Steadfastness

Text and photos by Cassie Broadwin.

Cassie was with me at Janwaar Castle for a bit more than a week …

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If I were to pinpoint one thing that I learned from my time with the kids of Janwaar Castle, it would be this: steadfastness; an approach to everyday life that I had previously not held so close to heart.

These are kids that are growing up well-below the poverty line. Their primary meal is a simple lunch served by the government school in the village as incentive for attending class that day. They have only one or two pairs of clothing, and many of the youngest walk barefoot before they grow into shoes the village has around. They wash in the water pump on the main road. They cannot afford any type of school supplies. But these are simply facts of life. What we commonly paint as ‘backwards’ seems radically inappropriate in Janwaar. Sure, it’s village life- but it is by no means disadvantaged. These children find ways to thrive under most any circumstance, fueled by a willpower and wellbeing that is unparallelled in any of the cities I visited during my time in India.

Each morning, Ulrike and I woke up to crisp air and the familiar burnt-orange kind of Indian sunlight. The weather was just beginning to turn out of the winter months, so we took advantage of it and brought our beds outside to sleep on the deck. By mid-morning, we’d caravan with the two other volunteers, Anna and Philip, making our way by motorbike to Janwaar Village, just outside of Panna National Park.

The kids would hear the bike from a mile away, and already be waiting by the road when we pulled up. “GOOD MORNING ULRIKE, GOOD MORNING MOWGLI (this is what they nicknamed me on our first day together).” And we’d high-five each of them, pick up a little-one to carry on our hip, and walk as a big motley crew up to the skatepark.

There was a definite language barrier between all of us. Ulrike and the other volunteers often found themselves speaking in German to each other and would have to backtrack to explain in English to me. The kids spoke only Hindi, in their local dialect. We were constantly bouncing language around, inventing new Hinglish (Hindi-English) words, and using as much body-language as possible. And for the most part- it actually worked. At least, we were able to get the main ideas across: “No school, no skateboarding!” And “Girls First!”

 

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These are the skatepark mantras. And though they seem at first to be directions for etiquette, these two little catchphrases are meddling in something much larger. For the first time in their lives, these kids are learning work ethic. They are being held accountable. They are learning to navigate rewards and/or repercussions. If they don’t attend school that day, they are not allowed to skateboard- no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They are learning to build bridges between their interests and their obligations- any in doing so, learning to see the value of education. At least, these are ideas that we’re slowly chipping away at. Girls are always allowed to skate first. After a quick co-ed warm-up session, the girls get the park all to themselves for the first 45 minutes before the boys are allowed to join in. The girls learn their worth and see that they too are empowered to navigate the world on their own terms. The boys learn that common courtesy and respect extends across the gender-divide. And by extension, across the ethnic divides that exist in the village as well.

For those who best lived-up to these park rules and managed to distinguish themselves in some way, Ulrike had the idea of rewarding them with a trip to New Delhi. Though I was not a part of the selection process, I came to understand why we chose the kids we did to be a part of this special trip. Ajay, Priyanka, Little Priyanka, Brijendra, and Doctor Kuch Kuch really are a riot, in the best way possible. These kids were ready to make waves in their own town, and prove themselves in Delhi, too.

We arranged everything to the best of our abilities, (even wine-and-dining the school principal) in order to take these five kids on the trip. Even then, we had to pull a little jugaad into the equation. On the morning of, I arrived in Janwaar with the taxi driver and wrangled the five into the vehicle- “Toothbrush? Backpack? Skateboard? OK.” We peeled away from the park, past the school, with the rest of the village kids chasing after the car waving goodbye and tapping on the car windows as we passed. There was no jealousy, mostly curiosity.

We didn’t make it very far. These kids may not have ever been in a car before, and their stomachs were increasingly uneasy with each bend in the road. We must have made ten stops for puking, and then dry heaving, but in time we made it to the train station in Khajuraho. The five kids, Ulrike, a puppy from the village!, and myself took our own cabin on an overnight train to Nizamuddin Station, New Delhi.

