Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Au r o v i l l e Outreach Nadukuppam"

A newsletter from Auroville Universal Township
Au r o v i l l e
April 2007
Nadukuppam - where children teach their teachers
Nadukuppam High School is a Government Secondary
School which a few years ago had only three rooms in a bad
state of repair, five teachers for over 570 children, a high
drop-out rate, only around 10% pass rates in exams, no water,
no toilets, and no greenery around it - just 4 unfenced acres
of dust and wandering cows with a couple of trees nearby. In
2003 it was adopted by Auroville"s Pitchandikulam Bio-
Resource Centre as part of a development project for the
region, and since then has been transformed.
Today, thanks to financial help from 6 Irish schools plus
additional infrastructure paid for by the regional education
authority, the cooperation and encouragement of the local
Panchayat, which contributed three more acres of land for
outreach programmes, the recruitment of more teachers,
and the input of an Auroville team led by long time Aurovilian
Joss Brooks, it has become a model for other schools. Now
its exam pass rates have risen to over 60%, and it has drinking
water, shade trees, fencing to keep cows & goats out, toilets
with baffle reactors for treating the waste, a general
wastewater treatment plant using aquatic plants to cleanse
the water prior to nurturing a plant nursery, and many other
improvements. It has also become a major source of
inspiration for others in the field of education.
Birth of the project
Auroville originally became associated with this school
through a European Commission-funded project to restore
the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. This project, which
included a component for environmental education in the
bioregion, gave Joss the opportunity to realise a longstanding
Auroville dream, to create an outreach centre in the heart
of the Tamil Nadu countryside where the best of Auroville's
environmental experience and skills could be used to help
rejuvenate local communities. The area surrounding
Nadukuppam - a village of around 2,000 families - was
ideal for such a project, because it was relatively unspoiled
(it's off the beaten track,
some 6 kms north of Kaliveli
Lake) and is sited between
two remaining stands of
indigenous forest.
"Moreover, the school's lack
of resources and poor
academic record made it an
ideal test case," says Joss. "If
we could achieve something
there it would be really
The first essential for the
Auroville team was to build
trust and relationships with the
teachers, Government
education authorities, parents
and local village leaders.
"Once people understood
what we wanted to do and
saw that we were committed,
everybody became very
Aurovillian educator Lourdes Epinal with children from Nadukuppam’s Eco Club supportive," says Joss.
With money from the European Commission project
and additional assistance from Quaker Service Australia and
the Australian government, the initial major focus of the
project - the construction of an Environmental Education
Centre (EEC), the funding of a biological research team
and training and employment of environmental studies
teachers - then became possible. (The biologists, based in
Auroville, go regularly to the area to study its fauna and
flora, then document everything and transform their material
into teaching aids - charts, posters, textbooks, etc - for the
school's EEC teachers.)
The situation today
Today the school grounds not only contain the extra
classrooms so badly needed, and the EEC building, but also
a tree nursery for indigenous seedlings, a raised-bed vegetable
garden, a medicinal plant garden, a water purification plant
with solar pump raising water from underground storage
tanks to nurture a freshly planted area of trees near the
school buildings, a vermicomposting unit, and a waste
recycling set-up where paper, plastic, metal and glass are
separately stored for later resale (the school grounds are
kept clean and tidy by the children). One also finds a spirit
of enthusiasm pervading the school, its children and staff
that was unimaginable before the project took off.
What is special about Nadukuppam is that - inspired by
their teachers and all that is happening around them
(the children have even been introduced to GIS
mapping techniques!) - a lot of the drive and energy
is coming from the children themselves. Nearly one
in five has joined the school's Eco Club, which has
taken the initiative to systematically study the local
area. They have conducted research on features like
nearby water catchment ponds and lakes, have asked
village elders how things were in their youth, and
have then used what they have learned as shared
educational material for the rest of the school, and
for 15 other schools in the area up to 10 kms away.
Partly from the herbal and vegetable gardens in the
school grounds, which are nurtured using
vermicompost prepared by the children, a daily health
drink is prepared for children from a mixture of local grains,
cashew, jaggery, peanuts, spirulina and green beans (a prior
assessment was made of all the children to see who was
most in need, and monthly checks instigated to follow their
growth patterns). The medicinal plants are also made
available to traditional local health practitioners, and the
vegetables - plus the highly nutritious spirulina algae grown
nearby - are used to supplement the school diet. Thanks to
the children's enthusiasm and energy, now there are some
40 such herbal gardens in the area.
