Ajay graduated from 8th grade this year. He is a very active, smart kit but sitting in a classroom is certainly not his strengths. He missed school quite often, Instead, he preferred to roam around in the village and to hang out with the wrong people. He was easily tempted to chewing tobacco, smoking and gambling … He knew he shouldn’t do this and he always promised Ulrike not to, but it was very difficult for him to find better ways to kill the boredom of the village. He clearly stated in a long conversation with me that he was bored and that there was nothing for him to do in the village. That was the day when Ulrike started to look around and talk to our peers what could be done for Ajay. We were looking for a place where he could “do” things, no classroom activities but creating with his own hands.

And we were lucky. A few months back, Bharti from Prakriti, Noida, introduced us to Vigyan Ashram, a learning center in rural Maharashtra. What we found on their website was very promising. Their ideas and practices are very close to what we are doing at Janwaar Castle. They also believe in “learning by doing”. Their one-year course in “rural technology” seemed to be designed for Ajay. In this course, the students learn basic technologies in workshop science, construction, energy and environment, agriculture and animal husbandry, home and health – very hands-on and practical! It’s the intention of this program to provide an effective delivery system for new technologies and nurture entrepreneurial spirit in the minds of the students.

For us, it seemed that the Vigyan Ashram is exactly providing what could help Ajay to develop his true potential. Thanks to a scholarship we could send Ajay to Pabal, close to Pune. I dropped him there this week. I was blown away by this place and I found it similar to Janwaar Castle. Here are my first impressions:

No boundaries. No walls.

One doesn’t know where the Ashram starts or ends. But you know when you have entered its territory. Beautiful semi-spherical structures (small halls/rooms/store rooms) are spread over the whole area. 

The creative open space of Vigyan Ashram

Learning over education

– There are several places at the Ashram where the kids experiment with farming. Many products are kept here and there. Some are still work in progress. Some are in use. They have a solar water heater, a grain grinder, a DIY tractor and many more. All this is happening in their big blue shed. Inside is every tool/equipment one needs to build – machining tools, fabrication laboratory, 3D printers, welding machines – in one word: everything!

– It’s up to the kids to take the initiative. They can decide what to do and then simply make it. The process is easy: The kids tell the mentors what they want to make and tell what they need for it. The mentors arrange the material and then the kids build. The mentors are guides. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Ajay is planning to make his own skateboard 🙂

– The mentors are only “guides”. They encourage the kids to make the first move and then they help them to reflect the process.

– The kids have built the entire place: The rooms they sleep in, the bunk beds, the mess tables, halls, gardens, solar heater, solar cookers – you name it.

Vigyan Ashram Maker Space

Vigyan Ashram started in 1983. Currently, their team includes 10 mentors, most of them have been there for a very long time. Some even started as students. There are no hierarchies; every teacher and student is equal and has to follow the same rules.

Vigyan Ashram truly aims to spark the entrepreneur in the kids. In the one year course, they learn how to design products, how to become better farmers, use different tools and above all how to do things on their own. If they want to start a business, the Vigyan Ashram accountant will help them to set it up.

Everything is made by the kids. They do and re-do until they succeed.

The day at Vigyan Ashram starts with a yoga session and ends with meditation. After meditation, they pick up a famous quote and everyone reflects on what it means for him/her. Everyone has to speak. And everyone spoke!

Ajay was excited to see the place. He loved that it is in a village and not in a city. He felt homesick when I was leaving but I am sure, once he gets into his daily routines, he will love the experience and use it to reach his true potential.

I wish him all the best!

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