The idea was not to take the kids on tour. Rather, it was to let them craft a learning experience of their own- whatever it may be. Intentionally, we did not brief them on any of the areas of town we were taking them to, the people we were to meet, the school we were to visit. We simply gave them the tools, resources, time, and confidence to engage with these areas of town on their own. Partially, this was because of the language barrier. But even more so, this approach is grounded in Ulrike’s philosophy about education all-together. Like them, I came to Delhi for the learning experience. With twenty other students and two professors, I was shepherded around the city and instructed about the history of monumental structures, guided by mapped routes, and basic Hindi-language lessons. But this method was very different than what the Janwaar kids were to experience. The trip wasn’t about the history lessons and cultural exposure, it was about enabling them to better get to know themselves. And sure enough, they brought their unwavering, sure-fire enthusiasm into building their interpersonal relationships with each other and learning about their own strengths and weaknesses.

 

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At the end of the trip, I briefly interviewed each child with the help of a translator and dear friend, Vivek. I asked Priyanka what she learned on the trip, to which she replied, “I learned about making friendships. Especially with the teacher in one of the classrooms. It was my favorite part of the trip.” To the same question, Ajay replied, “I learned to jump on a skateboard. There were some older boys at the park, and they were friendly and taught me how to jump.” It was this kind of socialization, these interactions that they will take back to Janwaar- mentorship, building relationships with their teachers, recognizing how far their enthusiasm and openness to learning will get them.

It’s been three months now that I’ve been back in the states, but I still think about the lessons I learned during my time spent in Janwaar, almost daily. These children really did uphold what I call steadfast goodnature. They proved their loyalty and faithfulness to each other, their families, and village. They recognized their nationality. I saw their commitment to a system of shared values that extended well beyond relations at the rural skatepark. I saw a sense of dignity and a constant source of joy and eagerness towards learning. These kids had morals, and in terms of emotional intelligence- were leaps ahead of the city kids. They were devoted to self-improvement and had high hopes for themselves and for each other. As I’m gradually putting together a film about this entire experience, I get to relive moments through skimming old footage. I really do feel fortunate to have built a connection with this community- however rapidly it must be changing and growing on the other side of the world. Janwaar Castle is a project and a people that I couldn’t help but pour my heart into. They’re truly doing something radical in their own community, and across new generations of skateboarders in India. I press you to pay attention to the symbolism of their actions. This is momentous.

The Farmers – What about us?

Suicide rates among farmers are the highest in the country (India) – maybe only topped by the age group of the 16-24 year old male students. While the students very often cannot stand any longer the social and family pressure to become an engineer or a government employee in order to “pay back” to the family and sustain the clan, farmers “escape” from not being able to pay back loans and make enough money to feed their families. This is the brutal reality in India. And it’s horrifying. According to various sources (2013) roughly 55% of India’s population are involved in farming/agriculture. Over the last 10 years there was an significant decrease in the number of farmers (10%) but the number of farm laborers has been increasing. All together they are the “food back bone” for the entire country. Still for so many reasons the “profession” farmer isn’t at all something young people yearn for. No money in it. And what might even be worse no social status is going along with it – on contrary, it’s rather a social group people look down to.

Therefore in a village like Janwaar where at least 80% (if not more) of the villagers depend on farming real change can only happen, when the farmers and agriculture are included in the scope of our work. This is the next step we have to take – riding on the wave of trust, confidence and enthusiasm the kids and their skatepark have created. Without changing the living conditions in Janwaar for the better our endeavor Janwaar Castle has no chance to survive long term. So empowering and guiding the farmers in the village is a very consequent and necessary next move. And exactly this was being asked for at our workshop early in October 2015. To tackle the main challenges of farmers in Janwaar – scarcity of water, wild animals destroying the crops, minor revenues – we’ve decided to set up a farmer producer organization (FPO). The promotion of FPOs has become a national policy in India and has been one of the most effective pathways to improve the life of small and marginal farmers. There are a couple of government programs from which FPOs can draw benefits and (financial) support. In Madhya Pradesh, the state where Janwaar is located, has a high above average number of registered FPOs. No wonder, the state is completely relying on agriculture.

