dependence on energy produced by wind turbines throughout Auroville. However, one problem Vincent has been unable to solve is that of water scarcity. Throughout Auroville, the community relies on water tanks created 1500 years ago to sustain the region during the dry season only to be replenished during the monsoon season. Though with such a substantial population boom, the tanks have been unable to keep up with increasing demand, additionally lakes and water beds, which allow for an alternative water source, are quickly being depleted via evaporation due to ever-increasing temperatures in the region. One lake on the property was only able to replenish to half of its original size during the most recent monsoon season, and Priya predicts it will be completely dry going into the next one. IMG_5421Obviously, agriculture is dependent on these water sources, and thus, so too is the community, but as water becomes increasingly more scarce, how can this community remain at all self-sustaining? Priya is desperate for this answer, her commitment is to Auroville first, and she has made every effort to keep the population fed even switching to crops that require less water and digging more wells throughout her property. She is realistic in her position; however, claiming outright, she does not think they will solve the issue of water. One option, however, is hydroponics, an agricultural system that can produce just as many crops as traditional farming techniques with one third the water, but implementation of such a system is expensive and time-consuming. To convert each of the 20 odd farms across Auroville to hydroponic farms would cost half a million dollars and take at least 5 years, time, and money that unfortunately these individuals do not currently have. For now, Priya continues to get up early, put on her work boots and feed the community the only way she knows how, but for how much longer? Only time will tell.

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MGEcoduties

MGEcoduties is an Auroville Commercial Unit under the Kattida Kalai Trust – Auroville Foundation, based in Auroville, India- established in 2011. It involves the replacement of chemical products for: well-being, cleaning products for hospitality, waste rehabilitation, and bio-remediation. Its products are based on unique Probiotic Technology using certified probiotic mother culture to manufacture our products.

We assisted to a speech of Margarita Correa, who is one of the two founders of this organizaton. She told her about her life, and here I am going to highlight the contrast between what is really her “previous” life and her “current” life. Before coming to Auroville 25 years ago, she was an extremely high-ranked person for Coca-Cola company in South America. She had worked there for 7 years, without taking any vacations, any rest… So, her doctor prescribed her 6 months vacations in order to rest and take some time for herself. She came to India, and 25 years later, she is still there.

Once she was in Auroville, she heard about micro-organisms by Dr. Teruo Higa, and more precisely the PNSB bacteria that has no Ph, no temperature and that you can burn but not kill. This bacteria was also found on Apollo 12 after a journey through space, as a proof of its resistance. They came up with this project to clean rivers, sewers… by using microbiotics. So, with MGEcoduties, they created soaps and such products that contained microbiotics and commercialized them, so that people would, just by taking a shower for example, actively use these microbiotics and contribute to this project of cleaning the rivers, oceans…

We all know the negative impact big companies like Coca-Cola have on the environment. Margarita was a big figure in Coca-Cola for 7 years, so we can assume that she participated largely to this negative impact on the environment. During her speech, she talked about Karma, and how what she is doing now is in a way making up for what she did in her “previous” life. This is the contrast I mentioned earlier: after living a corporate life, always wanting to make more money, having the best apartment and so on, she is now doing everything she can to impact the environment in a way that will be positive and helpful.

Adecom for Advocacy

 

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Ms. P. Lalidamballe. December 2019

Adecom Network is an NGO in Pondicherry that promotes Gender Equality (UN Sustainable Development Goal #5) by creating a network of interlocking programs in Tamil Nadu and the Pondicherry state that target women and children experiencing domestic violence, particularly of the Dalit caste.

Over the last 27 years, Adecom has fostered over 60 peer partnerships. On the international and national level, they receive assistance from Karuna Trust, PADEM, and MAITRI Network. At the district and Panchayat (local government) level, they have brought their services in villages by teaming up with Village Community Development Society in Villupuram District, People’s Association for Reconstruction Art and Intellectualism in Thiruvannamalai District, Women Education Social Trust in Karaikal District, Women Education Development Social Service in Thanjavur District, Social Voice Education Development in Cuddalore District, and Dalit Women’s Development Society in Kanchipuram District, Rural Youth Education Trust, and Kootukkural Theatre Movement. In a country where these services and topics are still establishing themselves, most of these groups have no online presence, and yet their efforts are being recognized. Since 2016, the Indian Department of Women and Children Development listed Adecom as a recognized “Service Provider” in Pondicherry for the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence. Adecom actualizes their mission by crafting programs that aim to fulfill many of the objectives of the UN Millennium Development Goals, as detailed in the UN Millennium Project, and articulated as providing “community level interventions.”

