Over 100 students and 16 faculty members from the Coimbatore, Bengaluru, and Amritapuri campuses of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham visited 13 villages across 11 states in North India last month. The initiative was part of Amrita’s Live-in-Labs® program, a credit-based multidisciplinary experiential learning course in rural India. The ten-day visit was preceded by an intensive six-day workshop where 5th-semester students from the School of Biotechnology and the School of Engineering (Departments of Mechanical, Computer Science, Electrical and Electronics, Electronics and Communication, Aerospace, and Chemical Engineering) learned various tools and techniques to identify challenges in rural communities. Students and faculty subsequently traveled between thirty-six to forty-eight hours by train, bus, and car to reach their respective villages in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Jammu, Jharkhand, Gujarat, and Bihar. The workshop was conducted by the Amrita Center for International Programs between May 28th and June 21st at all three campuses.

The three credit elective, which is integrated into the University’s curriculum, emphasizes human-centered research, grounded in compassionate design, for the development and deployment of sustainable solutions in rural India. The program enables students to live in rural communities and gain first-hand knowledge of identifying challenges, assessing community needs, co-designing viable and sustainable solutions with community residents, and subsequently implementing those solutions through various participatory methods.

In the first phase of the course, students attended a week-long workshop where they were introduced to concepts to help them identify core challenges. The challenges will then be studied in the village context via a semester-long project. Before leaving for their villages, the students were split into multidisciplinary teams of 4-5 members, with two teams assigned to each village.

“The program teaches us to implement what we have learned and to create a positive, sustainable impact in society,” said Eshwar Moorthy, 2nd-year student from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Amritapuri campus. “Learning, however, isn’t only restricted to the classroom. We learned from villagers, to think from their point of view, to understand their day-to-day problems, and to design a solution for them without disrupting their lifestyle,” he added.

Bengaluru faculty member Ms. Kavitha C. R. from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering said, “A village is a place where people can find peace, unity, and natural life. Every day, I felt one among the village residents and was so happy to talk to them and learn from them. I am blessed to be a part of this program and proud to serve society with my abilities. I thank Amma and the team for having such a great vision.”

One of the major highlights of the second phase of the course, the village visit, happened in Kerakatta, Jharkhand. The teams installed a steel frame with a pulley system to help villagers draw drinking water from an otherwise unused well. Students and faculty designed and fabricated the system at a local workshop and installed the system with concrete support. In the village of Bundubeda, Jharkhand, teams also worked on the restoration of two wells and installation of four pulleys, work which came about as a result of a formal brainstorming session between the students and the villagers. With the wells now restored and operational, over 600 villagers can benefit from an additional water source to meet their daily water needs.

Dr. Srinivasan C., Assistant Professor at the TIFAC CORE in Cyber Security, Coimbatore campus, expressed his takeaway message from his experience by saying, “We can boldly face any failures or challenges in our life if we travel to these villages to see and get to know about their living. It is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”

Reflecting on his time with his teammates, Abinav Reddy K. from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Bengaluru campus said, “It was a journey of several teams and several lives transformed. We overcame challenges, have unforgettable memories, and are now working towards a brighter nation. We went with a group of strangers and returned with a family!”

Based on information collected about the village and data collected about the specific challenge, students will submit a final report, a short video about their experience, and give a brief presentation about their proposed design solution to respective faculty by the end of the semester. After a thorough review process and continuous evaluation, students will subsequently implement their proposed co-designed solutions - developed in collaboration with the villagers in the following year. Students can continue their Live-in-Labs® projects into their 7th semester and make it their final year project. Between the 6th and 7th semesters (3rd and 4th year), students will be mentored on how to publish papers in conferences and journals. This past April, over 15 papers, penned by students who participated in the course last year, were published at the IEEE International Conference on Technological Innovation for Agriculture and Rural Development (TIAR 2018).

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