Trance & Icecream

I’ve spent the last week in Varkala, Kerala. It was my third visit – I just love the Kaiya House and the cliff tops and the endless walks on the beach. For the first time I went with Debra, the owner of the Kaiya House to experience Kerala festivals. I’ve had seen Debra’s posts on these before – but never participated in one. Off we went one early morning. We left the house on in auto rickshaw at 6 am and arrived at the temple 25 minutes later … we were early, hardly anyone was there yet.

It was a very peaceful atmosphere. The celebrations were devoted to Shivas youngest son, Muragon, the god of war. We learnt from Pappu, our rickshaw driver, that devotees will start from 14 different temples and all join at one major temple. We were at one of these 14 spots. You have to know where they are – way off the main road, down on unpaved winding roads until you reach a wonderful temple. Unexpectedly. Slowly the men in the village gathered, had their breakfast and got ready for the procession.


The place was pumped with energy. I could feel – I couldn’t explain though where it came from. When the drums started all men went inside the temple for their prayers – the women were bystanders outside. While the men were completely relaxed and at the same time excited the women were rather looking scared. Two completely different groups. And then there was us – the foreigners watching the celebrations.

At 7 am it was already hot and very humid. I really had to get out of the sun and had to find a place in the shadow to watch the spectacle.

When the men came out of the temple they were in a different stage of awareness – completely focussed and all in one as a group. Everything one single person did was obviously part of the bigger picture. It was some kind of routine what was happening inside this group. Almost like a theatre play. The young men were almost ready to get pierced. The piercing was done by elders. Before the young men laid down on their ballies on the table to get pierced (meaning getting at least 4, some of them 8 hooks pushed through their flesh on the back, wade and thigh) they put themselves in trance – in no time! This was the most amazing part for me at the festival. The way these young men went from one stage of awareness to a stage where they obvioulsy didn’t feel any pain any more. It happened in no time.

One of the guys completely “passed out”, it looked like an epileptic fit what he went through and people had to lay him down on the floor. As you can see in these pics everyone of the participants had one person who specifically took care of them. People say – according to Debra – that these young men get a special training – physically and mentally – two month before the festival starts. Every time they do it – I haven’t seen one men who didn’t had any scarves on his back. No “fresher” was there.

When the men reach this stage of trance the elders first pierce a litlle speer through their cheeks and then they lay down and their backs and legs get pierced. I couldn’t watch this …


The moment they stand up and walk away from the table they are “normal” again – very proud. Very proud.


At this place 10 people got pierced.
It didn’t take longer than 20 minutes.

Then the next chapter of the ceremony unfolded.
The hooks in their backs were now used to hang these young men on pales in front of trucks, raise them and drive them in this position to the main temple – where later probably 30 trucks all came together! The men war hanging there for 4-6 hours before – in the bright sun, swinging proudly and happily in front of the trucks … until they reached the main temple. There they were freed from the pales, they went inside the temple for prayers and left through the back exit where the hooks and lances got removed. I’ve seen this as well (my battery was dead by this time, so I couldn’t take any photographs). Again it all happened very fast, max. 2 minutes per person, no blood, maybe be once in a while a little drop – but that was is. The moment the lances were removed they got an ice cream and they walked away … Happy and proud.


Truly incredible India.
I haven’t seen anything like this before.

I still don’t know how to deal with this experience.
It was amazing and disgusting at the same time.
A lasting experience – no doubt!


Text and photos by Cassie Broadwin.

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


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!”





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.



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.

Delhi’s Bad Air …

Air pollution is reaching peaks in Delhi and the city – citizens and government – have finally started to fight it actively. One major cause for the bad air is of course traffic. In the first two weeks of January 2016 the Delhi government was running “odd-even” –  meaning one day all “odd-mumbered vehicles” were allowed to drive in the city, the next day all “even-numbers”. The campaign achieved a lot of media attention and a website for commute partners was launched by the government.