What is an FPO ?

In short an FPO is a “… collective of producers, especially small and marginal farmers, which addresses the many challenges of agriculture but most importantly, which improves access to investments, technology and inputs and markets. It’s an institutional form to mobilize farmers and build their capacity to collectively leverage their production and marketing strength.” It is a member-owned private limited company. Our goal in Janwaar is to set up a “democratic” FPO which is long term sustainable. We aim to bring at least 1000 small and marginal farmers together, each of them investing 1000 INR as equal shareholders. This also means that each single farmer can only be hold reliable for his/her shares. A matter of fact which will significantly reduce the pressure on a single farmer. If each of the 1000 farmers brings in 1000 INR then we’ll have 10 lakhs INR and the Indian government will immediately fund an additional 10 Lakhs INR – it’s their way of supporting the FPOs. And with 20 lakhs INR we can start working sufficiently and built something sustainable. That’s the advice we’ve got and that’s our plan!

I am very happy that Vini, my local partner and one of the stakeholders at Janwaar Castle has taken the lead in this. Vini knows a lot about farming and agriculture, he has access to all the farmers in our area through his father’s political function – so it will be easy to reach out to them – and he has a huge interest to make the people’s life in the buffer zone area of Panna National Park (where Janwaar is located) better – it would become the world’s first example of how the co-existence of man and animal in a buffer zone can be managed.

Further support we get from a group of farmers around Prem Singh, a farmer in Banda, Utter Pradesh (UP) bordering MP. I know Prem for more than 3 years now and he participated in our first workshops with villagers in 2013 in Patha, UP. Over the last 10 years Prem has developed a farming model which cherishes and balances the co-existence of nature (resources), animal and mankind. His model includes among others organic farming, renewable energy and water management. In his agriculture center in Banda he is teaching the farmers for free – in their newsletter they reach out to more than 20,000 farmers. I’ve agreed to join the board of their KISAN School, which will be inaugurated on February 12. I see my role to connect the farmer community to the Web. KISAN school will provide free courses over the period of two years, it’s designed that the farmers come and learn theory and then go back to their fields and practice and report in the next sessions their experiences and results! On February 12 we will also attend an award ceremony Prem and his team has set up to acknowledge and cherish the important role farmers play in the daily life in India. It’s the first award in India for farmers and Vini and I are very happy to support this endevour. The Banda team will also set up an FPO in their region and we agreed that our FPO and theirs share the same common values – transparency, equality among the stakeholders, co-existence model – and work for educational and marketing purposes closely together! I am really happy that we brought this cooperation on its way – Prem Singh and his team are true role models.

Why would a single farmer join the FPO?

It won’t be an easy task to unite 1000 farmers – mistrust, fear and the lack of education are our biggest opponents – but we are very confident that the trust we’ve gained in Janwaar and the reputation we have will help us on this way. And of course there all the arguments of how a single farmer will benefit from such a move.

Our estimate is that it will take as at least 6 month to “win” the farmers and we will work hard in the field to convince them to join. We’ll run workshops, we’ll have meetings and and and … It’s basically their only way out especially in situations like we are currently facing. A huge drought after a very bad monsoon will bring famine and many other problems in the coming month. It’s only mid January and already many wells have dried out … it will be a very tough spring and even worse summer of the farmers and their families. So we hope that this horrible situation will at least help to found the FPO. As tragic as it might be …. !

