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Each and every year the Auroville schools close during the hot May and June months, and this means a long and hot stretch of time for many of our kiddos (and their parents..). Of course there are those who are lucky enough to get a ticket abroad to visit family or friends, or who go out in India to trek in cooler regions, but many of us stay here and grin and bear it.

It's therefore a great opportunity and blessing that Auroville has established, since the early eighties, a good collaboration and agreement with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to annually hold summer camps in Berijam, located in the Palani Hills at a distance of a 12-hour bus ride from Auroville. The photos on this page give you an idea of the great beauty of the place.

Julietta reports

"I wake up and notice that Valli and Kuppu are already up to prepare breakfast. We're camping at a lake the beauty of which does not need to hide behind travel catalogues for holidays in paradise. We're in Berijam, the middle of nowhere atop the Palani Hills, one hour's drive from Kodaikanal hill station. My holiday this year is no romantic affair, but a camp full of hungry Auroville kids on their yearly adventure vacation.
I close my eyes again hoping to get some more sleep, but in vain. I'm in the 'big girls tent', together with the two kitchen helpers, courtesy of Auroville's Tofu unit, and Alma, one of the other accompanying adults. My duty is not the mending of wounds gotten during playtime, telling stories or reading books with the smaller kids, collecting firewood or water with the bigger boys, playing cricket and volleyball, or doing the laundry. These jobs are taken care of by others.

Cooking for sixty, five times a day..

I have to take care of 60 empty stomachs to be filled five times a day, snacks included. And no matter how much you cook, it's never enough. "Can I have seconds...?" are the words that still ring in my ears, weeks after the trip is over. I also still see the images of these beautiful hills and the open skies, and the ice-cold lake in which, with the help of a surfboard, the kids manage to dip themselves before breakfast. I still dream of the fresh air, which you inhale on the treks through those wild forests, accompanied by experienced young Aurovilians, watching deer, bison, wild dogs and an enormous variety of flora and fauna. And I still hear the laughter of the children, having fun all day long, and the songs at the night's campfire. And I'm grateful to have been part of this journey into pure nature and this adventure of inner growing."

Frederick, one of the originators, reminisces

"The idea of summercamp outings for Aurovilian and village children was born, and became reality, in 1984. The first trip led to Yurcaud, near Salem, the closest hill station to Auroville, only about six hours ride by bus. Unfortunately, two problems occurred: the camping place was on a steep slope and people found themselves piled up at one end of the tent every morning. Which would have been only of little disturbance, if the quality of the drinking water wasn't so bad that participants complained, even after years, about their 'Yurcaud-stomach'!

Conditions of the Forest Department

A better site was discovered by a number of trekkers, guided by nature lovers from the Kodaikanal International School where, from early times onwards, some of our Auroville kids would go for their studies. The difficult part here was to get the permission of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, which eventually, after a lot of paperwork and personal visits to the Chief Conservator in Madras, was obtained. The Auroville organisers managed to convince the authorities concerned that they would maintain strict camp discipline, that the site would be used in an educative manner so as to enable kids to learn about nature, the rain tree forests, their flora and fauna, and, last but not least, that they would leave the place clean and unspoiled after finishing the camp.

Other areas

Occasionally we also had our camps in other places. Due to a temporary settlement of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka in the allotted district, or the occupation of the camp site by forest workers, for instance, alternative locations had to be found in some years. So we have participated in the Youth Hostel Associated Summercamps in the Ooty area and conducted training camps for specific sport activities like tennis, basketball and soccer in the International Schools of Ooty and Kodaikanal."

The right balance

Besides these camps, there have always been other activities for the kids in the summer season as well, such as bicycle tours through the southern states, trekking in the Himalayas, and snorkling in Rameswaram. These offers are open to both Aurovilian and village children who join the Auroville educational programmes and schools. One of the main ideas behind these vacations outside of Auroville is the right balance between 'just having a good time' and the challenge of overcoming personal limitations. The treks are sometimes really exhausting and tiring, but after succeeding one builds a kind of muscle inside that strengthens the character.

The funding of the camps is always a mixture of both outside funds (from f.i. the Government of India, other organisations like the Foundation for World Educationan, the AVI Centres) and private participation from inside Auroville. Even now, if you join, you have to pay your contribution, and then the work begins. And the fun!

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