Fees for Trees
One highly innovative scheme deserves special mention.
When Indian-born US-trained Aurovilian educational
coordinator Lourdes Epinal discovered that quite a number
of the children from poor families were still dropping out
because their parents couldn't pay their fees, he started a
'Fees for Trees' scheme. Under this scheme poor children’s
fees are paid by an NGO direct to the school, in return for
which the child is required to dig the holes, prepare the
compost for and plant 5 trees (3 medicinal, 1 fruit and 1
indigenous) somewhere close to the family home, and then
protect and take full care of them to maturity! At the same
time they are made aware of their positive contribution to
the fight against global warming.
The Nadukuppam children, who are aged 10-15 and
study physical, social and biological sciences plus English
and Tamil, are equally enthusiastic about the local fauna.
Individually or in groups they choose a species to study,
and then make 5-minute presentations at the morning's
"school assembly" to the rest of the school - also separately
to parents, village elders, Women's Club members, their
teachers of non-environmental subjects, and the other 15
schools in the area - using shadow puppets, drama, songs,
dance, story telling and simple props to share their
knowledge. It’s not unusual for the children, as a result of
this shared knowledge, to be able to directly identify by
name 50 or more birds commonly seen around the school,
and to know the role that many of them play in the ecosystem
together with other local life-forms such as bats,
The school’s Environmental Education Centre
Children at work in the school’s plant nursery
lizards, snakes, fish, mammals, turtles and
insects. All this has helped them value and
appreciate the flora and fauna around them;
what it contributes to their environment and
their lives; and what life might be like if it
was no longer there. As one child recently
put it, "If we lose all this, we lose everything!"
Nadukuppam’s outreach
This enthusiasm for their surroundings
has also engendered pride within the village,
and spread to others. The local youth and
women's groups - of which there are 27 in
the area - now have separate buildings
adjacent to the school, funded by Quaker
Service Australia, for a variety of classes plus
meetings and government-sponsored
training programmes. There their members
are taught hand stitching and machine
tailoring for self-support (one group has now
"graduated" and almost all have machines
and are supplementing their family income this way), and
benefit from having a medicinal plant dispensary on site
with a trained practitioner, lessons on establishing small
vegetable-cum-herbal gardens around their house and
making their own herbal medicines for primary health care
within their families (the nearest major hospital is 2-3 hours
away, so treating minor health problems locally is important),
and lessons aimed at environmental awareness (members
who, for example, used to kill the Rat Snake in ignorance,
now know the benefits of having such snakes around i.e.
knowledge has changed their attitude and behaviour
Other subjects taught range from water conservation,
spirulina production, the setting up of small vegetable
gardens, family planning, leadership skills, the avoidance of
HIV/AIDS, nutrition, childcare, legal matters and gender
issues. In other words the school and its associated
infrastructure is being used not just for the children's
intellectual education but to also help adults from the
surrounding area appreciate their bio-region, and learn how
to live a better and healthier life while preserving it. The
result, as Joss puts it, is that large numbers of people in the
local community have now "got the bigger picture", and are
enthusiastically supporting all that is happening at and around
the school. Meanwhile, everything taught and done both at
the school and elsewhere is being documented, so the
experience can be replicated elsewhere.
Demonstration-cum-experimental site
With the involvement of the Women's Groups and local
Farmers Association the Auroville team are also creating a
demonstration and experimental site beyond the school with
enough space for a new forest area and ecological farming.
A wind pump is to be installed there for water, and a solar
pump is already is use for rice irrigation (experiments with
new varieties of rice are showing 2-3 times the yield, with
rapid growth and less labour and less waste, which in turn
means more fodder for cattle). Hopefully as the farm
develops they will be able to provide fully organic mid-day
meals for the children.
To date 4,000 trees have been planted – a mix of local
forest, fruit and useful agricultural species; a range of organic
crops are being trialled; and check dams are to be installed
for rainwater catchment. The farm area already has its own
threshing ground, store room, cow house, and toilets /
washroom. The next phase will be to add a technical training
centre where farmers and others can learn basic things like
how to fix their own tractors, pumps, cycles, etc, and an
earth-block construction facility is to be set up with the help
of Auroville's Earth Intstitute. The land has also been fenced
against cattle & goats.