The Art Of Letting Go

I was working with The Church of London a few years back on the very first edition of Google’s THINK QUARTERLY. Luckily they’ve come back to me with their HUCKMAGAZINE which describes itself as:

“Huck celebrates radical culture – people and movements that paddle against the flow. Inspired by DIY principles and rooted in the rebellious heritage of surf and skate, Huck roams the globe to document grassroots counterculture as it unfolds, seeking out freethinkers who are a wellspring of new thoughts and ideas.”

They did a short interview with me on Janwaar Castle and its power for transformation. Here is an excerpt which I myself find pretty important:

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your experiences in DIY community building?

I’m not sure what you mean by DIY community building – communities can only be build by DIY, you can’t force them, can you? If there isn’t a common cause or a common set of values it will never work. And both cause and values can’t be defined, because it’s a process of interaction and reflection among community members. It’s about doing things together, collaboration and co-creation and learning together. Only then can we all learn which things resonate. It has a lot to do with transparency and empathy and not so much with telling others what to do. It’s a nonlinear network model, not a hierarchy with command and control lines. Unfortunately the latter is still a frequent and strong component in development aid. So if you ask me what I’ve learnt, I’d say it’s the art of letting go.

Here you will find the entire interview on Janwaar Castle.

The Power of Pull

Over the last few month Janwaar Castle was really blessed. Not only are the kids doing great – they bring a smile on my face when ever I see them – also our “closer environment” is doing good to us. By feeding our Facebook and Web page more or less frequently with our latest news and with the help of the incredible pics by Vicky Roy, my photographer friend in Delhi, Janwaar Castle managed to become interesting for media and volunteers. We’ve had a short article in the Sunday edition of the Times of India (October 18, 2015), India’s largest newspaper, a journalist from Bombay, Shail Desal, was here for four days and his article will appear this weekend in scroll.in . Shail is running his own social project “Project Play” and he came with tons of soccer equipment in his luggage. So now the kids have footballs to play with and football shirts to wear. I myself just finished an article on the “Making of Janwaar Castle” for an Indian skateboarding magazine (SKATE A WAY, to be published in Jan. 2016) and two journalist from Deutsche Welle visited the skatepark; they are planning a short film on “transformation” and will be back early next year for shooting. All this without any press kit and without any “PR” work! It just happened.

Our new website also attracted new volunteers. Anveer Metha a skateboarder from Goa connected with me and two weeks later he was in Janwaar. He stayed for five weeks and is seriously thinking of coming back in January or February to help Janwaar get solar powered. Being an engineer this would be a great support for me – the idea is that he writes his master thesis or even his PhD on this. Let’s see.

His first days were kind of intense. The day he arrived we’ve had a first aid emergency with one of our dogs, Kallu, who decided to stay with us. He got terribly bitten by a wild animal in the jungle, just after having recovered from a crocodile bite in summer this year. And two days after Anveer’s arrival our workshop with the villagers started. He helped me a lot on that.

Anveer quickly became a role model for our skateboarding boys – even though he had to admit that teaching the kids skateboarding was beyond his reach … in many ways the kids were much better than him 🙂 Actually three weeks after Anveer’s arrival one of the kids asked me when the skateboarding champion I’ve promised them will arrive and teach them. We both had to smile 🙂 Nevertheless Anveer could show the kids some cool tricks and I assume they’ve had a lot of fun together.

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Anveer also had the pleasure to assemble nine skateboards which finally made their way over five month to Janwaar. Skate-aid in Münster, Germany, is luckily supporting with used boards and equipment – a tremendous help! Even though the boards are used, they are much much better than anything you can get in India. This package was shipped to Delhi in May and we’ve had declared it already “lost” when suddenly M2, a friend of mine, called in October and said a huge parcel from Germany had arrived. Lucky us 🙂 So we practiced our “Indian way” of sending parcels from Delhi to Khajuraho and had the boards with us in less than 24 hours. And on a beautiful Sunday morning in October it was up to Anveer to assemble the “new arrivals” – it was then when we decided that these skateboards would become “personalized” skateboards, meaning each skateboard would belong to one child.

