Visit by Students of Oregon
In December 2012, a group of 11 students and faculty from the University of Oregon, USA, spent 17 days in Puducherry, hosted by the Sri Aurobindo Society, headed by Dr Surendra Subramani, who is a faculty with the Family and Human Services program in the College of Education at the University of Oregon. The program goals and the selection of students were focused within the fields of education and human services. These students were carefully selected over a period of one year, wherein their motives, goals, and levels of cultural sensitivity were very carefully evaluated. All these students were required to take a 10-week course at the University prior to departure to orient them for the programme.
From the outset, the goal of the program was multidimensional. The challenge was to expose the students within a short span of 17 days to Indian culture, history, philosophy, village life and social fabric and also introduce them to the current innovative projects of SAS. On another level, it was an opportunity to show the American students a few alternatives and more sustainable ways of living, within the spheres of village development and education, health care, problems faced at rural level and the programs started by Sarvam. In this regard, it is also meant to show through actual successful implementation of organizational structures, management, and leadership.
Introduction and service work with both the SARVAM project and the Satya Special School provided opportunities for the students to see the challenges faced by these projects and yet the progress made for the betterment of their respective constituents. At Sarvam, the important distinction observed by the students was the dedication and focus towards education shown by the children in the village. In many respects, though the village did not have the privileged comforts found in the US, the level of respect, discipline, healthy curiosity, and passion for education was something the students had not seen in American schools. They spent time with school students and women to teach them simple methods of thread braiding to make friendship bands among other craft ideas. The program provided the students many opportunities to learn about sustainable, replicable development projects. The UO students were gifted beautiful cards and photo frames made by the children with recycled materials.
The overall programme far exceeded Dr Subramani’s expectations and those of the UO students. The visit was so successful that all the students have indicated that they would like to return to spend more time on many of the projects run by the Society, especially Sarvam. Many have also begun to get involved in long-term projects and see themselves as being part of a continuing sustainable relationship between the SAS and UO, and working towards a meaningful collaboration between India and the United States.