AFRICA - AUROVILLE - AVI MEETING
REPORTING THE CAPE TOWN MEETING .
Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere, from Cape Town in South Africa !
You know when Sonia begins her speech with a RAP Rhyme that we have "fallen down the rabbit hole" into another reality below the equator!
The Auroville-Africa Meeting officially started on Friday March 17 afternoon with an introductory session, in which participants presented themselves and got to connect to each other. This was first evening was followed by two day tours of Cape Town, to get ourselves familiarised with the environment and the city's townships, with community projects, and with the many challenges and learning opportunities here. These 3 initial days spent together with African participants provided numerous opportunities to get to know each other. Our encounters and plays with each other were fun, were love, we shared our deep aspiration and spirituality right from the outset. The atmosphere created turned immediately into a high frequency and is getting higher by the day. It is quite an experience to feel this kind of togetherness and unity in diversity, which seems so natural and simple.
Our core group consists of AVIs and Aurovilians, with more than 40 people from 19 different nationalities, including 14 Aurovilians and 3 ashramites. We are joined by participants from Cape Town and South Africa , as well as a number of participants from different African nations (including a member of Sri Aurobindo Society Centre in Nairobi , Kenya ). Yes, it is a diverse group, with fire. All came to experience something new.
You should have seen our Mia and another - African - grandma dancing on the streets in one of Cape Town's townships, to the songs of a teenage group who spontaneously sang a few songs for us against the backdrop of full laundry lines, rusted cars, delapidated tin sheet shacks and a horde of kids who couldn't get enough of seeing themselves laughing in the display of our digital cameras.
The Auroville-Africa-AVI conference started on Sunday afternoon with an official inauguration by Ms. Ruchira Kamboj, of the High Commission of India to Cape Town, followed by two dance performances, one Indian dance by a South African dancer with music provided by Aurovilian Srimoyi, and the other dance by Paulo from AVI Brazil, to Sunil's music with Mother reading a line from Savitri. We were given an outline of the Meeting programme, watched the video "A Dream of the Divine" (an introduction to Auroville), and answered questions from the audience. Over 100 people were present. Aurovilians conducted sale of books, CDs and videos, offered information on Auroville, and had prepared a photo exhibition on Auroville in the conference hall.
On Monday morning Dr. Alok Pandey and Sraddhalu Ranade gave a talk about Human Unity in the light of Sri Aurobindo. No questions were asked afterwards; someone from the audience said she was 'speechless'. The talks were of very high standard. The entire day was dedicated to Human Unity, to the topic of reconciliation in the African struggle for freedom and equality, to exploring the theme of multicultural society through films, presentations, talks. A major topic was the exploration of 'Education for a transformed society'.
Instead of conducting a conference in the 'usual' style, a different approach is tried here. The emphasis is not on having many passive lectures, but that each participant plays an active and creative part -- on building relationships, on getting to know each other, on listening heart to heart, on interactive exchanges.
"Every participant is responsible for his or her learning, and at the same time everybody is a resource to others!"
It is the end of the 3 rd day of the sessions of presentations, interactions and exchanges in the Cape Town meeting. I will follow on from the report that Tine sent a few days ago and you will also hear from Julian who is going to send a report on a few of the special experiences of this unusual and deeply provocative conference.
On the afternoon of the first full day, the sessions focused on the themes of multicultural society and transformative education. After lunch and the profoundly moving session where Letlapa and Ginn described their journey of "radical forgiveness", we reconvened. Michel, a local woman opened the session speaking about her work with practices that involve releasing trauma stored in the body to reconnect people with their life force and promote wellness. This work is offered to her local community as a way to support individuals and groups who have either themselves suffered trauma or are working with people as activists or social change agents in order to sustain them in their work.
Meenakshi and I followed on from there sharing more of the Auroville experience to give some concrete examples of the ground reality of how Auroville practically engages with the question of what it means to embody an actual human unity, in a co-evolutionary way. The last presenter before tea break was Coleridge Daniels who works with an organization EDUCO and he spoke eloquently of their work to develop leadership and personal mastery through outdoor and wilderness-based experiential learning.
