I first came across Live-in-Labs® when I was registering for my fifth-semester courses. When I read about it in the course book, I was only excited about skipping an elective in a higher semester. Later when I spoke to some of the seniors who have chosen Live-in-Labs®, they had an instant smile on their faces which made me very curious. Staying in a place that is not yours, living with people whom you do not know and living a life without any comfort, interested me the most. I was looking for a challenging experience. I was so excited about Live-in-Labs® that, on the first day of the workshop, the everyday prayer which I have been hearing from the past two years, seemed so new and harmonious. Out of my excitement, I had a very bright smile the entire day. Everything around me seemed so cheerful. I realized everything in your life depends on your approach and how you perceive it.
From being shy in front of my peers to being able to dance with each other happened in the workshop. Thanks to the team building activities, those six days were some of the most productive days of my life. Though it was hectic, it was fun. It was real learning. I have always wondered, why aren't the other engineering classes like this, but never found an answer. This is probably what makes Live-in-Labs® one of a kind.
We were divided into teams of four and traveled to a village called Muljipura in Madhya Pradesh with two other teams. Twelve of us, with two very supportive faculty guides, headed towards Madhya Pradesh (MP).MP welcomed us with a strong aroma of Pav Bhaji and Muljipura tickled our taste buds with it's 'Makke ki roti'. The people, their food, the art forms and their culture excited us a lot. Live-in-Labs®, also evoked a sense of team spirit within us.. With each other's support and with ideas on how to collect data from the village, we could overcome the few challenges that we came across. After three days of our research, we realized that scarcity of water was one of the major problems that was affecting the lives of the villagers. I, with my team consisting of Abhinav, Ranjani, and Srikar, together called Team Bows, is currently working on water management in the village. As a team, we know each other's strengths and were we need to support one another. We work accordingly and encourage each other. I am glad that I am working with such a team. Team Arrows and Team Gryffindor were also very supportive and great to work with.
On the last day, when we told a few villagers that we were leaving the next day, they asked 'Phir kab aaoge?' This made my day. Also, Simba, the dog which walked with us in the village all the seven days, ran behind the car we were going in and tried coming with us. I still smile when I think about this.
It was in the end of our second year that we were told about Live-in-Labs® being introduced as a course in our curriculum for the next semester. It was optional of course, but it was happening for the first time so all of us were pretty curious. The very idea of living in a village away from home, among people whose language you didn’t understand seemed like an amazingly cool way of testing our social skills.
During the introductory workshop we were told to make groups of 4. We proudly called ourselves Team Agua (along with Rayappa Raja, Manoj Guleria, and Rajesh Thanaraj) and were allotted the beautiful village of Dewgain in Jharkhand to carry out our project. That was just the beginning of this beautiful journey.
As of now, we have made 3 visits to Dewgain and every time has been a distinct experience and with every experience comes learning. Our task was merely to identify the problem and propose a solution for the same. Fortunately, I had the best team one could ask for. We took turns doing different activities like interviews, organising village meetings, videography, drafting report, and much more. From our time in Dewgain, we learnt that the villagers had a severe crisis of water for irrigation. From what little we had learnt from our engineering courses in college, we decided to propose a solution for a newer and more technologically advanced method of drip irrigation in the village. My electrical engineering mate then decided to take it a step further and suggested making the entire system automated so that farmers could use this spare time doing other jobs that would help generate more income for the family. This is how Team Agua set out to make their own Automated Irrigation Management System (AIMS). But before moving ahead, we had to talk to the villagers and get their consent and satisfaction for our idea. The villagers were very cooperative and enthusiastic with the plan.
Every day spent in the village is a day for learning, and how much you learn depends on how much you are ready to work and interact with the villagers. We also developed a fairly good rapport with few villagers whom we believe will be key stakeholders for our project.
Live-in-Labs® is a wise choice that I’m proud I made. I’ve come a long way from when I started. It has made me aware of my capabilities. It has taught me to adapt and understand different cultures as my team even had a chance to work with a international students from Spain and the U.S. It has let me travel so far from home. It has taught me the true essence of team spirit. Most importantly, it has taught me how to fetch water from handpumps and to live without electricity for several days.