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A new era begun. The decision who of the kids will get his/her own skateboard is mainly in the hands of the principal in the government school. He is telling us who is most at school and these kids will now receive their own skateboard. Our rule “No school, no skateboarding!” has tremendously increased attendance at school. And you should see the smiles in their faces when they get THEIR boards. Their eyes are on fire and they couldn’t be more proud 🙂 Lovely.

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Shortly after Anveer had left Anna and Philipp arrived. This was just a few days ago. The young German couple is planning to stay until the end of March and to work continuously with the children. Anna has studied ergonomics and spent quite some time in India. She has been working with girls in a home in Gaizabad, close to Delhi. Philipp has studied sports and is a good skateboarder – he can definitely uplift the kids to their next level in skateboarding. Let’s see how all of this will work out.

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Anna and Philipp have planned their trip a few month ago – they also found us on the Web. Before they’ve left Germany they’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign on betterplace.org to finance various activities for and with the kids. Their campaign is still running – you can go here 🙂 With this money we are able to provide fruits to the kids twice a week, we can buy three more tablets and the spare parts we need for the boards. That’s the first plan. What else we will do time will tell.

For now their time has just started …

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Anna and Philipp carried 30 kg extra luggage – skate-aid in Germany had sent extra 8 boards and spare parts with them … more boards for the happy kids in Janwaar Castle!

A village bursted into life

“This is the first time that kids themselves change the scope of a rural village in India, in an area – Bundelkhand – which is known for its resistance to change and its tremendous poverty. I’ve never seen a village changing so fast!” said Mehmood Khan when he returned to Janwaar after nine months last week.

Mehmood is my guide for the change process we’ve started almost a year ago when the construction of the Janwaar Castle skatepark began. He is a well-known change agent in India and he has decades of experience when it comes to innovation. Last year at Christmas when he was in Janwaar the vibes and energy of the village were pretty much like in any rural village in India. There was no hope. No work. No fun. Villagers were following their daily routines and struggling to survive. Yes, there was some kind of suspicion in the air because of our ongoing construction work – the villagers didn’t know what was going on. And even when we would have told them about the skatepark project – none of them would have understood. Even the local stakeholders weren’t very clear about the project but to their credit I have to say they trusted and supported me. So when Mehmood and I walked around in Janwaar late in December last year and spoke with the villagers and the stakeholders of the project – it looked like a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome until we would spark interest and drive change.

But all this has changed.

The Janwaar children have changed their village in the last six months. The children who initially whiled away their time aimlessly and skipped school and often indulged in chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking and had a lack of respect for each other in general abusing violently, now work together and believe that there is something for them that could shape their future. The positive energy they bring in with their activities around the skatepark trigger their parents, their teachers and everyone who is there! The principal of the nearby government school said: “The skatepark has really helped the kids – they are clean, follow a routine and are cordial in their behaviour. They now want to be champions of a sport they never heard about one year before. We see a lot of social change with kids moving in and out for competitions in the village.If this continues it will bring change in other nearby villages, block, district and even in the entire province. Kids have a lot of potential here – be it academics, sports or painting. Its just their circumstances that drive them to become labourers. We believe in this approach and would be happy to keep supporting this initiative.” I never thought that this was possible in such a short period of time …. a rural village in Bhundelkhand has started a wonderful journey and bursted into life.

So this was the right time to enlarge our circle beyond the children and involve all stakeholders, teachers and villagers to discuss Janwaar’s urgent problems and the potential for solutions. I invited Mehmood to conduct a (design-thinking) workshop with all of them. Just like we did in Patha two and a half years ago. The workshop took place last week. We’ve held it at the far end of our skatepark under our huge tree – the spot which also suited so well during our summer camp. A diverse group of people participated: surprisingly many women of all ages, the teachers and the principal of the school, many of the children and the usual crowd of male villagers who hardly work but have the say.

