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Auroville Experience


December 2008

“One of our aims was to broaden
their horizons”

- From an interview by Alan

The Auroville Coastal-area Development Centre (ACDC) has ceased its activities. Here members of the ACDC core group look back on their work.


The ACDC core-group: from left to right Santo, Meera, Alain, Chandrah, Elke and Emmanuele

Auroville Today: Which projects that your group has been involved with over the past few years in the villages have made a difference?

Alain: It's not always easy to say. Village work can be very frustrating – for many initiatives you do not see any immediate result, yet there may be a long-term effect. For example, in the past some organisations built collective toilets in some villages, but they never really worked. Now everybody wants individual toilets. It's a new wave, a big cultural evolution.

Meera: I think the youth are changing. There's a young men's self-help group called Saral in Edaiyanchavady which is full of enthusiasm and is always coming up with different activities, such as organising a cycle rally to Gingee to promote awareness about global warming and turning an old building into a library. They began as individuals and now they've learned to work together as a group.

Alain: I remember Moris being struck by the fact that, during the first meetings with the fishermen under the Paalam (Bridge) project, the fishermen began to look at themselves, to self-reflect, which was quite new for them. Now there are almost 60 Men's Groups in fishing communities, dalit communities and coastal villages, and this may indicate a more general change in awareness. What is clear is that the women in the Women's Self-Help Groups are definitely more self-confident and conscious of social issues.

Chandrah: In ACDC we recognised the need for a participatory approach, to ask people what they wanted rather than attempting to impose things upon them. At the same time, we encouraged them to think about the bigger picture by asking them, what does your community really need?

Santo: No single project, only a continuous intervention can make a difference. As far as ACDC is concerned our decision to become involved in projects at the village level, big or small, was always dependent upon us first making a thorough analysis. Before financing a project, we would examine its usefulness and see if it was fulfilling real community needs. Also, especially for the micro-projects, we had a set of structured guidelines, such as photo documentation of the entire process and the need for the benefitting community to make a one third contribution in kind or cash.

Chandrah: One of our aims was to give the target population new ideas, to broaden their horizons, as well as giving them access to better information. For example, self-help groups did not know about various government schemes and funding that are available, and we assisted them in exploring these avenues. We also organized various seminars for youth informing them about different options for further education, scholarships, and skills training etc. A rural technology park was constructed that displays traditional and alternative building techniques. It is hoped that these techniques will be adopted by the local population to build houses.

 

If Auroville closed down tomorrow, what would survive of its work in the local villages?

Alain: Village development. When Auroville first came here, the local villages were dark at night, they had no water, and the whole area was considered backward. We can't claim that the vast changes that have happened since are all due to Auroville, but Auroville's presence has been a huge accelerating factor in the villages' development.

Meera: The local populations' priorities have shifted. Now education is considered important, and they all want to send their children to schools. And women now want their own means of livelihood, in order to be more independent. This is a big change and Auroville has played a role in developing and supporting this new awareness.

Chandrah: Before Auroville, the majority of the population were involved in rain-fed agriculture. Over the years, the populations surrounding Auroville have acquired a diversity of skills, some of which have been learned and this makes them more resilient.


One of the more than 60 men's groups set up by the ACDC

ACDC will soon close down, but many Auroville groups will continue to work in the villages. Could that work be made more effective?

Alain: It will be more effective when all Aurovilians understand that Auroville cannot grow in any significant way unless it has a meaningful relationship with the villages around. Either we grow together or we perish together.

Meera: There's something missing. While ACDC was the coordination centre for the NGOs working in tsunami recovery, we do not have the equivalent for the different organizations within Auroville. It is important to have a centre in Auroville which disseminates information.

Santo: I believe ACDC could set an example through the way it took decisions by consensus. To reach this it was sometimes necessary to step back from one's personal opinions.
Alain: Having been there from beginning to end, I can say that the whole experience from the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project (ATRRP) to ACDC has been very positive in terms of teamwork. While the size of the groups, the focus of the groups and the people involved changed over this period, the atmosphere has generally been one of happy cooperation with, of course, a few difficult moments, mostly at transition times. It is likely to remain a good memory for all those who participated. Overall, it was a very nice Auroville venture.

 

The Auroville Coastal-area Development Centre

When the tsunami struck on 26th December, 2004, the immediate need was for disaster relief for the coastal communities. Within hours, a relief team had formed in Auroville. For the first few days they provided food and clothing for the affected population. Over the next two months, they sent teams into the devastated areas of coastal villages to clean them up.

The next phase was rehabilitation. At this point, the Auroville Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project (ATRRP) was established as a project under the Auroville Village Action Trust (AVAT). During this phase, which lasted for a little more than one year, programmes were put in place to restore dignity, homes, infrastructure and livelihoods to the affected people. Many other NGOs became involved in rehabilitation work in the area and the Auroville team spontaneously became a coordinating body, trying to ensure that duplication of activities didn't happen and that each affected village was taken care of. Later the Collector appointed Auroville as the official NGO coordination centre for Villupuram district and it received funding for this purpose from the United Nations Development Programme.

Coastal restoration work

Later, as a result of the imbalances created between the coastal and inland populations of the bioregion by the large inflow of resources in the aftermath of the tsunami, the target population was enlarged to include inland villages as well. The Auroville Coastal-area Development Centre (ACDC), which started in October, 2006, reflected this change as well as a wish to work more professionally. Auroville organizations continued to work in the expanded target area, even after the government declared the tsunami rehabilitation phase over, so ACDC became a coordination hub for the many different Auroville projects happening in nearby coastal and inland villages. It financed many of these activities from donations received in the aftermath of the tsunami – after securing the agreement of the main donors – and closely monitored their progress.

ACDC's efforts concentrated on long-term sustainable development projects for communities in the Auroville region. Areas of focus included:

  • NGO coordination and knowledge-building
  • Livelihood
  • Environment
  • Community institution building and
  • micro-credit
  • Shelter and infrastructure
  • Health, hygiene and sanitation

As of October 31st, 2008, ACDC has officially concluded all of its activities, as the funds received have all been spent.

Another reason for this is that so far ACDC's function has essentially been that of an intermediary, monitoring the activities and the utilisation of funds of various projects. Some members of the team now want to continue working together, but in the field.


A cycle rally to Gingee to promote awareness about global warming

 

All photos courtesy ACDC

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