After the two weeks the environmental impact of the campaign was discussed manifold … political games on all sides. It would be insane to expect a significant reduce of air pollution after two weeks but what the intervention proofed is that the citizens are ready to take action and that the overall traffic situation was extremely relaxed. Everyone I have spoken to said this. There was no one complaining of not having been able to take the car. And most of Delhi’s citizens would do it again … So there is hope on the horizon.

What also became obvious during odd-even is that there aren’t enough measurement points in the city to serve all citizens equally. Now there is some kind of pressure to install more units and also to push the citizens somehow to action. This can only be done when they are somehow actively involved. Knowing about bad air is one thing – doing something actively against it is something different. The streets in Delhi are packed again and odd-even is almost history in this sense.

I’ve wirtten earlier on this blog that I am involved in an environment open data project which actually would close exactly this gap. While I was in Delhi the last 10 days I took the chance and spoke with Mrutyunjay Mishra (M2), co-founder of Juxt Smartmandate, a data analytics company based in Delhi and Hyderabad, and driving force behind the India Open Data Association – a non for profit company which believes in the open hardware and software movement and is promoting “open” as the secret for success to tackle the massive environmental issues in  Delhi and the rest of India is facing.

With M2 I’ve talked about the status of Open Data in India in general, about potential open data business models and what it takes to make a real impact – meaning not only collecting data but also creating communities and drive action. The first 15 minutes are about India in general, the last 20 minutes we tackle the other issues!

(Just click the play button and the audio file will start)


Just this morning I was reading an article featuring a French woman residing in Gurgaon (South od Delhi) who has started going around town, taking photo portraits of common Delhiites, making them pose with masks and X-ray films of a pair of lungs. As a matter of fact the air pollution is heavily affecting people’s health. The numbers of patients with breathing problems and many other symptons of pollution are skyrocketing!


Here is the interview in an abbreviated form:

Ulrike Reinhard: You’ve started this initiative India Open Data Association (IODA). What is it all about ?

Mrutyunjay Mishra, IODA (MM): Our cycle is so to speak Data.Knowledge.Action. We collect data. We make it publicly available in an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand way and – knowing what the data is all about – we trigger action to solve problems which are of public interest. Let me give you one example. Our environment project. We started it last year at Kumbha Mela. Back then we’ve tested our open hardware machines for collecting various environment data such as dust, …. . The results of this field test helped us to fine-tune our machines, make them more accurate and sustainable and we optimized our software – meaning sending the data to the server and make it available. The new prototypes were ready for the odd-even experiment in Delhi in the first half of January 2016. There we’ve had the chance to compare at specific locations the measurements of our machines with those cost-intensive machines of the government. And it turned out we were absolutely competitive – not as precise as the high-end machines which cost more than one cruore INR, but within an tolerable variance. Government officials told us this.

Our next step is to cover with at least 40 of our machines more locations in Delhi, send the data to our server and make it available on our website. We visualize the data so that it is easy to understand for the public and we provide it in cvs-format so that everyone who wants to play around with the data can use it. With more machines out there and with more location-based data coming in we can serve the public better and provide knowledge how good or bad the air in Delhi is. We assume once people know how horrible air quality at their own place is and how it affects their health – they will chance behavior. This is when our cycle Data.Knowledge.Action. is completed.

So the India Open Data Association functions as a platform …

MM: Yes, I’d like to call it a platform. Because its role is to connect ideators, makers, financiers and users. We’ll be able to very clearly show that Juxt SmartMandate, which is my existing business and one of the founders of IODA, led the role of the ideator in this environment project and also brought in some seed funding. We connected with makers in China, where we bought the open source hardware for the machines and we found makers in India who assembled the hardware and designed a handy box. A new start-up is selling these boxes out of Gujarat. Other makers were working on the software and developed a mobile app which users can download to receive real-time environment data of various locations. So this model is working. What we need to do now is to scale it. For this we need more money … but we believe we delivered a strong proof of concept.

… and IODA is setup as a membership model, a non–for–profit company. Why have you chosen this structure? Why would a for profit company join?