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The process was collaborative in all phases. In small groups of 4-6 people they were asked to write down their main problems in their own words. Every group presented the results afterwards – and slowly our tree – which was providing shadow on very hot October days – was functioning as a bulletin board.

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After three hours of hard work we were losing the villagers’ attention and all of us were ready for a break. So we collected the chart papers and translated and summarized what was written on them in the afternoon. Below is the list of the chief problems the villagers identified:

  • Unemployment and poverty
  • Scarcity of water for irrigation and consumption
  • Inefficiencies and corruption in government officials at an operating level in various areas of farmers interface
  • Lack of secondary, higher secondary and technical education
  • Lack of cooperation with the Forest Department with respect to forest boundaries

The second day was “solution” day – Mehmood explained the villagers what we’ve done in summarizing the problems and he was trying to get them into “solution” mode. Again they were intensely working in small groups, discussing and writing down potential solutions. Co-creation has started. At the end each group presented their solutions and all of them were debated and evaluated. At the end we’ve had the following five suggestions on which we were planning to focus.

  • Setting up a Farmers Producers Company (FPO) to create a critical mass of farmers to generate employment and economic activities.
  • Request the government to create a second water reservoir for the village.
  • Create an interface through the collector to get various government schemes delivered to the farmers. eg. meeting of agricultural officers with the farmers.
  • Request to the member of parliament to get approval for the 10+2 school and skill development initiatives.
  • Installation of fencing around all the fields of the villagers to avoid damage of crops.

A funny thing happened at the end of day 2. A woman stood up and basically said, that they’ve now all said what they need and now she asked me to get it done 🙂 And she left with a smile on her face.

If it were all that easy …

Finally at our last day our goal was to bring all the solutions together into what we call an action plan – a joint venture of all the stakeholders and villagers. The action plan includes the necessary actions to be taken and by whom and when they will be taken. And at the end Mehmood – as a symbolic act – took the oath from everyone to follow the plan. We were very lucky at this day, a couple of coincidences happened and fueled the process with positive energy.

First on our way to Janwaar we’ve met postgraduates from an agriculture university in Rewa, a city 150 km from Panna. They are doing their field work in Janwaar. We invited all of them to the workshop, including their professor and the official from the Panna Agriculture Department who accompanied them. All of a sudden we’ve had access to all the farmers and to the details of the land. The second very helpful coincidence was that the entire management of the close by Taj Safari Hotel came – they’ve been to the government school the day before and the principal has told them about the skatepark and our activities. They were so surprised to find a skatepark in the middle of nowhere and immediately understood the potential it has to offer. So they’ve decided to join the team and showed up with a very clear vision of what they can contribute (see further down in the action plan). And their medical officer immediately initiated his work by explaining the children the first aid box I’ve brought in from Germany. In the future he will hold periodically first aid workshops to train and prepare the kids for accident cases and he also committed himself to be available for medical emergencies. And thirdly Vini, my landlord and son of the member of parliament for the district in which Janwaar is located, encouraged the farmers to join forces and get things done – he envisioned the solution on how to do the fencing and how to strengthen the farmers in all their activities. Furthermore he will file an application for a higher secondary (10+2) school – because many families can not afford to send their kids to Panna for higher education. So our action day really turned out to be empowering and everyone could feel it.

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My job now is basically the job of a project manager.
I will bring together all the people needed and I follow up where needed.
I truly feel we’ve reached a point where we can bring this village and the surrounding area to the next level and that all the causes on our action plan are within reach.

A huge thank you to the kids of Janwaar Castle – its them who bursted the village into life!

Janwar Castle needs a Bamboo House

The children in Janwar Castle have never seen a skateboarding instructor – nevertheless they’ve made it within five month to skateboarding champions. Just look at the pictures.

