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.
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
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
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
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.
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!