Adecom targets their assistance to these oppressed women in the region by focusing their programs on three areas: prevention, management, and recovery. Adecom hosts social outreach workshops and educational campaigns, such as their own version of the UN 16 Days of Activism, and classes that discuss gender norms, different types of abuse, child marriage, and work share within the household. The next project they hope to launch in the near future will be aimed at promoting civic education and participation for women, specifically in regard to voting and understanding their political rights. A common problem in the region is that women’s votes or elected positions are being managed by their husbands, rather than themselves. By hosting community information sessions to encourage women to pursue a more active role in  elections and public offices, they are a step closer to promoting more fair and beneficial legislation. For those who are already experiencing violence, Adecom manages shelters and crisis services, of which they hope to be able to find funding to expand into more centers throughout the region. The organization keeps a lawyer on staff who can direct women through their legal rights and options, including reporting and prosecution of abuse, as well as their right to legal protections and marital property. Adecom has therapeutic programs for perpetrators and family reunification, as well as for victim support and empowerment. Their philosophy is that everyone is injured by abuse, including the abuser. This holistic approach is novel, and demands an unrelenting pace for the 100% locally run and staffed operation. Lastly, for those unable or unwilling to do commit to healing and reforming abusive behaviors, Adecom connects these women to training courses, including computer skills and tailoring, that can lead to women’s employment and financial sustainability.

Adecom’s long-term goal is to craft a successful model for affecting grassroots change in Indian culture regarding violence against women and children, lifting women up from the barriers that deny their full dignity and participation in the community. They hope to be an example to encourage other areas in India to adopt similar programs.

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Adecom staff . December 2019

 

Naturellement

naturellementScalzo, Sophia. Naturellement, Entrance. December 2019.

“Naturellement” is a company located in Auroville, with their restaurant being surrounded by a lot of trees and plants (see last picture), keeping in line with this search for nature that the founder is transmitting, before all in the very name of the company, “Naturellement”. It was created in 1991 by Martina Ljungquist, a Swedish woman who was originally a kindergarden teacher but who decided to take a brake from her job by going to Auroville. So, in 1991, she came with a small amount of money and most importantly a wide knowledge in European recipes. She started by investing 6000 roupies (about 75 euros!), and the company was at first creating jams, butter and tofu. But starting to produce galettes was the tipping point that helped her company grow very quickly. Keeping in mind that she had no business experience whatsoever, she still managed to adapt as the company grew, but always sticking to her motto: “No compromises, high standards.” Linking this company’s goals and actions to the UN’s resolutions, we can see that it participates in 1,2,3,4,5,8,10,11,12.
All of what she produces is made with the best products one can find, and no compromises will be made in order to increase her benefits for example. A small phrase that stood out to me was “good spirit”, she repeated it several times that she always tried and still tries her best to insure that a “good spirit” exists in the company, whether it is among the employees or even in her relations with them. She employs 35 women, mostly non-educated women in order to give them a good life and a second chance. These women do not understand the concept of loans with interests for example, so they often get manipulated into taking loans with exorbitant interest rates. To overcome this problem, her company offers interest-free loans to these women, thus making sure they will not be taken advantage of. In addition of helping these women save a large amount of money, her company also gives them knowledge, helps them with health and family matters as well as nutritional lunches, English classes, sport activities, study and recreational tours. Martina makes huge efforts for the well-being of her employees, sometimes at the detriment of profits for her company, but the human side of things is a priority for her, something that would never happen in a European company in my opinion. This is not a profit-driven company, and that’s what makes it so special. Would a business model like this one succeed in Europe or in the US? I doubt it.
An issue that I found very interesting is that they make less margin on products such as jams and marmalades because of European subsidies. It is a double-edged sword, because the Indian people benefit in a way from these subsidies, they can buy jams and marmalades at a very small price. On the other hand, the subsidies hurt local businesses such as Naturellement, because people tend to buy the cheaper product thus diminishing the sales of these local businesses. After weighting the pros and cons, do you believe that these subsidies are a good or a bad thing?
Paul Harding

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Scalzo, Sophia. Naturellement, Table. December 2019

 

Arrival to India and Mamallapuram Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WasteLess

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

WasteLess

wasteless team. AUP students

Gypsy Community

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

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gypsy community, gypsy life

 

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

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

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

 

 

Chidambaram Temples

IMG_1309.JPGIMG_1312.JPGJanuary 5 Sunday

Chidambaram temples

Shiva’s Temple

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

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

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

 

Mohanam Village Heritage Center

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

Mohanam welcome

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

Kevin playing Mohanam

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

Mohanam dancing

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