Now we want to move on and add a bamboo house for further actvities to our learning environment – and we need it before winter sets in. Therefore we decided to run this foto campaign. Vicky Roy, whom I know for many years now, is a well-known and established Indian photographer. The pictures he takes of children always reflect a very special atmosphere and ambiente … same holds true for his pics from Janwar, the village where our skatepark is located. He connects with the rural and he connects with the kids. I am very happy that Vicky Roy is supporting us and gives us these pictures for free for this specific campaign.

Thank you Vicky Roy!

His work has traveled around the world and his photographs are meanwhile a good investment.

We only fixed a minimum price for each picture which covers printing and shipping – otherwise the price is really up to you! Please help us to make this bamboo house become reality!

A sandbox.

I am currently involved in a couple of projects which I’d consider being sandbox projects. Not sandbox in a way that these projects aren’t mature or professional. No. When I say sandbox I mean it in it’s very original way.

You set-up a wooden frame, put sand in it – and make it accessible.
You don’t define any outcome, it’s an open process.
No projects are pre-defined.
You just provide and facilitate the set-up.
And let the things which are going to happen emerge.
Maybe you adjust a bit here and here.
Some little nudges at the frameset … But that’s it.

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Maybe an expression which comes close to it is Tim o’Reilly’s usage of the word platform. When Tim speaks about government as a platform he is e.g. talking about open data provided by the government – free of use for anyone. Citizen, companies, institutions – everyone can use the data the way they want it and the way they need it – within a clearly defined frame (legal, technical, economical, social). This way government doesn’t have to think about all the thousands and thousands of possibilities the data could be used – it simply will be used when there is a problem for which it provides a solution. This way government fosters innovation and participation. It enables others to built on government’s work and by doing so its impact is multiplied. Things emerge. Just like inside a sandbox.

Besides the sandbox that I’ve created by my own – Janwar Castle, the first learning camp with a skateboarding park in its core in rural India – I am working on three completely different sandbox projects. One is an open data project in Delhi, aiming to set-up an open data platform which provides realiable data about the air quality in India’s capital. It’s said that it is among the worst in the world, if not the worst. It’s planned as a joint venture of citizenery, companies (Indian and Chinese – and this before Modi went there;-) and government. The data will be provided for free and anyone is invited to make the best out of it – whether it is to build applications, to change habits or whether it is to pass appropriate laws.

The second one is Mindkiss – a different way to present and deal with art. I’ve just written about it here. It’s basically a new modell for art and culture – an open process during which certain projects evolve.

And the third one is the sandbox Kumbhathon – one of my favourites;-) I’ve been following this endevour since its beginning at inkTALKS in Kochin two and a half years ago and I participated actively in the last workshop held in Nashik in January 2015. I was mentoring the students. For me this is a very interesting platform for many reasons:

  • It aims to find solutions for a real world problem: How to handle a city and deal with the issue that 30 million people come in.
  • It brings together various stakeholders: city officilas, companies (local and multi-nationals), external institutions, citizens and students from all over India.
  • It’s an open process within a given frame.
  • The MIT Media Lab brings in new methods to innovate and to co-create solutions.

In this sense the Kumbhathon is truly a sandbox out of which many things will emerge. We’ve already seen new applications and products solving Kumha Mela problems (housing, mapping, infrastructure); I am sure we will see more. The people involved are embracing this new way of solution finding – so it will last and stay in Nashik. Meaning there is an impact on this level as well. And – for me the most important thing – the locals and more than anyone else the local youth has understood, that they themselves can deal and handle the upcoming problems and provide adequate solutions. The process so far was all about enabling, encouraging and co-creating for Kumbha Mela.

As a long term outcome I expect this process to become a role model for an innovation center with multiple  stakeholders committed to solve social problems. So it’s not so much about running very specific projects; it is much more about how to drive innovation and how to find solutions for existing problems in a collaborative way.

And it makes me very happy and shows a lot of respect for our work in Panna that Ramesh Raskar, one of the initiators of the Kumbhathon and professor at the MIT Media Lab asked me to set-up a “little Panna-Park” (a small Janwar Castle) during Kumbha Mela.

