Auroville Village Action Group and the Walk of Hope

This story begins with the very first step of the Walk of Hope last January, and moves backwards to its origins. Just how far backwards depends on one’s perspective of the genesis of the event. It’s origin could, philosophically, be traced to the birth of Sri M, or his mother, or even our First Mother, but one particularly notable aspect of the Walk was the level of involvement of the villages. That tale begins 33 years ago, when Bhavana was inspired to start working with Auroville’s neighbours in what became Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG), one facet of today’s Auroville Village Action Trust.

The Walk of Hope had always intended to include people from the villages, but the precise route and sheer scale of the village’s involvement only came about because of AVAG’s relationship with the villages, with connections forged over three decades of tireless work. The daily interaction between AVAG and the villages is truly impressive, covering everything from help with finances, education, healthcare and de-addiction programmes to sports events, women’s empowerment and micro-projects such as building wells and gardens. But there have been two very specific projects that have recently deepened and developed the goodwill between Auroville and the bioregion. These are the Medical Camps from PIMS and the Paalam (Bridge) project.

The PIMS Medical camps focus on two villages at a time, sending six doctors every week to treat mainly neglected women and children. The doctors involved are a combination of gynecologists and pediatricians and all consultations, tests and treatments are provided free by PIMS. The camps are based right now in Edayanchavadi and Koodur, and will move on to other villages when user numbers fall. This project alone has engendered a huge level of goodwill among villages towards AVAG and Auroville as a whole.

The Paalam project has an even wider scope. The original Paalam idea was to deepen the relationship between Auroville and it’s neighbouring villages and to bring access to government services that could be used for village development. It began with a consultation with women’s groups from 20 villages. They were asked to nominate two socially active, nonpolitical youths per village to become Paalam representatives. These young men and women joined with Auroville’s youths and began a program that met once a month for six months. They shared their major concerns, such as water, waste, organic farming, alcoholism and security for women, and guest speakers were invited on each subject. As stated earlier, these are areas that AVAG and indeed other groups are working in daily. But as the discussions continued, another need arose and a plan began to take shape – a desire for a sports association. This was the beginning of the Auroville Bioregional Sports Association, which now boasts 800 members from 30 clubs, spanning 20 different villages. The sports include football, volleyball and various track and field athletic events. These membership figures alone are impressive, but this organization is also linked with statewide sporting networks, and the District Sports officer regularly attends the village competitions, offering guidance to young players and acting as a talent scout. The best players are selected to play at District level, and even guided towards university degrees and careers in their chosen sporting field.

Paalam has really proven to be a win-win situation for the government, Auroville and it’s neighbours. The government wanted to introduce more sports into local communities and Auroville wanted more interaction with its neighbours. AVAG facilitates this interaction, and now matches take place regularly between teams form Auroville, the bioregion and even further afield.

And it is so much more than ‘simply sport’. Co-created by Auroville and the bioregion, the Auroville Bioregional Sports Association represents a network of communication between Auroville and the villages, and between the different villages as well. This new level of communications between communities is itself a most valuable resource, but this inter-community interaction and participation has many other positive outcomes. The clubs include both men and women, and cross caste divides. (Incidentally, AVAG’s annual Women’s Solidarity Festival now has 24 teams of sportswomen, again crossing village and caste boundaries.) Seeing both sexes compete on a level playing field is a milestone in perceptions of gender division. It also goes without saying that instilling a sense of belonging, nurturing talent, and having achievable goals all go a long way towards countering the root causes of alcohol and drug abuse.

So when the Walk of Hope was proposed, and the organizers approached AVAG to explore the involvement of the villages, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 550 people took part as villagers, Aurovilians and those from further afield walked alongside Sri M between the 27th and 29th of January 2018. But the villages’ involvement went far beyond simply taking part in the walk. In Irumbai, Kottakari, Edyanchavadi and Kuilapalayam, villagers worked until midnight the day before, cleaning the roads, and were up again at the crack of dawn to prepare exquisite Kolams in every village, alongside food and drinks for every single one of the 550 walkers. Village elders welcomed the walkers as they entered each village, and commemorative trees were planted, having been provided by Auroville’s Botanical Garden. Moris at AVAG was very keen to make clear that although AVAG offered to cover the costs of the food and drinks prepared (about Rps 4-5000 per village) the villagers insisted on paying for it themselves. Such was the love and gratitude shared between village and village, ‘bioregion’ and Auroville, that few who witnessed the event will ever forget it.

AVAG was not the only organization to have played a role in the involvement of the villages in the Walk of Hope, and indeed the whole event was only possible as a result of immense efforts both locally and further afield. But AVAG is understandably proud to have played its part in this outpouring of love and compassion, this display of unity through diversity, and harmony between Auroville and its beloved neighbours.

Matthew Tildesley
September 2018

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