Shikshantar is the name of a beautiful movement of regenerative culture in the city of Udaipur, a center for co-creative alternatives to education, zero waste arts, healthy cooking, local foods, and much much more. Shikshantar has a 'center' but is alive in people and connections throughout the area... the local wildlife preserve, NGOs, students, organic farms, and the hearts and minds of learners of all ages who have decided to 'walk out' of the system (or at least open up to alternative ways of learning, consuming, and working).
I have been interested in Shikshantar since I first learned of them through a co-worker at LEAPNOW in 2007. Having sent students there, I was intrigued by their strong mission and unorthodox ways. Entering in, I felt welcome to participate fully. From the first moment I was given so much (a place to stay, eager explanations of the work projects, oil free lunches, and good conversation) and asked 'what can you share?'.
I found this invitation to participate a beautiful mirror for my pilgrimage, as I and the rest of Beyond Boundaries enter into new regions and communities we listen for how can we serve. Here, the dialogue and invitation for exchange and offering was tangible. At first I waoverwhelmed with how much I received, and responding with some creative offerings.
I connected deeply with Swaraj University, an alternative to learning program slated to begin next month. It is an invitation for youth (18-35) to participate in an individual and community learning experiment. It combines self directed learning, work with mentors and community, and internships with specialists in sustainable technologies.
"Hind Swaraj is principally a fervent moral plea by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) to all Indians to reflect deeply both on their morality and that of the economic, political and social institutions that they wish to set up."
- Vivek Pinto,
from Gandhi's Vision and Values
I connected deeply with Reva, the coordinator, and offered some of my experience with leadership and fundraising. I was energized in our sessions of synergy and exchange.
The land around Udaipur is badly deforested, to the point of desertification. I loved visiting the wildlife preserve, and was asked to lead a meditative walk with young MBA students working with the park and learning to be guides. I found green initiatives abounding here; joined community members on a sunrise nature excursion on New Years morning, listened to a Forest Service Officer's dream for eco-community and saw initiatives to work with water in sustainable ways.
I visited a 'sustainable development' project working in some local tribal villages, and my visit raised many questions. What is sustainable development? Mono culture? Education? What kind of education? Where are these funds going, and how are the projects actualized? Snapshots of fields of channa (garbanzo beans), wells for extracting water (when I asked to see the water table restoration work advertised on their brochure), 40 students sitting in an empty lecture hall learning computers, English and 'personality development', and a bio-gas stove newly installed not yet hooked up the the open pile of dry grassed they pointed to when I asked where the bio gas compost site was (usually a fully enclosed system for wet manure). AND clean drinking water available on site, Village Information Centers with information on Malaria and traditional instruments to play. AND, big smiles, healthy bodies and a beautiful exchange with the local women, asking me what grains I know how to grow, what fruits grow where I live, and am I married?
The 14th of January was a holiday, a day of celebration of the Sun, harvest and the end of winter. I had a morning ceremony out on the land surrounding a medicinal plan ashram I visited, and took time to reflect on my Independent Study, now coming to an end. I arrived in Chennai full, ready to meet my group and make the transition into the third portion of our pilgrimage.
Now in Auroville, we are grounding and exploring. Our first couple of days were spent integrating, sharing stories and incorporating our experiences. We are staying at a beautiful quite community based on the spiritual principles of integral yoga, a perfect place to settle into the large and diverse community of this eco city and begin our inquiry into Auroville.