This year our SHG womens groups have raised more than 30000 seedlings that should be planted now…Financially it is very tight in pitchandikulam as we have been trying to build up our training facilities both here in our Auroville forest and in Nadukuppam ..We have a bit overstretched ourselves !… Is there any way that this could go out as an appeal to CERES Global friends……love, JossA NEED IN SOUTH INDIADear Friends,I have just been in the Himalayas where the mighty glaciers are melting. The colonials started devastating the mountain forests 150 years ago for their ships, railroads and engineering projects. Burgeoning populations have decimated what was left for firewood to keep warm and cook their chapattis. I was in Utrakand where 20000 died in floods a few years ago .. South India is little better …its our playground/field of dreams …..the place where we have manifested some practical models of restoration ecology and where we can do more. I see each year that our small band of Pitchandikulam planters, are increasingly passionate about the possibility of bringing back the garden with its healthy biomes of forest, fields of bio diverse food crops, mangrove estuaries and grasslands…… The rains are here and we have the seedlings … Our womens groups have been trained to grow hundreds of species of indigenous plants ….trees, shrubs and grasses with medicinal and cultural values that are the basis of a healthy and wise Tamil community ..There are 30000 plants ready to go into the ground …the rains are gentle and persistent, often at night .. We have been planting for weeks but we realize we need more support to get all these seedlings planted before pongal in mid January, our harvest festival… We are going to do it somehow but we need to form a bigger team of men and women from the village and kids from the schools to help us .. We need to buy more good compost from farmers who have extra …we figure it will cost 50 cents to get each plant in the ground, so we are on a quest to raise 15000 A$…. PLANT A TREE IN SOUTH INDIA…!!!!….These trees and shrubs will make a Forest Sanctuary that will be protected. It will become the home of mongoose and paradise flycatchers ..It will be grateful and that gratitude will be felt and will encourage others to create more sanctuaries for the nature spirits that could guide us towards survival as a species …………Can you help?……peace and light …..JossJoss BrooksA Steward of Pitchandikulam ForestCell: +91 94433 62246Contact CERES Global to find out how you can make a contribution, email: email@example.comPitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre (PBRC)Pitchandikulam ForestAuroville 605101Tamil NaduIndia
Author: Phuong Tang
Standfirst: Gazing into the spreadsheet, it feels like there isn’t enough time. But for what?
My gaze diverts from the spreadsheet filled with numbers and diagrams, and I stare out my office window, searching. For what is not clear. Tears well up. I am fragile in this moment, but contain my tears, breathe in, sigh, and divert my gaze back to the all-important spreadsheet.
* * *
In January this year I landed in Chennai where I met what would be my project team for the next three weeks. We were eight: a lead architect, a trade teacher, four carpentry students, one plumbing student and me, an environmental engineer. On previous trips the local Indian NGO, Satpuda Vikas Mundul (SVM), had requested assistance from their community partner CERES in Brunswick. SVM wanted to improve the poor state of the teachers’ quarters at the local primary school, an important task it the school was to attract and retain good teachers, particularly women teachers, of which there was currently only one.
The aim of this trip, then, was to design and build a pilot teachers’ quarters based on sustainable principles, integrating environmental, social and economic concerns. We were exploring alternatives to the coal-fired brick, cement and reinforced steel houses that are currently overtaking both the city and the countryside. This was the first phase of an ambitious master plan to revamp the primary school with sustainable built classrooms, accommodation, fourteen teacher units, and kitchen and toilet facilities for 400 students in a remote tribal school in Jamnya, Central India.
We had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Jamnya. Smiling, inquisitive children shyly congregated around us with their big fragile eyes and dirty faces. Teachers greeted us with warm handshakes and optimism. Nearby, subsistence farmers dressed in loincloth loitered curiously, together with their jewelry-wearing cattle. We were the first foreign group to stay in the Jamnya community. It was probably as strange for them as it was for us: seven burly men and one woman, ages ranging from twenty-one to forty-five, from a mix of English, Asian and European cultural backgrounds, plonked in the middle of a remote mountainous village.