After the tea break 3 more local presenters shared their work in educational programs for social change and upliftment. Baba, a local woman who is a development worker specialising in conflict management and peace building, shared some examples from her work in the women and peace building program which aims to empower women from disadvantaged communities to become leaders and peace builders within their communities. Her presentation was followed by Gertrude Fester, a women's activist who has been heavily involved in anti-apartheid politics, who shared some real life stories which spoke about the way that language can be either inclusive or exclusive and the importance of challenging cultural stereotypes. The final presentation of the day was given by Mpho and Hannah, a young couple who work with a dance company that specifically focuses on integration between physically challenged and able-bodied dancers.
The next day, 21 st of March was Human Rights day and it is also marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre where over 60 black South Africans were shot down in the streets during a protest of burning their pass books - a symbol of apartheid. Our group "celebrated" this public holiday with a tour to Robben Island - the island where Nelson Mandela and many other freedom fighters were incarcerated over many years. One of the guides to the prison on the island was himself a previous prisoner and shared some of his own experience, which was very moving as we followed him through the rows of cells, including the one that Mandela spent 18 years in, and imagined the reality of such a life. We returned to the mainland early afternoon, and those of us who had some energy enjoyed the live music performed by local talented artists in the city centre park at the Cape Town festival. It was a great celebratory atmosphere and quite amazing to think that such events have only been possible since 1994.
Wednesday 22 nd March was another rich, full and inspiring day. The theme was emerging new realities - creating community, new economics for sustainable solutions and appropriate technologies, and presentations followed from applied researchers and activists from the local community as well as Aurovilians throughout the day.
Marti began with a slide show of eco-villages from around the world explaining the importance of living learning centres as replicable models.
The session that focused on economy had 5 presentations - Toine gave a very interesting presentation that showed various aspects of growth and the corresponding depletion of natural resources and spoke of the value of consciousness in production, while Nicole spoke more specifically about the practical applications of how an ideal of manifesting a no exchange of money economy is achieved, how non-ownership is translated into reality, and spoke of Tsunamika as an example of the gift economy within Auroville. Helmut Ernst spoke about the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain and described his thoughts on how such co-operatives could be applicable in the South African context. Sergio Lub gave a brief presentation on the networking tool he is developing for Auroville (which will include participants in this conference), and Norman Reynolds, a development economist who has lived and worked extensively in India and in South Africa, described his work and gave some ideas for how he imagined "competence" (the ability to look after oneself and family and contribute towards one's society) could be developed in impoverished South African communites.
After lunch, small groups formed for more interactive dialogue on the themes of education, community building, multi-cultural society, new economics and appropriate technologies.
After the tea break, the whole group reassembled and we listened to a lively presentation from Dr Chamanlal Gupta on green architecture, eco-buildings and eco-communities. In his slide presentation, he shared examples from around India of applications in individual housing and from within Auroville, of collective housing that demonstrated applications of eco-technologies.
The formal part of the day ended with a short film given by 2 long term residents of Findhorn community and "Soft-core" a young poet and "upcoming underground rapper" gave us an experience of what he calls 'edutainment" - message-driven rap - a call to wake up!
As you can no doubt see if you have read through all of this, it has a been a lot to take in and has been a truly lively interaction between Auroville, AVI and South Africans. We have come together through this convergence to share examples of practices that are making a difference and it is truly inspiring. I have heard a number of people here express the wish to come and experience Auroville, and the call for more community building along the lines of Auroville here. It feels like every day seeds are planted, and the metaphor of stringing beads has been used - we are collecting beads and it is not yet clear exactly how they string together. The meeting is an ongoing journey - we will keep you posted!
Two moving moments stand out for me at this conference.
The first is when a refined African, a bit younger than I, came up and asked if he could get a recording of Alok or Sradddhalu's talks. He had been told that they were quite remarkable and had only heard the end as he was told to come only at 10:30.
I offered to burn a CD, but he only had a tape player. I felt sorry that this seeker didn't have the tools we take for granted. I felt a good connection with him, a sincerity and depth.
He was introduced a few minutes later by Ginn Fourie as Letlapa Mphahlele, a rebel leader of APLA who ordered the bombing of innocent civilians in a café where her daughter was killed.
In the television segment they next showed, photos of her daughter, the embittered husband, the background of the poverty and humiliation stemming from apartheid, the shattered glass and blood stains, the other parent who remains psychologically scarred, the hate letters sent to Ginn after she sought out and reconciled and forgave Letlapa.
