Auroville, a unique community near Pondicherry, is not only well known globally for spiritual and humanitarian work, but also sustainable living and green practices. JGU developed and signed a MoU with Auroville Consulting in Fall 2019 with the aim of developing teaching and research collaboration on environmental sustainability. A 2-week residential immersive course worth 3 credits was developed for the university winter break, jointly by JSLH environmental studies faculty and Auroville Consulting. The first group of 10 students, from different JGU schools, participated in the course in January 2020, accompanied by JSLH environmental studies faculty Dr. Abhijit Banerjee.
Auroville is an ideal place for experiential learning on environmental sustainability since it is a dedicated ethical community that has developed, perfected and expanded a wide range of community green practices over decades. Topics covered included community-based waste management including segregation, recycling and composting, water conservation and low-cost sanitation, biological wastewater treatment and reuse, organic farming, afforestation and ecological land restoration, energy conservation, renewable energy applications, green buildings, and green transport. Indeed, Auroville is arguably the best place in India where one can find, and study, so many community green practices in one place. For each topic, introductory lectures were followed by on-site demonstrations and hands-on learning opportunities guided by experienced experts in respective fields. In each case, students learned about challenges, constraints, compromises and trade-offs, and the value of persistence and creative approaches. Service-learning opportunities were also incorporated for waste segregation and processing, organic farming, and land restoration. The capstone experience for students was the preparation of a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for Auroville, encompassing emissions from all activities such as electricity and gas use, transport, waste, industry, farming, etc. Students collected data from all over the community, undertook calculations according to UN-established protocols guided by instructors, and finally presented their findings to the community. The presentations were very well received and helped to boost students’ pride and confidence.
Last but not the least, numerous opportunities were provided to add fun to the 2-week stay. These included art-from-waste workshop, theatre workshop, spiritual awareness workshop, African drums and campfire, etc. in an international, multi-cultural setting. Perhaps the most memorable experience for students was the adventure of going around Auroville on electric cycles (e-bikes). In their reflective essays at the end of the trip, most students described the experience as potentially life-changing.