During the trip, we were challenged on both a physical and professional level. On a physical level, we had to let go of our creature comforts. There was no beer and steak to help unwind in front of the telly after a hard day’s work. Our accommodation was basic─ squat toilets, bucket showers, no running water, beds with wafer thin mattresses and a poor excuse for a pillow, no internet, no phone reception, only sporadic electricity. Despite this, we were living in five-star accommodation compared to the actual living quarters of the teachers and the local homes. Our accommodation actually had four solid walls and a roof to keep us warm during the cold nights. Drinking water as brought in, as the village only had bore water. Water for our evening showers was heated each night on the wood fire. A gas cylinder and stove was sourced from the nearly town, as LPG is only provided to those fortunate enough to be registered and with enough money to pay for it. We even had a cook who prepared some of the most delicious vegetarian meals I have ever eaten, made with love and always served with a friendly head wobble and glowing smile.
On a professional level we were also challenged. We had to adapt our outcomes-orientated mindsets to the ebb and flow of village life. Food, water, shelter and family were the priority. Each day unfolded like a ‘choose you own adventure’ book. Our plans for the day might be deterred by an impromptu game of cricket with the school kids, or delayed by a missing or non-existent building tool. We had discussions with the teachers, local women’s group and local trades people. We investigated what materials were locally available and assessed the most appropriate building materials, including bamboo and earth.
We did whatever small jobs could be done with whatever material was available. Water tanks were installed alongside the girls and boys toilet block so the kids could wash their hands. The septic tank on the boys toilets was fixed so the effluent did not run straight into the nearby creek. Leaky taps and pipes were repaired, stopping valuable drinking water being wasted. The site for the teacher’s quarters was marked out and inaugurated with a coconut-cracking and incense-burning ceremony. Teachers, students and local trades people all helped to lay the stone foundations of the teacher’s quarters.
Despite the lack of machinery and electrical equipment, and what at times seemed difficult conditions, our human power and enthusiasm made up for it. There was still much to do, but as we said our goodbyes after three weeks, we left with our initial mission achieved─ the design for the teacher’s quarters finalized and building started. Tick. However, what really transpired in Jamnya was much more than building a teacher’s quarters or fixing leaky taps. For me, it was the human connection made─ both with the local community and the Australian project team.
Being the only female in the team, I was fortunate enough to stay with a local family in the school. I shared the house with the father, mother, their son and daughter-in-law. Sunrise and sunset were greeted with smiles, partly due to the language barrier, partly due to language being unnecessary. As the days unfolded, the son, who could speak English, became less shy and we would chat in the evening. I learnt that he was a high school teacher. He recently married his wife, who was twenty-one. He loved cricket. He missed his sister. She had recently passed away, in childbirth. She was only twenty-five. My heart broke. My humble host family had welcomed me into their home despite losing their daughter that Christmas.
From the women’s group meeting I learnt that few women had the opportunity to learn beyond primary school. After primary school, girls are needed to help in the home with cooking, chores, farming or looking after siblings. I thought about the only female teacher in the school. I wondered what she and the villagers thought of me. I wondered whether they were comfortable with me travelling with a group of blokes and digging trenches. While we built the foundations of the new teacher’s quarters, I noticed the female teacher mixing up a brown paste in a bowl. She pointed to the cow dung on the ground, her bowl and the holes in the bamboo thatched walls of her existing quarters. She smiled. I stopped digging and offered to help. Together, we mixed cow dung with water and rendered her wall. I let go of my uncomfortable consciousness of being a well-traveled and educated woman. I allowed myself to learn something new. It was a magical moment.
* * *
Back in Melbourne I stare into the spreadsheet, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me. I am in a comfortable temperature-regulated building, sipping a strong black tea after a lunch break. I have food, water, shelter, health, loving friends and family. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is fulfilled, but something does not feel quite fulfilled. Time feels like it is escaping me; there isn’t enough time! But for what?
I’m here in Mumbai taking a bit of time off from our busy schedule to write a bit about what we are doing.
