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May 2009

 

Earth Day: Reaching out for a deeper connection

- in conversation with Priya Sundaravalli

The celebrations for this year's Earth Day lasted a full week from April 16th – 22nd. The main events were on Saturday 18th to enable fuller community participation.

The underlying purpose of this year's festivities was to appreciate the beauty of life on Earth in all its richness and simplicity. The activities catered to a diversity of tastes: star-gazing; walks in Auroville's wilder areas; pledges and petitions for supporting non-polluting, alternative transport; rating of the eco-friendliness quotient of Auroville buildings and communities; bio-regional quizzes; poster and banner designs; film festivals at several venues both outdoor and indoor; workshops on sustainability; school plays; children's talks; conversation cafés around food; a parade of the ‘Council of Beings'; open air concerts; organic vegan ‘locavore' dinners; and a Farmer's Market with earth-friendly Auroville products. There was something for everyone to justify the theme ‘People's Participation'. Yet, when Auroville Today spoke to the organizers they said were not fully happy with the turn-out.

 

AurovilleToday: How did this Earth Day get organized?

Bridget and Natasha. Photo by JuliettaNatasha: More or less spontaneously. Over the years, many people have been involved. Jos initiated the first Earth Day, and I remember when he left the following year I thought, now what's going to happen? We won't have a celebration. But somehow it came together and someone took a lead role. This time it was Bindu and Bridget. It is amazing; everyone just does a little bit and a whole programme gets put together.

 

Why the theme ‘People's participation'?

Martin: There was a frustration that Earth Day is organized every year but there is little participation from the community.

Bridget: That's why we picked ‘People's Participation' as the theme. We wanted to get everyone actively involved. Among other things, the programme was more diverse than before. We wanted to somehow merge spirituality with ecology, and we offered more ‘subtle' activities, like appreciating the beauty of nature and being in nature. The walks and the star-gazing came out of that. We wanted to provide an experience, not just an engagement of the rational mind…

 

Did you succeed? Did the people participate?

Natasha: In one way it was a disappointment. I would have liked to have seen more Aurovilians. But the open air market outside the Solar Kitchen on Saturday was successful.

Rishi with the Kyoto Solar box cooker. Photo by Julietta.Many people came and different Auroville products were showcased. One visitor commented on how many Aurovilians and Auroville units are busy with ecological products on a daily basis; it is not just a production for Earth Day. And that made me change my outlook a bit.

 

Solar lamps at arsten’s stall. Photo by JuliettaThe market was also special because all these people who have been working in an ecological direction were celebrating together. The market was a place of celebration rather than selling products, and a lot of them were not even selling! But when you see these people standing in front of the stalls, with smiles on their faces, you become aware of a deeper connection. And if more of these connections are made, this will be crucial for Auroville.

I felt very positive that afternoon.

Marc: The conversation cafés on food and holistic systems were also nice. We talked about how much food we can produce just by integrating a little farming in each community. If planning a community vegetable garden or fruit orchard could become the norm in Auroville, if it could be part of the planning process at the time of a building a house, like building a wastewater treatment plant, then we would be getting somewhere...

Natasha: The walks offered by early Aurovilians were also well attended. One group, led by Johnny, went all the way to Mathur and ended with a midnight swim.

Arriving in ‘vandis’. Photo by Giorgio.


Marc: David of Aurodam did another walk. He looked so happy sharing with other Aurovilians what he has been doing for the past 25 years. One does not realize that the greenbelters have such a knowledge, and at the same time are so modest. I notice that people who work on the land do not have that arrogance which one often sees in business people. Perhaps working with nature, working with the earth, makes you more aware of yourself.

Bridget: We also got the schools involved. We had sixteen schools participating this year. We had given each school a three-metre long piece of canvas and the children were asked to paint their own image for Earth Day. The canvasses were later hung along the roads for people to appreciate. Deepanam School played the host for a special morning programme for the community. Natasha also organized a parade of the ‘Council of Beings'.

Auroville children reading the Earth Day pledge. Photo by Giorgio.

Natasha: What we were trying to do was to engage the artistic and the creative element in people. I believe art and creativity is a medium which connects people. So the idea behind the ‘Council of Beings' is a process of connecting with nature and allowing a ‘being' (usually a life form) to choose you. And then you go through a creative process of making a mask and letting any message come to you which you can express or share.

There had been some comments in the community that we were going back to tribalism, but it was not done in that spirit. It was meant to be about a deeper connection with other living beings, how we can be a medium for them to express themselves through us. There was a lot more thought put into this but it did not get across.

Most of the children in Transition School and Nandanam Kindergarten had gone through this process of taking on a being, creating a mask, and thinking about how they would represent this being. This time, there was a lot of participation from the villages and Thamarai in Edaiyanchavadi.

Marc: There was also the bio-regional quiz drawn up by Tlaloc. It made us all more savvy about our environment. How many edible plants are around? Where does your solid waste go? How much water does the average Aurovilian use? The questions seemed so basic. But it turned out that we really don't know much about what is going on around us. I think this is a very important way of being ‘down to earth'.

Paul interviews ‘the Council of Beings’. Photo by Giorgio.

Do you think the movement initiated by this Earth Day celebration will carry on?

Martin: Actually that was one of the questions we had – how to keep the momentum going throughout the year. You are always a little bit scared about being burned out after a big event. But now we are thinking about the small steps we can keep taking over the year.

Natasha: We sometimes hear that celebrating Earth Day in Auroville is like preaching to the converted but I don't agree. Of course, everybody in Auroville is aware of environmental issues, but how deep does that awareness truly go? Does it really bring change? This time we consciously focussed on trying to become more deeply aware, not just ‘knowing' about sustainable technologies but somehow making this connection to life and living. Once that connection is made, then the change becomes automatic.
Bridget: When it touches you inside like that, a switch comes on, and a change becomes inevitable.

 

See also our photo gallery: Earth Day 2009 in Auroville

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