With layers of brick, gravel, sand, and organic matter, we filled up the reed red that we had excavated and whose basic depth and alignment with the Jal Rakshak we tested on 21st May.
In his presentation to our school's teachers and leaders, it was validating for us when Dr Gokhale, our school's ecologist friend and designer of our ecological waste disposal system, shared with us a statement attributed to Gus Speth, an environmental lawyer:
"I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy [...] “to deal with those issues we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists do not know how to do that.”
While we do not believe that such selfishness, greed, and apathy are intrinsic human conditions, we do observe them to be perhaps symptomatic of humanity's extreme lack of effort to cultivate, embody, and work mindfully with compassion as a real, hardworking, and needed skill to complement all it's other skills we developed in schools, colleges, and various professional domains.
We in our school are trying — taking little steps, often feeling vulnerable as models for developing compassion as a cultural as well as a systematic organizational ability and tool are far and few. The ability to be compassionate as a collective is perhaps our greatest challenge, but, perhaps, only rightly so because we also believe its one of the the greatest ability required to live harmoniously with Nature — complementary to science, for example, but just as fundamental.
Such an ecological waste disposal system is an experiment and another one of our attempts for us in developing such a collective ability to be mindful of our interedependence with Nature, scientifically and compassionately.
I cannot help but wonder, what if like the Industrial Revolution, we had a Compassion Revolution? Or is this just the human condition? I wonder.
For a few months now, with the support of ecologist Dr Ajit Gokhale who was introduced to us by architect Rohan Nahar, we have been working on a unique (there being currently just 7 such systems in India) system for 100% ecological closed-loop recycling of waste from our school's new toilet.
While this system uses the well-known reed bed for filtering the grey water, the unique part of it is the Jal Rakshak that helps solve the problem of obtaining dry fecal matter for aerobic composting by separating it from the water that is used to flush the toilet — the dry fecal matter falls into the composter below and the flush water is directed into the reed bed. (While the Jal Rakshak has been used abroad, its only the recent manufacturing of it in India that has significantly brought down its cost.)
The Jal Rakshak works on the principle of the natural adhesive property of water to surfaces, which when engineered to work with Nature's centrifugal & gravity forces produces the effect of separating to greater than 99% efficiency dry fecal matter from flush water.
Today, we successfully completed the test setup of this system in our toilet and started building our reed bed system.
On January 23, 2023 we finally inaugurated our school's new academic block whose construction journey began April 4, 2022.
The inauguration ceremony was, above all, a gathering of people to thank and offer gratitude for the dedication, committment, and hardwork of our community's construction team led by their exceptional leader, Mr Pradip Singh.
Students, teachers, leaders of our school and organization, as well as prominent people of our local and wider community gathered together to make this a memorable day for our construction team.
This new academic block has become not just a strikingly beautiful and unique landmark in the bounded physical space-time that catches the attention of all passers-by, but also in the unbounded dimension of the hearts and minds of people as a potential symbol of the values of compassion, listening, peace, and patience that sustain such community-participatory ethos of architecture.
Its a humbling journey to nurture such values and work with groundedness in them, and anything but trivial. However, it's challenges is what we must accept and work with because compassion, we believe, can be the glue that can bind humanity into a coherent fabric of peace by giving as a framework to focus on what connects us and, like the yin-yang, also give us a framework to accept the realities of our differences.
We write this post in a state of prayer that the wisdom of such compassion we cultivate and uphold it as one of the central pillars of our school.
More documentation of this day on various social media:
* Our architect, Uday Goswami's Facebook page
* Our school's Facebook page
After the intital fundraising goal of Eur 9000 was met, we raised another Eur 4000 that helped us complete the construction of the foundation and walls of our new academic block.
However, we still needed at least another Eur 2700 to start constructing the roof and towards which we, yesterday, received funds of Eur 3100, which is now enabling us to do more than the roof :) With the excess funds we will work on the block's electrification and attaching the related fixtures.
We are feeling immensely grateful for this generous donation and it felt very nice, to say the least, to now have all the funds to complete the core construction of our new academic block and giving the green light to our construction team to proceed full steam :)
In the attached picture, the bamboo structures that will support the roof can be seen going up. Note that only the RCC part of the walls can be currently seen because the bamboo part is being assembled as panels that will be put up in due time.