The conclusion from all this is that the school, its EEC
and its additional infrastructure for Women's Groups and
others can increasingly be used to plan the sustainable future
of the village and its surrounding area. However, Joss
makes it clear that the Auroville team can't force or push
anyone in such a direction; they can train, show the way,
and help them to understand, but finally it must be the
villagers themselves who take the initiative to keep
developing and improving everything. That shouldn't be a
problem, because - as Joss puts it - the villages are high in
potential energy, and once they understand things, see
how their lives can be improved, and decide to do
something, they can achieve wonders.
Perhaps the same can be said for the whole Auroville
team, whose vision and commitment has set in motion an
experiment which has enormous positive potential for rural
communities throughout India.
Girls learning tailoring at the Women’s Group premises
Auroville Outreach newsletter, which is for private circulation only, is published and edited by Auroville Outreach Team and prepared by PRISMA, Auroville.
Enquiries or feedback relating to this newsletter and its contents are always welcome, and can be communicated to:
Auroville Outreach, A.C.U.R., Auroville 605101, India E-mail: outreach@auroville.org.in
Auroville is an international township in Tamil Nadu, South
India, founded in 1968.
Inspired by the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, over
1,800 people from India and some 40 other nations are building
a township dedicated to an experiment in human unity, with
the eventual hope of contributing to international understanding
and the evolution of human consciousness. Nearly 5,000 of the
40,000-plus local people living in the dozen-or-more villages
that comprise the Auroville bio-region are also involved in the
project, providing their skills and labour.
The township, projected for 50,000 people, will radiate out
from the central Matrimandir and its surrounding gardens in
four zones, the International, Cultural, Residential and Industrial.
A large forested area, the Green Belt, will eventually surround
the entire township area.
Present activities in Auroville include wasteland reclamation
and reforestation, organic farming, village development,
education, health care, renewable energy, appropriate building
technology, arts and culture, handicrafts and small-scale
industries, architecture and town planning.
As described by its founder, Auroville aspires to be
“a universal town where men and women of all countries are
able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds,
all politics and all nationalities.”
For more general information visit the website:
We would like to thank the Foundation for World Education
for their generous grant towards the publication of this newsletter.
Transformation of Puducherry's Bharathi Park
Just as Auroville's work in the
areas of afforestation, education
and healthcare in the bio-region
is becoming well known, so are
its skills in design and landscaping.
What is less well known, are
the efforts to preserve the
architectural heritage of nearby
Puducherry and improve its
urban environment by the local
Chapter of INTACH (Indian
National Trust for Art and
Cultural Heritage) headed by
Indian-born Aurovilian architect
Ajit Koujalgi.
INTACH, which works closely with the various
departments of the Government of Puducherry and local
citizens to achieve its aims, has carried out a number of
projects in this field. The latest has been a major 3.5 crores
(approx US$ 800,000) project to renovate and beautify
Puducherry's 10-acre Bharathi Park initiated by the Tourism
Department, with INTACH as consultant, the Public Works
Department as the executing agency, and a number of
Aurovilians and Auroville units as lesser contributors.
Located facing the Governor's Palace at the heart of
Puducherry's historically important heritage area, the park
has had a massive facelift over the past two years under the
above mentioned scheme, which has transformed it into a
more peaceful, beautiful and enjoyable facility for the many
hundreds of people who visit it daily. Gone are the tarmac
roads crossing through the heart of the park, which divided
the area into 4 mini-parks and allowed vehicular traffic to
cross the area or park there. Now the whole perimeter has
been fenced with cast-iron railings to create a visually larger
pedestrian-only area with 4 entrance gates; brighter but more
energy-efficient night lighting has been installed; litter bins,
gazebos, granite benches, granite pathways and a granite
fountain have been added, with some of the stone items
supplied and crafted by the Auroville-based Auryaj unit; most
of the 140 trees in the park have been pruned by Auroville's
professional tree surgeon Juan Silverio-Petriz and his
assistants; hanging wind chimes and "singing stones" have
been installed by Auroville's Svaram Musical Instruments;
and new swathes of more hardy grass have been sown and
some minor planting schemes implemented, all with sprinkler
irrigation for water economy. Everything has been done to
an extremely high standard in a tasteful way.
In awareness that the park has a connection with The
Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, thanks to the work
done by an Ashramite after the second World War to
transform what was then a bare parade ground into an urban
park, it has been a special pleasure for the Aurovilians
involved to have contributed to this major renovation and
improvement scheme as they have, in a variety of ways.

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