At the moment I’m volunteering with Apne Aap Womens Collective. AAWC is a NGO which helps to provide better quality of living for the women in the sex slave industry and their children. It strives to stop intergenerational trafficking to keep the children out of brothel based and street based prostitution. it is founded and run by some of the most strong and inspiring women who put themselves on the line everyday to provide hope and love for these children. They have a 100% success rate in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trafficking of these children since they started in 1998. For more info visit there website: http://www.aawc.in/
Those of us working with AAWC have been given the after school time from 4-7.30 to run games and english learning activities with the kids aged 6-18. It’s been so amazing. I feel so inspired by the children who are so strong and loving. Every day we learn something new and I feel like we are having a really beautiful exchange.
Although I’ve been teaching some english and other things, I feel like I’m learning more than I could ever have hoped for. With each activity we present to the kids, they engage so willingly and try really hard. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to be with them.
We had the sports day with the kids yesterday which was great fun! I won the Kangaroo race! It was really great to see the kids so happy and working together. Tomorrow I’m going on an excursion all day to a water park with the kids. I can’t wait, they are so much fun!
I’m going to keep it short as there is always way too much to be said but even more stuff to be done!
Lots of love,
Arriving in Jakarta was a welcome relief after what felt like an eternity of travel with connecting flights and stop overs from Melbourne. Waiting in the taxi line for the specifically nominated Blue Bird cab company, I was thrilled to catch up with a fellow CERES Global volunteer Pia, so we could ride together to the hostel where the rest of the group was meeting us for the night.
The following morning we were picked up from the YUM Jakarta office and drove approximately 3 hours to Cipanas.
Upon arrival at YUM in Cipanas we witnessed some children’s activities that reminded me of hitting a pinyata at a birthday party, except these kids had plastic bags full of water, and bamboo sticks.
1st – 3rd July
The first few days at YUM we had Bahasa Indonesian classes to assist in reducing communication barriers. A truly enjoyable language to learn, and relatively easy once you get the basics.
At the recycling centre we learnt that the business had been in operation over 20 years. They would accept all plastic waste and would pay 1,300rp per kilo they receive, and would on sell it for 2,000 rp, making a profit of 700 rp per kilo. The facility was incredibly basic with all sorting carried out by hand, and one compressing machine to bale the mixed plastics together.
At the organic dairy and chicken farm we learnt that it was more financially viable to be an organic farmer as the Indonesian government has made the cost of pesticides so high which encourages organic farming as preferable.
Today we were guests of honor at the YUM Village Creativity Day where all the children dressed in traditional Indonesian outfits, and sang and danced to traditional music. We enjoyed some delicious food and a morning full of creative activities.
For the afternoon the CERES Global team held two different workshops with the children focusing on Environmental Education. Using drama, visual arts and creative projects the children explored and discussed the impacts of rubbish pollution in their local community, and the importance of removing litter from the natural environment.
5th & 6th July
I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Teacher Training held in the Library at YUM on Friday and Saturday. Twenty teachers from the Cipanas region attended two 3/4 days of Environmental and English training so they could further improve the education of their students. With their own classes ranging from 20 up to 100 primary and / or high school aged students, these teachers welcomed the creative interactions Vanessa introduced to them, which would assist them in teaching English and introducing Environmental Education.
We played a number of games that assisted these teachers with their pronunciation, their spelling and their grammar. I was graciously humbled to be told repeatedly how valuable these sessions were for the teachers, how grateful they were that we had traveled all the way from Australia to assist them in their learning. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the trip for me so far.
Using Dr. Seuss The Lorax as the basis for the environmental education, we all had fun trying to read the rhymes of the childrens book. This activity then evolved into a Community of Inquiry with the group, which prompted some incredibly meaningful discussions around the question “Why are parts of Indonesia so poor?”
One of the comments made “Indonesia has a new school curriculum called Curriculum 2013. It is about building the character of Indonesian Students. It has a strong focus on religious education, but the teacher must be a good role model. Students need real experience of life with strong moral role models. At the moment students study just for IQ, not for Social or Environmental Intelligence. Students need all three.”
Today was the day we tackled the 23km climb (12 hours) up the great Gunung Gede. An active volcano that overlooks Cipanas.
I wont lie.. this was a killer of a climb.
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