Sristi Village (Joachim)

In India, the intellectually disabled are often relegated to the shadows. Unseen and unheard, families fear the disgrace that may come with the birth of an intellectually disabled child. Within Hindu culture, there is a strongly held belief of re-incarnation. An individual is not their mind, or their body, but their soul. The body and mind that an individual occupies within the material world, is a supposed reflection of a past life. For many, the birth of an disabled child is an indicator of wrongs committed in a past life, and so that fear of disgrace exists. It has assured that the disabled persons of India live under the constant threat of discrimination. It has assured that this portion of society struggles to acquire the treatment they so need, treatment mandated by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a convention which was ratified by India in 2007. Ratified, but not yet followed in full.
The Sristi Foundation, or Sristi Village, was founded by G. Karthikeyan with a vivid awareness in the disparity of living, between the intellectually disabled and the rest of society. Karthikeyan was raised in an orphanage which mixed intellectually disabled children with non-disabled children. In their youth, there was no difference, they lived, played and ate together as equals. But as Karthikeyan grew older, more mature, he saw the disparity deepen. As non-disabled children grew, preparing for adult life with employment, education and marriage, the disabled-children remained attached to a child-like state of affairs. They weren’t being prepared for adult life, they weren’t being guided to a purpose in life. According to Karthikeyan. With that void of purpose, the disabled would turn to aggression amongst each other, or they would fall into states of outright discontent and depression. These where his siblings, his family, their struggles touched him as much as anyone’s would. One such brother, wanted to live his life as an auto-mobile mechanic. He was skilled and capable, yet when the time came for employment, his disability assured it wasn’t possible. Karthikeyan attributes that story as the catalyst to his life’s pursuit, to give a place and purpose to the disabled.
Through farming, Karthikeyan sought to create a place where the disabled may find a purpose in life. After nine years as the director of the orphanage he, himself was raised in, he sought to create a place that didn’t help disabled children, there was enough of that, but a place which helped disabled adults. He realized the help disabled adults needed, was help finding a purpose. The answer to his inquiry came with a single sprout. Before Sristi farms came into fruition, as it is today, Karthikeyan showed on of his disabled companions a seed. He tried explaining the seemingly divine process of a seed sprouting, how a seed could become a tree. Shortly after, his companion returned to him in a burst of excitement. He planted a seed, watered it, and days after that seed became a sprout. For Karthikeyan, that excitement solidified the idea which would grow into Sristi Village. The purpose he sought to provide would through farming, he would teach disabled adults to farm, and he would do it in an environment where they would live side by side amongst each other, and non-disabled adults.
Now, the idea continues to grow, Sristi Village continues to thrive in its pursuit. Karithikeyan has successfully achieved a unique form of social development in an area where it is direly needed. With that success, Sristi Village has become a template for future organizations to learn from, in India and beyond. The fact of the matter is, the whole world could learn from Sristi. Intellectually disabled persons have been relegated to the back drops of society the whole world over. Karthikeyan has made it clear that the best course of action, is perhaps not treatment, medication or isolation, but purpose.

A Visual Insight Into a Sustainable Fashion Business

By Mia Windisch-Graetz

Check out some pictures I took during my time working for Uma Prajapati, ethical fashion designer and founder of Upasana based in Auroville, India.

 

 

A Visual Throw Back

By Mia Windisch-Graetz

It’s been a week now since our arrival in Paris and apart from that little sun burn on the nose and a bunch of insider jokes, especially one thing remains: memories. Memories from a life-changing experience in India we will be telling our children about one day. No matter if they are in our mind or on the SD card of our reflex camera: we will keep them forever.

The slideshow below features some pictures I took during this amazing journey. Tip: You can also listen to some Bollywood classics to get even more into the Indian mood while watching.

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Same same but different but still same. Or would you rather call it different different but same but still different? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the visual throw back to a world different but ‘same enough’ to call it our own.

Nandri et bisou

‘We just can’t’

Two toilet paper rolls, six dresses, twenty-seven cold showers, no laundry load (hand-wash only), and 1.5 Gigabytes of internet. – All in one month. If you had told me that I would be able to ‘survive‘ this way before I left Paris, I never would have believed you.

Right after our arrival at the Chennai airport we went to a restaurant where we did not only have our first ‘real Indian‘ dinner but were also confronted with a ‘real Indian toilet’ for the first time. As soon as you entered the bathroom, the hygiene standards were not the same as we are used to back in Europe because there was no toilet paper instead you could only find a dirty bucket. Some of us went, while others kept saying ‘I just can’t, and waited until they arrived at the hostel. On the bus, some of us were dying to go to the loo because our bladders were about to explode.

Toilet, bed, toilet, bed. – While everyone was out and about visiting NGOs, I was running back and forth from my room to the toilet. Suddenly, I realized that the toilet paper was all gone, which gave me no other choice but to use my hands and a bucket.  And guess what: it was not too bad.

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When we found out that the washing machine broke down at our hostel, I asked myself: am I going to wear the same dirty clothes all week? Consequently, we had no other option than to hand wash our towels, dresses and underwear.

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During our stay in Auroville, the most problematic issue was that internet was almost non existent. Thus, we had difficulties communicating with our families, friends abroad, students from our group and the NGOS we were working for.

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This month was not about sitting in a classroom and learning about sustainable development from the books. We were actually living, breathing and talking sustainably. The problems we were confronted with lead us to find more sustainable solutions.

A question we could all ask ourselves after this month: how much toilet paper, water and energy did we actually save here?

By asking several students and according to the data I gathered from doing some research I found out that our group saved 38 toilet paper rolls composed of 38,000 sheets of toilet paper, which is equivalent to about 2 miles. Moreover, a standard toilet uses about 3.5 gallons of water per flush, a low-flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons whereas for squatting toilets only 0.21 gallons are needed. With the average person flushing about 8 times a day, (not accounting for the people who had diarrhea) we saved approximately 13 502.16 litres of water in total or the equivalent of a swimming pool.

Considering that none of us used a blow dryer or a washing machine, and as we were mostly cycling around with our bikes, we saved a great amount of renewable energy as well.

What will happen when we get back to Paris? Will we ever able to continue the ‘Aurovillian lifestyle?’ – This month, we made it happen, so the answer isDSC_0186: Yes we can.

by Mia Windisch-Graetz

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

 

 

 

 

Chidambaram and Pichavaram Excursion

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.

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Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.

Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.

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Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world

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-Chrystal Vavoulidis