Live-in-Labs® is also a great way to stand out in a crowd. In fact, it is a great career launcher. I am proud to say this because I was the first one to get a job in my class. Why? The interview panel was very impressed with my project in Live-in-Labs®. Live-in-Labs® for me has been a fantastic adventure so far, and I am sure that my team mates feel the same too. Kudos to the program’s team for the wonderful work that is being done and for changing my perspective on life.
After completing my second year in the Social Work program at Ryerson University, and obtaining my Social Service Worker diploma, I chose to embark on a journey to India. As a South Asian student of social work, it has always been my dream to participate in an intercultural learning experience, close to my homeland.
The Live-in-Labs® program at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, in collaboration with Amrita SeRVe appealed to me due to their success in striving to develop rural and village communities across India. Their approach of teaching villagers the skills they needed to create and live in prosperous,
self-reliant communities spoke to me. I firmly believe that the key to long-term sustainability in developing countries lies in empowering individuals of a community.
Our team travelled to Hadiabad, Bihar to explore how health care workers could be better served and to help deliver better services to members of the community. The three-day journey by train from Kerala to Bihar was an eye-opening experience as it helped me get a glimpse of the rich and diverse cultures of states along the way.
At Hadiabad, I enjoyed meeting, interacting, and learning from the staff members and master of social work students who were a part of the project. However,, my most impactful teachers were members of the village community, without whose expertise on the current condition of life at the village I would have not learned nearly as much as I did.
This program was particularly valuable to me because I was given an opportunity to live in the village in which we were where conducting research. The ability to participate in qualitative research with first-hand experience allowed me to get a sense of the everyday challenges of village life. Though I cannot claim to have stepped into their shoes, I received a sound understanding of the issues pertaining to limited resources of the basic necessities required for survival. This made me reflect on how truly privileged I was to be raised in a developed country like Canada. It was painful coming to terms with the way we take our essential resources for granted. This realization would have never dawned on me had I not spent ten days in a village that did not have electricity for most hours of the day, and ate just rice for the majority of my meals.
Even though I only spent a month in India, this experience has served me greatly in shaping who I am. This trip was a truly life changing opportunity which will forever be a part of my life and who I am. The Live-in-Labs® program has broadened the horizons of mind so that I can learn, grow, and soak in life skills from every experience life has to offer and realize that all of us share the responsibility of eliminating inequality from the world.
I would like to give a big and warm thank you to Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham for inviting international students like myself to be a part of this incredible initiative.
After finishing my second year of my bachelor’s degree in International Relations in Brazil, I decided to come to India for a 6-month internship at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, through the Live-in-Labs® program. My interest in social work and education made me choose the program as it focuses on addressing challenges in rural India trough an interdisciplinary approach. I participated in the program by collaborating with staff from AMMACHI Labs, a research center at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
My project consisted of analyzing how the use of a “nudge” is effective in India´s rural reality. “Nudge” is a term used to describe a modification in the environment that causes a behaviour change in people without engaging in any interpersonal communication. Therefore, we introduced nudges in the villages by making some physical change and observed if some habits actually changed among villagers. We focused this project in two different areas of sanitation: usage of toilets and water safety. We made one village visit for each one of the focus areas.
For the first visit, we went to a village in Bihar, called Ratanpur. This is one of the poorest villages with which AMMACHI Labs works. Here the government gives little to no support and the community is socially marginalized due to the caste system.
For this visit, we focused on the usage of toilets where the village had two sets of community toilets recently built by AMMACHI Labs. Each toilet area had two and four latrines each, built for 25 and 55 people respectively. Adopting the “nudge” concept, the intention of the project was to make the toilets more similar to the environment of the field where they usually relieve themselves. This would lead them to an unconscious choice of using the latrines instead of the open field. Therefore, we made use of the first nudge: painting bushes, flowers and butterflies on the walls of the toilets. The second nudge was a pathway with footprints on it, between the road that leads to the field and the toilets. We nudged only the first set of toilets, after that we conducted observations of the behaviour of the villagers from both nudged and non-nudged toilets.