She was female, he male, she Christian, he atheist, she white, he black... and yet, both now deeply engaged in a public dialogue concerning the freedom struggle and the victims on both sides, and in healing the wounds of trauma, anger, hurt and ongoing poverty.
Having come from two days of going through the townships, we had glimpsed the extreme poverty and culture of desperation, heard the history of the passbooks and massacres and forced relocations, the fetal alcohol syndrome from workers in the vineyards being paid wages in wine.
We also knew of "terrorist" strategies of some groups training in making bombs and learning military strategies in neighboring countries. We knew of the brutal stoning of a young white girl who was driving a black friend back to one of the townships and came upon a march by APLA.
Without any history, one could see the dynamic between a mother who buried her daughter because of the person sitting next to her, who was unrepentant, who did not participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because he felt fully justified in trying to right the wrongs of white oppression and end apartheid.
After the film, no one spoke or clapped. Many were crying. I could hardly move to set up the microphones for the next segment...
Tonight (Thursday), we have gone to Table Mountain for the hour before sunset. Previous days the top was cloud-covered, the white "tablecloth" hanging over and spilling a bit over the edge before evaporating in the sunlight.
After a quick unusual spinning cable car to the top, we hiked around the edge of the stunning views, we came across two rappers from Khayelitsha township who gave a spontaneous performance for us. It was their first trip to Table Mountain . During apartheid they were not allowed, afterwards they could not afford the cost of the cable car.
Some 46 of us from 19 different countries gathered at sunset chanting the Gayatri mantra or Om or sitting quietly. We then formed a large circle and sang the South African national anthem followed by Bande Mataram.
The evening program was "Arts Night" with Aurelio and Paulo our strong suits, with a wonderful new poem from Meenakshi highlighting the evening. And since it was a call to the youth of Africa and a very talented Mpho Masilela did improvisatory dance during the reading. Unfortunately Toine had left a few minutes earlier to make his plane back to Holland , the first departure from our circle.
We ended the evening with two raps and group dancing. Tomorrow we hold a closing circle for part one and head to the countryside for our AVI Board meeting.
It has been a deep and thoroughly overwhelming week. Raman has been videotaping it and Helmut recording for Auroville Radio, but with so much talent from so many different directions and workshops it is beyond capturing...
PLEASE visit the Auroville-Africa website www.auroville-africa.org (it seems a crèche will be constructed with the name Auroville-Africa) if you haven't yet and cruise through the bios. We even had a drop-in of Roger Doudna and his wife, both longtime residents of Findhorn, besides all the wonderful ZERI and township folks. Everyone should eventually be listed at
From a note by Toine, on his return from South Africa :
The Auroville Africa event [was] a wonderful and uplifting experience.
We are probably aware of only a fraction of what is really happening during such events.
And these forces that work at deeper levels will manifest, gradually, or suddenly, and at the right time.
We wondered what we as Aurovilians can do for South Africa , to help this beautiful country to free itself from the past and work towards a vision for the future.
While reflecting on this question during the events at Cape Town I increasingly felt that we as Aurovilians can and must do only one thing in this regard:
Work with a great sense of urgency for the realisation of the City of the Future, the Auroville that Mother has described in three documents: the Charter, the Dream, the True Aurovilian and in a plan for a city for 50,000 "instruments" that She evolved with Roger and asked us to build for Her.
When we can invite the leaders of South Africa to that City of the Future, not only completed on the physical level but also with the Auroville vision being realised in every aspect of the life in Auroville, then no words need to be spoken, no conferences need to be held because that living example will be a Vision for the future.
From various lands altogether they came
Closing a circle on Table Mountain
They invoked in their hearts Ma's Divine Flame
Radiating rainbows all over the earth
The golden globe touched gently the waters
Like a farewell kiss for happy returns
And the golden ray on the cristal sphere
Linked Man's ancestors to Matrimandir.
(written on the plane back from Z-Africa)
A Call to Dear Youth of Africa
Indian Ocean is kissing
Your shores - blue and white
Indian West Coast is receiving
Your river of flowers every day.
Cape Comerin (KANYAKUMARI)
Of Southern India,
Collects pebbles of Cape Town,
In palm leaf baskets.
We play flute together
From the bamboo
Of our Mother Earth,
You come and dance.
Dance oh dance
To the tune of Soul touching
VEENA of Tamil-land
On the green lawns
Of red Soil Auroville.
Meenakshi, 21 March 2006