So there are many reasons to look forward to the next Kumbhathon gathering in late June/ early July in Nashik!

The Janwaar Castle Summer Camp

From June 1-30, 2015 we will run our first summer camp at Janwahr Castle.

Janwaar Castle is a project of we_school and can briefly be described as a learning environment with a skateboarding park in its core. It’s located in Janwaar near Panna, a small buzzling town in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. In the village there are about 250 – 300 kids.

The summer camp is the first activity of its kind in Janwaar. Three of us – Yogesh, a local scholar from Khajuraho who speaks good English, Vivek, a Teach for India fellow, and me. We will run daily early morning sessions (until 10 am) with the kids and late afternoon sessions (6 – 7.30 pm).

The main goal of the camp is to teach the kids English – so the camp language will be English! The kids of course can answer and talk in Hindi or their local dialect.

And we’ll have guests joining us:

Laura, a friend from Bombay who is native Scottish and an excellent violinist. She will conduct music sessions and hopefully give a concert in front of the Khajuraho Temples.
Mamaji (a local tour guide, actually the best you can find in Khajuraho) will join us for Indian mythology and history sessions.
Children from Kunderpura – an Adivasi village close by – will visit us.
The Maharaj of Panna will come and tell stories of the past.

The kids will learn English in face-to-face session with Vivek, we have tablets with English learning programs, we have dictionaries, English books and we hopefully will have one or two whiteboards. Besides English learning we organize nature walks, we will build dustbins for the skatepark and pillars for two swings, we paint, play and dance and we will take the kids to Panna National Tiger Park which is close by but the kids never had a chance to go there. And of course there will be lots of skateboarding ! 

The entire endeavor is calculated with 2,30.000 INR or 3000 Euros and I do need your help !

Here is a list (things_we_need_mit) where you can see what we need and how we will spent the mn see what we need and how we will spent the money – it includes very precise donation packages such as:

– 5 English books for either 1000 INR or 1500 INR or
– 3 dictionaries for 3000 INR or
– paint and brushes (1000 – 2000 INR)
– paper (2000 INR)
– a jeep for the Tiger Safari (6500 INR) or
– costs for skateboarding teachers (5000 INR) or
– snacks, milk and fruits (from 1000 – 2800 INR) or
– transportation

1000 INR are app. 14 Euros, maybe a little less.

Just let us know what you like most to support!
100% of the money will be used for the case you mention.

Please make transfers payable to:

Account name: Ulrike Reinhard
nature: we_school summer camp / case you’d like to support
IBAN: DE63700222000071631281
BIC: FDDODEMMXXX

If you are not donating from Germany and want to avoid unnecessary banking fees please use transferwise.

Thank you!

A few weeks ago we started our first activities with the kids from Janwaar and – as you can see – the kids really enjoy it!

IMG_1503
Excursion to the Khajuraho Temples, at Mamaji’s organic farm

IMG_1425 (1)
Skateboarding sessions at Janwaar Castle, our skatepark

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And if you want to know more about our activities please visit our website or read below or send an email to

we (at) we-magazine (dot) net

Goals of Janwaar Castle

– to improve the children’s and the women’s health 
– and their standing in the community
– to bring hope and show possibilities for all the villagers and 
– to enable and guide them to solve their problems by themselves and even
– make a decent living out of it.

for the kids

– we provide many things they don’t have at school
– things they don’t even know of (like skateboarding)
– a space where all are the same (no caste and gender issues)
– we make them capable of communicating with “outsiders” (virtually and real)
– this is why learning english is so important ….

Its Impact

on an individual level

– physical fitness because of skateboarding and other sport activities (volleyball)
– exposure – learning YES, I can >>> self esteem
– health >>> extra food (fruits) on 2 days in the week
– learning new things / skills which broaden the horizon
– learning to “imagine”
– connect with foreigners 

on the village and community level

– connect the village with the outside world
– establish small businesses
– create a community culture
– clean(er) village