For short-term observations, it was not possible to obtain proper data and conclusions. However, the results of longer observations – 3 months after the implementation- showed that the number of villagers that use the nudged toilet was actually higher compared to the non-nudged. Still, longer observations are needed to obtain precise results.
We learned many lessons after the first nudge experience, and we saw that using the nudge just as a “physical change” was not enough with villagers. Some of the basic sanitation concepts are not known to them, thereby decreasing the effectiveness of the nudge. As a result of that, we adapted our project for the second village visit. This time we would not only make physical changes but also engage in interpersonal communication activities such as conducting awareness workshops.
The second trip was to Tamil Nadu to a village called Muruganpatty. Here, villagers live with continuous support from the government. In Muruganpatty, we focused on water safety including the use and storage of water. After observing their habits regarding water usage and storage, we came up with a nudge idea and developed awareness classes on water safety.
We conducted classes for both women and children and introduced new and safer options for water containers. For the nudge, we introduced colourful ribbons to separate the water containers for every house (e.g. cleaning, cooking and drinking).
In the end we conducted a women-to-women teaching class where the women who attended the workshops taught others about what they learned. The results were very satisfactory, the women adapted well to all the changes implemented and proved to learn quickly.
Even with unpredicted challenges and learning from previous experiences, the project was very successful in the end, and I believe it can be adopted in other rural communities.
I intend on coming back to India in the near future and do a follow up on Muruganpatty´s improvements. From this project, we learned that the simple concept of “nudging” is not enough in a complex reality such as rural India. We need to adapt, to teach, and more importantly to include villagers in the process of change.
In the summer of 2015, I returned to Kerala, India where I was invited to continue my work with AMMACHI Labs via the Live-in-Labs® program. I began my work last summer by establishing a foundation for a ceramics program and providing fundamental knowledge needed to help start a ceramic handicrafts cooperative among a group of women in the village of Mananthavady.
This year, my project started off with a two-week workshop. The first half of the workshop built upon the techniques that the women were already familiar with in order to create more complex forms with a focus on product development and quality of craftsmanship. The women developed items that could be sold in the local marketplace and, eventually, internationally. As they continued to hone their skills, they were able to pick up on the subtle qualities that make a ceramic product good.
The second half of the workshop consisted of kiln building, firing the work, and problem solving in marketing. The kiln, which is the oven we bake the clay in, was based off of a design that was created at the institution where I am currently pursuing my graduate studies, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. The size, simplicity of design, and firing time for this particular kiln was perfect for the women of this village. The size would allow them to fire many items of the scale they were making within a time frame that would not keep them from their homes for too long. The design of the kiln was also simple enough to be built in just three days, and since the walls were made of a single layer of bricks, future repairs would be easy to make.
I was pleasantly surprised at how interested the women were in making the kiln and found myself only directing the construction. The women mixed the cement and laid the bricks themselves. There was also a group that drew out the kiln plans layer by layer so they would have the anatomy of the kiln documented for future use. Next, I showed the women a firing chart and explained how we would determine the temperature by the color of the heat that would be building up in the belly of the kiln. They did their first firing impressively well. Since many of the women cook with wood in their homes, this project related back to knowledge they already had which could now be applied to a new skill.
After the kiln was built and the work was done, we talked about surface treatments and marketing. Since the women were not making items for the consumption of food, they had the option of either leaving the forms in red terra cotta color or painting the exteriors with acrylic paint. Their biggest challenge, however, was to market their items to the right audience to get the money they deserved for their products. Therefore, we discussed ways of branding their group, documenting their process and products, and how they could utilize the internet to market their work as some of the women have access to computers. By the end of the workshop, the women created a group page for their cooperative known as Amrita’s Mother’s Touch. I look forward to seeing how their projects develop and advance in the future.