Kanavu – Where Dreams are Built

In the words of Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator, activist, philosopher, and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Self deprecation is … characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them.  So often do they hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything – that they are sick, lazy, and unproductive – that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness. 

They call themselves ignorant and say the ‘professor’ is the one who has knowledge and to whom they should listen… 

Almost never do they realize that they, too, ‘know things’ they have learned in their relations with the world and with other women and men.

Such is the nature of the battle for Kanavu, a non-traditional school for Adivasi children in the Wayanad district of north Kerala that, according to its founder, K.J. Baby, aims to “not only educate [Adivasi children], but also cultivate a sense of pride in themselves.”  There is no official curriculum for this school, no classrooms, no syllabus, no rote-learning, no memorization-driven exams.  The teachers are the students, and the students are the teachers – quite literally, as the school is now run by graduates of the program, who do everything from managing the school to teaching.  Inherently, the school is, in Freirean terms, liberatory in nature:

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Op-Ed: Migration and its Discontents

There is no doubt that the issues of migration and urbanization within India are wrought with controversy.  In the case of rural-urban migration, which is overwhelmingly the case, the impact on the social, economic, and psychological structure of villages and cities, both on a macro and micro level, is significant. 

In my experience within the Adivasi, rural communities of Gujarat, migration holds a sense of urgent promise, of a future with exponential financial dividends for the family.  Local community members themselves believe that village life is inferior to that of urban India, and that migration / urbanization leads to social and economic development, both on an individual and community level.  Therefore, instead of looking inwards by initiating local-resource driven campaigns for the development of their respective villages, local inhabitants tend to look outward, towards the city.  Rural communities, therefore, come to signify stagnation, whereas the city comes to represent progress, opportunity, and most importantly, money.  Artisanship, agricultural expertise, and other local-level skills atrophy as community members come to regard these skills as unvaluable, or in many cases, unmarketable, in comparison to more the more “lucrative” skills necessary for “urban jobs.”  This mentality, I believe, is a self-destructive one, as it leads to the devaluation and decomposition of potentially rich local resources within the rural landscape.

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A social entrepreneur for all time

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of my heroes, Baba Amte. He died a few weeks ago on February 8th at the opus of his life, Anandavan. I was fortunate to visit him several times during my work in India, and have this short piece to share with you all.

Anandavan, meaning forest of bliss, was created by an amazing man named Baba Amte more than 60 years ago. He was a well-to-do lawyer who left his trade to work with organizing landless laborers and scavengers against the rampant oppression of his time. One day he was walking on the road and saw a man lying on the side of the road with worms eating out the sockets where his eyes once were. The man was a leper, completely outcast from Indian society, left to rot away in his miserable existence. When Baba saw him he ran away in fear. Later, he was so ashamed by how he reacted that he decided to do something for leprosy victims. He got a land grant from the government, on an old mining quarry- of barren and rocky land. Today due to the hard work of thousands of leprosy patients they have transformed that place into a utopia for sufferers of all types- leprosy patients, disabled people, unemployed people, dalits and tribals. At present about 5,000 people live there and it has achieved recognition as a town of its own right with its own gram panchayat.

Baba Amte has been awarded basically everything that the Indian government and the State of Maharashtra can give, as well as many international awards. This man rose above governmental glamour and mainstream recognition and stuck to his principles. He had no qualms about returning any of his awards in protest of government policies. Most famous of which, he returned the Padmabhushan to the Indian government in protest of the Narmada Dam project. In fact he was one of the first along with Medha Patkar to lead the opposition to the Narmada Dam.

On one of my trips to Anandavan, I was able to take a group of youth from the Adivasi village in which I was working. During our visit to Anandavan we were very fortunate to meet Baba on the road as he was being pushed on his rolling bed around the campus for his evening walk. For the past 50 years he and his wife have gone on a morning and evening walk together religiously.

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