As part of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Live-in-Labs® program, 1st Year Department of Management students from the Amritapuri campus worked with 60 Japanese students on a sustainable community development project in the village of Perumbalam, Alappuzha district, Kerala. The Japanese students, residents of Osaka and Tokyo, came from 18 different universities, such as the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, to participate in the six day project. The project, which began on February 27th, 2016, was overseen by staff from the Amrita Center for International Programs and faculty from the Amrita School of Business.
The community project in Perumbalam had two aspects – rural infrastructure, and economic and social development. Led by faculty associates from the Amrita School of Business, Mr. Dileep Menon and Mr. Maheshwar Pratap, the Japanese and Amrita students collaborated on the project by conducting field visits and a situation analysis to identify key areas for growth. The students focused on economic empowerment through the development of new jobs; skill development through vocational training; and income generation through a sustainable business model that enables villagers to better market their products. The MBA students also studied the social development of the village by conducting an impact analysis on the existing pension and scholarship schemes run by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math.
As part of the development project, a panel discussion was organized at the Perumblaam panchayat where elected representatives and administrative officers had a discussion with the Japanese students and Amrita students and faculty. Led by panchayat president, Sri K.S. Shibu, the panel discussion looked at current challenges and possible solutions in the areas of economic empowerment, social development, health literacy, infrastructure development, and educational development. Proposed solutions were presented keeping in mind the potential impact on the village’s surrounding environment. One Japanese student presented a case study where development actually destroyed the environment and explained how residents subsequently suffered from its adverse effects. Many Japanese students expressed their appreciation of the village’s serene surroundings and strongly advocated it not be compromised in the name of development.
Renjith Mohan, Coordinator of Amrita Live-in-Labs®, said, "This program is a unique gift from Amma given not only to our students but to all students across the globe. Self-reliant villages are the key to a sustainable world. With an opportunity to live in villages, this program is designed to help both students and villagers. Students get to learn good virtues and values from villagers, thereby planting seeds of compassion and awareness to create a socially conscious global younger generation. At the same time, students are able to understand challenges faced by rural communities and can work with them to develop self-reliant and sustainable solutions to their problems."
Talking about the project in Perumbalam, MBA student Arjun Vijayakumar said, “The program was a great learning experience for me from both a spiritual and management perspective. It taught me how to function in a group, work in a collaborative manner, and address an issue for the common good. But the greatest experience was undoubtedly working with the dedicated and ever so endeavoring Japanese students and the equally receptive and welcoming villagers who did everything possible to make us feel at home. My time in Perumbalam gave me a clear vision of who I want to be and I am very happy that I could be a part of this experience.”
For many residents on the island village, the main source of income comes from catching and selling fish--an occupation which is not always reliable and cannot supply a steady and substantial income. Furthermore, many villagers live in areas that do not have structured roads, making it difficult to transport materials to build homes. Many residents are currently living in thatched huts or half constructed houses without a sturdy roof, causing many to suffer during the summer and monsoon months of the year.
Amazed at the sight of so many students in his village, Mr. Sreejith N.R. said he was surprised and motivated by the enthusiasm of thestudents. “All of them have worked very hard. Amma has given us good memories of when so many young people, especially young people who came all the way from Japan, lived and served in our village.”
The 18-22 year old Japanese students unanimously agreed that their main motivation for participating in the program was due to the opportunity for a field-based project. Nineteen year old Ami Matsuoka, an International Relations student from Ritsumeikan University, said, “I can always donate money to a cause without going and seeing what the problems are. But I think I would rather go to a place myself and observe the problems with my own eyes and communicate with people who live there. By doing so, I can better understand what is needed and what has to be done.”
Several Japanese students participated in the community development project during their sole vacation time of the year. Takuma Ohara, a final year Political Science student at Kansai University, was so determined not to miss the opportunity that he committed to working five days a week for several months to save money for the journey to India.
As part of the six day Live-in-Labs® event, the Japanese students attended a talk by Swami Poornamritananda at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, collaborated with Amrita MBA students on a sustainable community development project, and visited two schools where they interacted with the village children. The Japanese students also visited the homes of beneficiary families of pension and scholarship schemes offered by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math.
On the last day of the event, the Japanese students participated in an engaging and entertaining cultural program at the Amritapuri campus. The audience was treated to performances from Japanese and Amrita students, both separately and together. The colorful cultural program brought joy and ecstatic enthusiasm to all who attended - a definite highlight of the entire experience.