MM: The organizational structure allows us to have maximum 200 members – these can be individuals and these can be organizations who are really interested in the open data ecosystem in India. To become a member you pay an annual fee and the one-time joining fee which is very nominal – I think it’s 5000 INR one time and 10.000 INR annual. So it is affordable for many. And because the legal structure only allows 200 members we’ve created one additional layer called “associate members” which allows us to include more if needed. Members have one voting right. So the structure is a more democratic one. We’ll see how it evolves. Initially we are looking for academics who are working in this field. We are looking for organizations and open data enthusiasts who have been doing groundbreaking work. We are looking for mentors, people who can guide us in this whole initiative. So there is a set of initial 15-20 members coming in. Hopefully also some financiers who provide a small fund to initiate projects. That is the answers to the first part of your question.

The second part – why would a for profit company join? We truly believe in the power of networks and in the power of many. The problems which we are planning to address and hopefully solve – as I said earlier – are problems which are relevant for the public. For all us. These are BIG problems like air pollution, waste, network-coverage – problems which can’t be solved by a single company, a single maker or even a single government. They can only be solved when we collaborate and co-create in a transparent manner – the ideaters, makers, users and financiers. And this is why we’ve chosen exactly this structure – it’s for us the best existing legal structure to achieve all this. That’s our basis. So now suppose you are the ideator of an open data project – and “open” is the premise – and you run your own private for profit company. Just like my company Juxt SmartMandate does in the open environment project. You define the skill set needed to make this project possible. The goal is that within IODA you’ll find the makers who are interested in your idea, you’ll find scientist who evaluate your data and so on. If the idea is good enough it will be translated into a product and/or service and we’ll find funding – meaning all the people will get paid. Everyone is working for profit. So the people who are making this project happen are all for profit. But the frame set in which all of this happening is a non-for-profit entity – it provides the basic management and the platform. So it’s a fairly good structure that way.

Where are the potential revenue streams for a company?

MM: For us at Juxt SmartMandate we see various revenue streams. Our core business is data analytics – so for us it’s business to analyze big data streams, to reduce complex data and translate the emerging patterns into easy to understand graphics and visualizations (meaning not losing any information while reducing the complexity), we structure data and provide downloadable data-packages and we might even develop desktop or mobile applications for the end-user. The person who developed the environment monitoring kit for our first project started meanwhile his own business and sells these boxes. So there are plenty of revenue streams … I am sure.

You were also saying that everyone can use the data – meaning also people/organizations who are not member of IODA?

MM: Yes, that’s true. We’ll provide all the data we are collecting on our internet platform in cvs-format. Everyone can download the data packages and play around with it and explore and build. All the data collected in any of the IODA-projects will be published under the a Non Commercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license, which allows the data to be shared and adapted as long as the appropriate credit is given to the creator and all the changes made are clearly mentioned. Commercial usage remains with those who initiated, collaborated and funded the project.

What is the current status of IODA?

MM: Regarding IODA as an organization I can say, that it is registered under Indian law and ready to practice. The bank account is opened and we can now invite the first members to join. We’ve already spoken to a few organizations and people and we are happy to announce our first members soon. Our website with the basic information is ready for launch.

Juxt SmartMandate will bring in the environment project I was talking about earlier. The status is that 40 boxes including the software are ready to be rolled out all over Delhi. The project website is ready for launch and the mobile app can be downloaded. For a successful start it’s crucial to increase the number of users.

What other projects can you envision ?

MM: I can only speak for my own company. We are planning to bring in at least two more projects once the environment project is up and running. One is the crowdsourcing of network coverage problems and analyzing the main reasons why in India the network is so fragile in order to achieve a more stabled infrastructure. Another one is the mapping of crimes let say in the city of Chennai. The data is publicly available but it is provided in a way that it is basically of no use. We are planning to visualize it in a way that let’s say women can see on a map which areas in Chennai are known for which kind of crime at a certain time of a day. So they simply can avoid going there. This doesn’t mean that they can’t become victim in a crime – but it can certainly increase the chances NOT to become a victim. I am sure other people / companies have many more ideas … I am really curious to see IODA taking off.

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 . 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.



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.




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.


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.


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 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 …


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.


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.


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.


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!