Friends it has been an intense few weeks since we launched our campaign to raise funds to finish the Enlivened Learning documentary. During the campaign we were busy travelling between several university initiatives and meetings around India.
We have also been joined by co-traveller, Marina Leitner here, who has been working with us in the project for many months. The last time she joined us to visit and learn from places was in Brazil.
Whilst in India we have been visiting three exciting universities Navdanya/the Earth University (near Dehradun), the Adivasi Academy (rural Gujarat) and Swaraj University (Udaipur, Rajasthan) as well as attending a number of meetings. One of these was the wonderful Learning Societies Network (mostly annual) Unconference, this year held in Pune. Here we had the chance to meet hundreds of inspiring people working on environmental initiatives, organic agriculture, alternative education and many other wonderful ventures across India.
- India, Navdanya, tour of the rice fields
Navdanya, was the first place we visited. It is located in Doon Valley outside of Dehradun, where Vandana Shiva helped to start Bija Vidyapeeth (the Seed School) or the Earth University and a Grandmothers’ University initiative. There we were filming, participating in many discussions, gardening (weeding) and learning much about the farm and the amazing seed bank (over 630 species of rice) – we also were able to record a conversation with Vandana which was wonderful and thought-provoking.
A key learning for us at Navdanya was the importance of diversity – in foods, crops, knowledge and cultures. Knowledge from grandmothers, farmers, indigenous peoples are the source of knowledge that informs all scientific experiments (soil, natural pesticides, natural farming, multi-cropping) in a cyclical process (informing each other). They combine local and scientific knowledge and are doing wonderful things in the field of organic agriculture. We have been thinking about and have had discussions with people visiting about the parallels between monocultures in agriculture (mono-cropping) and monocultures in ways of thinking, knowing and being (the opposite of diversity) which are dominant in universities. Here is a link to Navdnaya’s site: http://www.navdanya.org/earth-university
The second place we visited was the Adivasi Academy in a village called Tejgadh in rural Gujarat, a couple of hours east from Baroda. The Adivasi Academy (Adivasi meaning indigenous in Hindi), is one of the key places in India devoted to the country’s indigenous communities (in local terminology, both Tribal and nomadic peoples). This place is a center of learning, research, arts and culture. This place was founded by Dr Ganesh Devy, a wonderful and generous literature professor who became interested in the plight of Adivasis and in India’s rich linguistic diversity many decades ago. Dr Devy then spent many years learning from Adivasis in Gujarat and elsewhere in India before founding the Academy as a response to local needs. The Academy is involved in a number of exciting and pioneering projects, including a People’s Linguistic Survey of India, which has mapped out the country’s rich linguistic heritage and diversity, currently counted at 870 with over 800 of these being associated with Adivasi communities! Adivasis make up around 10% of the total population of India.
Planting marigolds with children living and studying at the school that is part of the Adivasi Academy in Tejgadh
Here we began to make the connections between the ecological and knowledge diversity we mentioned before to linguistic diversity and ways of knowing and being in the world they contain. What was also exciting about this place was how though its roots are as a higher education initiative, it has since expanded in response to local adivasi communities needs – health clinic, a ‘living’ museum where there are art and music workshops and festival gatherings, 66 non-formal education centres around Gujarat, legal advice, self-help groups (over 200) – and the dreams and plans continue to emerge. Here is a link to their site: http://www.adivasiacademy.org.in/Default.aspx
Young students speaking with us at one of the non-formal education centres in Gujarat
The last place we are visiting for our project in India, and where we are writing from now, is Swaraj University in Udaipur, Rajastan. The principle of self-directed learning guides the ethos at Swaraj (an old Hindi term made famous by Gandhi and others meaning – amongst many possibilities – self-[or home]-rule or self-mastery). Swaraj University grew from Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development that was established 15 years ago and has generated and co-created many community and localization projects in and around Udaipur over the years – all of which challenge dominant models of development that value profit-making above everything else (by placing emphasis on people and the planet before profit). Both Shikshantar and Swaraj University place emphasis on unlearning…
Swaraj University draws 15 to 20 khojis (khoji meaning ‘seekers’, rather than students, in Hindi) every year for a two-year programme where they “get exposed to and then gain mastery in livelihood streams of action-knowledge that are based on principles of ecological sustainability, localization, social justice and social innovation” (from Swaraj website). This happens through a series of workshops, mentorship periods and learning journeys.
Khojis at Swaraj University starting the day with a group storytelling activity
The khojis go between periods of collective learning and working on their own projects, supported by a network of mentors, their peers and a group of core facilitators. During the time we have been here the khojis have been engaging in a series of learning tasks in the city, around entrepreneurship and eco-initiatives. We did a few days of filming in and around their beautiful campus outside the city too.
Street theatre performed by Karen and Kamal during the mela the khojis put together in Udaipur. The audience were mesmermized and stayed through the heavy monsoon rains that started soon after!
What has been wonderful about this place, as well as the innovative and inspiring approach to self-directed learning, is the amazingly warm and open feeling between all people involved. This feeling of warmth and generosity is core to Swaraj University (un)learning. There is great emphasis places on emotional growth and personal (non-violent) communication that is encouraged to be shared within the Swaraj community. For example, when we were attending presentations that were made by each khoji, the method of responding to each person was organized to explore with the heart as much as the (intellectual) head. After each presentation, the group divided into 4 – one group discussed ‘what they felt was inspirational – for themselves and for the khoji presenting'; another group discussed how the khoji was developing their ability to express their emotional experiences and learnings; another group discussed how they thought the khoji’s work was benefitting the Swaraj community and outside communities; the final group discussed what they felt ‘was missing’. We were all very inspired by the incredible sophistication of emotional, social and intellectual analyses of each khojis.
The khojis range in age from 17 to the early 30s, they range in experience with formal education, from uncompleted schooling to graduates, and they vary in socio-economic and religious backgrounds. Still within all of this diversity a feeling of deep friendship and solidarity permeates Swaraj as the khojis undergo profound and transformative learning experiences as they discover more about themselves, their passion, their world and others around them. Swaraj was founded by Nitin Paranjape, Reva Dandage and Manish Jain — all three have been involved in social and ecological movements focussing especially on learning, education and un-schooling. Here is a link to their site:
This is just a very brief glimpse of some of the places we have visited in the last few weeks. We will be writing more in depth on our experiences over the next few weeks as we get caught up with our writing.
Speaking of writing, Udi has just had an article published in The Ecologist magazine on our experience of Blackfoot ecological knowledge in Red Crow Community College