The art~science of bamboo~wood work begins to emerge to finds its wholesome place in the brick~mortar structure built thus far since the Foundation Laying Ceremony on 4th April 2022 for our new academic block, which will contain 3 new classrooms and an office space for our school.
We are also in the process of submitting a proposal along with our partner Envo Renewable Energy Services Pvt. Ltd. (ERES) for installing a solar-energy and rainwater harvesting system in this block so that we are, as far as possible, self-sufficient with sustainable and empowering sources of energy, which we can demonstrate as a practical model for the various needs of our rural community.
(This too is a post-dated update for an event that occured in March 2022! Words cannot express the depths of our immersion in action from where the space, time, and energy for written expression, to say the least, often lags behind!)
in March 2022 we made our proposal to a potential funder who has agreed to fund the entirety of our financial need.
At the heels of wrapping up our participation as finalist in the A--D Global Challenge 2021, we would like to put up this post to show two powerful glimpses since the Foundation Laying Ceremony on 4th April 2022.
Yes, tangible progress has been made in terms of brick and mortar being laid and two walls of one of the new classrooms coming up, which was significantly affected by mainy days of continuously heavy rain -- note the overcast skies which was the norm for this period.
But, more deeply, beyond what appears tangible in the physically obervable space-time dimensions, are powerful glimpses of a movement of people that stirs in the not-so-directly observable dimension of the hearts and minds.
In what words do we speak of all that stirs in our beings when we observe fathers of children working on building the classrooms that their children will study in as they play in the far distance? (bottom and top pictures, respectively)
A precedent is being set and we all feel it deeply. A small precedent for a peaceful movement of people to build empowering structures to access fudamental freedoms amidst a disproportionately larger landscape of conflicts whose description cannot be articulated in intellectual arguments even as encapsulated in systems and processes of law and order because deeply the arguments that need to be had are emotional, and what needs to, at least accompany the intellectual processes, are the processes of the heart -- of an open heart, a listening heart, and a brave heart to listen to each other and first cultivate the foundation of trust that seems to mostly eroded.
Inshallah, may we all continue to take little steps, day by day, guided above all by the wisdom that teaches us to be patient and compassionate above all. May we continue to argue by action, building our arguments little by little, day by day, and may our "words come out from the depths of [such] truth[s]" (as noted by the the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore in his poem Where The Mind Is Without Fear)
(Please note that this a post-dated update events that occured between 25-31st March, 2022)
Through Architecture-in-Development's social media reachout on our behalf for our need to connect with a Water Harvesting systems specialist (on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook), Abhimanyu Verma, who not only has hands-on experience with such systems, but is able to integrate it in his wholesome perspective and experience in ecological design and conservation, connected with us and visited us for a week between 25th - 31st March, 2022. (For those interested, I highly recommend viewing a comprehensive video presentation that Abhimanyu put together on water harvesting technologies, its science, art, and humanity, across ancient and modern India, for World Water Day 2021 organized by Delhi Urban Network, Beyond Trees Network and US Forest Service International Programs.)
In addition to conducting surveys related to designing our water harvesting systems with the vision of making our school, as far as possible, reliant on such technologies for our daily needs, he also undertook wider surveys/studies in the area to help us design our school as a model for wholesome ecological design and conservation that exists not in isolation, but in synergy with the needed ecological realities of life around us, which includes the practical needs of the human beings, plants, and animals around us.
He concluded his visit by sharing with our school's teachers and staff his experiences with ecological conservation and design, and why such should become an important aspect for education in our times.
Godwilling, we will be able to take little steps, day by day, towards such a wholesome vision. May God bless us all with the wisdom to be patient and consistent with our efforts.
(Please note that this a delayed update for an event that occured on 21st March, 2022)
... to begin construction on a large and prominent piece of land entrusted to our school after more than 2 years of hard work to patiently set a precedent for community action, working hardest perhaps in the domain of hearts and minds of people, than what manifests materially in the visible space-time dimensions.
No words or pictures can encapsulate the tremendous depth of these ground-breaking moments, perhaps aptly documented in the humbling simplicty of a prayer ceremony and hand-held equipment to mark the land and begin the process of digging the earth.
With the construction of Tora Ghar that began on October 4th 2021 now complete, it feels particularly satisfying to click the following picture of the architectural landscape of our exploratory school-block where we began our experiments with community architecture in 2019.
