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.

meandthekids

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

NGOs Galore!

By Madeline Boughton

The aim of this NGO Practicum is for students to act as interns or consultants to various organizations, assisting with their communication needs. Since day 2 we’ve been touring and visiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In only six days we visited about 19 different organizations out of 23. Each day is packed with multiple units where they present their goals and missions to students and answer any questions we might have.

The overarching themes of the NGOs we will work with are health and human rights, environmental sustainability, alternative energy, and sustainable fashion. These broad terms include causes such as women’s empowerment, Dalit rights (formerly known as Untouchables), children, sustainable and ethical fashion, sustainable living, radio, solar energy, waste management, and more! This NGO practicum truly offers something for everyone’s interest or passion.

With so many “good causes” it is difficult to choose just one. I could easily choose about 3 places I’d be interested in working for. The other factor that could make choosing an organization difficult is matching an organization with student’s skill sets. Some organizations need assistance with website building, creating pamphlets and flyers or creating short videos to display on existing sites. Fortunately, there is a wide range of skills within the group and we also have “media mentors” that will assist us with technical questions and projects.

After a few days of visiting 5 organizations per day, most of us had an idea of where we want to work. The remaining organizations and speakers were essentially lectures and informative sessions on the functioning and practices in Auroville. Even though we will wind up doing a major project at only one organization, we are now well informed on almost all that Auroville has to offer in terms of advocacy and will use that information when completing our projects and final papers. Some of us are quite anxious to begin work right away. I have chosen to work at the ADECOM Network. This agency advocates for the rights of the Dalit community. I am happy to assist this agency in any way in helping shed light on discrimination against a vulnerable people. We will keep you updated on how our progress and projects turn out.

Thanks for reading!

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The Other Side of Sustainability

By Shannon Warren

This morning Auroville was abuzz with the whirring of chainsaws slicing into fallen trees, the frantic beeping of the suddenly plentiful rickshaws, and the general chaos of people trying to make sense of the destruction around them.  It has been three days since cyclone Thane hit Auroville and the devastation is still astounding.  The heat and humidity bring into sharp relief the lack of drinking water and electricity as people venture out in the glaring sun to procure necessities and try to clear debris from the roads.  Some of our group has experienced natural disasters and many of us haven’t (I am included in the latter group).  Certainly none of us expected anything like this when we came to India for a practicum in communications and sustainable development.  I suppose the thing about learning, about self-improvement, is that you must be confronted with the unexpected and unknown to progress.

The night of the storm, while I curled up afraid but safe in my sheets and behind sturdy brick walls, I listened to the howling winds, shattering glass, and falling trees as peoples’ homes and livelihoods were destroyed in a matter of hours.  The next morning I woke up in disbelief.  Just one day earlier we were carefree, hiking up to a temple on top of a hill and swimming in a beautiful freshwater lake.  That morning we were not only in an unfamiliar landscape and culture, but had just been through the worst cyclone that had ever hit Auroville, according to local sources.

Although the situation could have escalated to the point of hysteria very quickly, we chose instead to play cards by flashlight and sit together singing familiar songs, letting our apprehension out through laughter rather than tears.  Some of us ventured out on the roads, clad in our raincoats and ponchos, to see how the villages had been affected and to search for food and water.  After climbing through the fallen giants blocking the roads and seeing that being in a mud hut during a cyclone as opposed to a sturdy brick building made a world of difference, we knew that we had our work cut out for us the next couple days.

The next day, New Year’s Eve, we donned our work clothes, picked up machetes, and started chopping and clearing up the trees and debris around our pavilions.  Suddenly it seemed as if we were no longer a group of semi-strangers brought together by wanderlust and a course requirement, we were all kindred spirits, working together to realize a common goal.

While traipsing through the grass behind my classmates with my arms full of branches and my heart full of determination, it became clear to me that there are two sides to sustainability: the physical side that involves composting toilets and cold showers as well as the emotional support that comes from being a member of a community which takes care of all of its members as well as the physical space that it inhabits.

So, while it may not have been the lesson we set out to learn, we have all discovered the emotional side of sustainability over the past few days.  Although the people who live here may not have many of the comforts we enjoy back home, they do have one thing that many of us don’t: the sense of security and assurance that comes from living in a community where people are connected and take care of one another.   I think I’d take that over an iPad any day of the week.