Both Meenakshi and Umesh were born and brought up in Mumbai. 20 years in Mumbai opened their eyes to the various facets of the urban life and the realities behind those. After finishing her degree in Architecture from Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Meenakshi’s search for an alternative way of life brought her to Auroville near Pondicherry, where she worked with low cost eco-friendly construction technologies. She had always been interested in children and schools and often went to Isai Ambalam School. There she met Umesh, who was doing Organic farming. Being disillusioned in the same way after finishing his B tech in Mechanical engineering from IIT Chennai he was also looking for an alternative way of life.
After working with few organizations for some years, they decided to settle down on their own and practice the various alternatives in farming, construction and education. In 1992, they bought a completely degraded 12 acres piece of land in a drought-prone area of Dharmapuri District in Tamil Nadu. There were about 2 acres of arable land where they could grow dry land crops and 10 acres of eroded hill slopes on which they could only hope to regenerate a forest. For the first 3 years there were good rains and they were able to grow millets and do soil and water conservation work. Numerous indigenous species of trees and grasses regenerated. They also planted forest trees and sowed fodder grass. The completely barren brown piece of land was slowly coming to life. Suddenly the rains became erratic and undependable. In 1997, the rains failed completely. The crops all dried up in the fields. They then understood the plight of the farmer. They decided to work with the local farmers to help them to adapt to the changing climatic conditions – through their children – the future farmers.
The learning centre was the outcome of long cherished dream of Meenakshi. She was a very unhappy student in Bombay. When in the 9th grade the class was asked to write an essay on “My School”, she had written about her dream school where there would be no exams or competitions, where the children would be allowed to follow their interest in an atmosphere of enquiry and happiness instead of fear of failure. The essay found its way to the dustbin, as her unimpressed English teacher tore it. But, today Puvidham Learning Centre is modeled on that dream school. The school was started, in January 2000, with two of their children and one nephew of the new teacher they employed. By June 4, other drop outs of the education system had joined them and the learning centre of Meenakshi started in earnest. Read More…
SurabhiNiwas- hostel :
Due to the dry conditions and difficulties of agriculture in the area, many people migrate for work to the cities, to construction sites, road works and other daily wage work. Their children are left behind or are taken along and live a very uncertain life on construction sites or in slums. Several such parents approached Puvidham to ask whether their children could board, while they went in search of work. With this in mind, a hostel facility is provided which caters to such children, and thus provides a more stable environment for them while they also attend SCHOOL at Puvidham. The SurabhiNiwas Hostel was started informally in 2003 and became a full-fledged hostel in 2005.
Bio Region Resource Centre:
The contemporary schools focus on academic lessons learnt by rote. The present system of education takes children away from the concepts of sustainability. The competition and false pride nurtured by the system takes its toll on the attitude of the children. A careless and insensitive approach towards their environment and even towards themselves puts the already stressed resources in great danger. Link to article —generating a debate on education To help create a connect with the environment we plan to do activities, which will involve children by being in nature and understanding that everything we have from cell phones to computer chips are made from the earth and have to be disposed of on this earth. This understanding and awareness we hope will kinder the interest of children in conserving resources. This along with nature walks and nature art we have found is an intense medium of engaging children in the care of their surroundings and their own selves. Read More…
Villages as Extended work areas:
As a part of their history and social science lessons, the 7th and 8th level children decided to do a survey talking to the villagers about the past and present situations in the village drawing attention to chemical farming, crop patterns, food habits,health, soil condition and water situation. The last question on the questionnaire was if they were interested in trying to make a positive change in their choice of deciding to grow millets which are suited to our dry climate. The children also asked them if they need any help in making the change. The outcome of the survey was that we as an organization decided to reach out to the farmers and see how we could all do something to save our soils from eroding, do water conservationand fodder management and strive to bring back the health of the earth and the people.