Please note the recent addition of colorful fences made out of bamboo and plastic bottles (in red and yellow) to keep out livestock from our school's kitchen garden, which we plan to use for exploring and understanding life based on the values and practices of methods ranging from science to compassion.
January 2, 2022 was a significant day for us, one that we had been imagining and believing to happen in due time, when the work of our community would organically build relationships with people outside of it, and whose participation with us would begin to complete to yet another fundamental order of magnitude the landscape of a wholesome ecosystem to grow and nurture our school.
The power of the picture below where Uday Goswami is presenting our school's architectural plan to its first formal board of advisors can barely be expressed in words, but, we pray, will unfurl in the hard work of action on the ground.
We are grateful to have on this board as its first members:
1. Purnima Contractor who is an Early Education Development (ECD) consultant and President, Association for Early Childhood Education and Development, Mumbai (AECED). She brings to us the combined experience of the theory and practice of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).
2. Krishna Dutta Deka who is a senior lecturer at the esteemed District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), Jorhat, Assam and who along with expertise in ECCE, also brings to us the interface of education with its policies at various local and state government, and also international levels.
3. Dr Gautam Barua is currently a Professor in the Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, and also the Director of Indian Institute of Inforamation Technology, Guwahati. In addition to being a researcher and academic, he is also an institution builder -- he has and continues to be involved at high levels of building academic institutions in various parts of India, which includes being at the helm of building both IIT and IIIT, Guwahati.
The little steps our rural community has been taking to build a community school has now begun to connect with paths of people working at a national level and beyond -- experienced early education practioners and esteemed institution builders. This update, along with this tremendous practical update, is also a contemplation on this organic journey and also a prayer that it remains so.
We want to especially note how warm and committed the presence of our advisors was at the meeting, which was expressed by their genuine happiness and interest to be working with us, and their critical feedback to our plans.
This post is a peek into our preparation to take a leap standing on the foundation created by more than 2 years of taking little steps to set a precedent for community action in the tea-plantations of Assam in a small exploratory piece of land where we continue to build our newest classroom.
We are now getting ready to build on a significantly larger and prominent piece of land that came to be given to our school because of a growing coherency among the various stakeholders of the tea plantation where we are located.
The picture below is a construction plan that is emerging from our architects in conversation with the school staff, community construction workers and the community at large, and our first official board of advisors for the school which has its first members two Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) academics and practitioners, and an institution builder who has helmed building of renowned institutions not just in Assam, but in other places of India as well.
More details will follow in subsequent updates. At the outset this update is a peek into what is to come, but deeply it is a contemplation of our progress that continue to dance between the surreal and real.
October 2021 has been the launchpad for a new wave of our community-architecture effort, which in addition to "Construction of Tora Ghar (Star House) Begins" and "Community Ownsership of Donated Land" (see posts below), also saw the launch of our "Call To Action" campaign to generate support from existing supporters and also to reachout to new ones.
This campaign included a series of 8 posts curated by Jayesh Goswami based on experiences captured in pictures and words over the last 2 years to share the journey of our community school thus far.
This series has been put together in a combined Call To Action document. Below are the links to each item in the series.
3rd October 2021 was a significant day in the history of our organization and also in the 175-year history of the tea-plantations of Assam.
After 2 years of establishing a precedent for a people's movement with promise of peace and harmony, the ownsership and management of Boisahabi Tea Estate confidentally, hopefully, and enthusiastically entrusted a large piece of land measuring 11.5 hectares (15000 square meters) to the Board of Trustees of Karunar Kheti Trust that comprises the tea estate's tea-pluckers, blue collar workers of the tea factory, office clerk, a student union leader, and the founder of the organization.
Such a step is unprecedented in the history of the tea-plantations of Assam and words cannot express the profound its significance.
To mark this day, a Shram Daan (volunteer donation of labour) was organized led by the Board of Trustees to clear the land of long-standing weedy growth and prepare it for the upcoming construction. This effort to clear the field was secondary to the symbolic intention of the poeple to step on the land as a collective and make known the intention to work hard to clear the air of conflict and disempowerment, and usher in an era of peace and empowerment.
Technique: We need help with setting up green infrastructure, for example solar powered electricity and rain water harvesting systems.
PR & Marketing: We need help connecting with a wider ecosystem that support such community-drive architecture.
Financial advice: We can always use help with fundraising for our cause.
Equipment & tools: Our most immediate and urgent need is for equipment needed to setup solar power on our school's campus, and also rainwater harvesting systems.