UWC Mahindra College monthly newsletter

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gomukh project

UWC Mahindra College is located high in the Western Ghats, an area of incredible biodiversity and culture. The valleys surrounding the college are highly cultivated, mostly for cash crops and rely on water flowing from the Mulshi dam for irrigation during the dry season. The social, economic and environmental problems facing the rural sector in India are immense but in a country that is changing so rapidly the potential for sustainable development is equally great.

It is in this context that UWC Mahindra Collefe students decided to join forces with Gomukh Center for Rural Sustainability this year. Gomukh is a small, collectively owned farm that promotes organic agriculture in the local valleys. They grow a remarkable variety of vegetables using sustainable irrigation techniques and fertilizer from their own cows. Gomukh also acts as a hub for other local organic farmers, distributing their food directly to customers in the valley and in Pune city (which means that some of the college's staff are able to cook with 100% organic, locally grown ingredients seven days a week).

Gomukh is a young organisation but is already well established and so it was easy for the students to get involved. During their first session students helped to plow a new field and subsequently saw that field through almost every stage of its cultivation; it is now lush with the cabbages and corn that they planted. Throughout the year students have dug holes, worked in the greenhouse and helped build the new dry storage unit working side by side with the farmers.

“It’s a very social activity, which can clearly be seen by the relationships between the group members and the farmers,” says Rebecca, a first year coordinator from England. “I have formed a really good relationship with one of the farmers, giving me an extra incentive to practice my Hindi skills.”

After a long day in the classroom the labour of the land has become very gratifying for the students with most of them coming to look at it as a point of stress relief in their busy week. “The fact that you do manual work is satisfying” says Anu, a first year from Bangalore. “I could actually physically see the progress that is made, which is a nice contrast to the more intellectual life I lead at UWC Mahindra College.” Progress they have made indeed — four students volunteering for two hours is equivalent to a whole day's work; the holes dug have deepened quickly!

Another aspect of Gomukh is the journey. Although the college drivers were ready and willing to take them many students normally chose the more direct path across the hill. "One hour there and another back, sometimes in sweltering heat or monsoon rain, has become a venerable bonding session and a chance to get to know the village children" says Liam, a staff co-ordinator of the project. "It has made the whole experience significantly more 'organic'!"

After great success this year the students have even greater plans for the future. They hope to take on larger projects at the farm such as building a seed bank to preserve local heirloom crops. Gomukh is so well connected that they also hope their work might lead them into the wider community. Students are also planning to employ some of what they have learnt on their own campus to make local, organic food available in the UWC Mahindra College community and to cultivate more of their own land. “I see organic farming as an interesting option for me to invest my time in,” says Martin, a first year from Denmark. “Organic food is simply better in taste, look and ethical value than non-organic food.”

For many UWC Mahindra College students working with Gomukh feels like the perfect partnership — both have so much to gain from each other. The potential for measurable development, personal and economic, is immense, the future of the project holds a lot of promise.

“Gomukh is not just about farming,” says Guillaume, a first year coordinator from France. “It’s about all aspects of life that make us human. It is an activity that changes you in all dimensions of persona and most likely one of the most unique activities on campus. It comprises a sense of personal challenge, idealism, integrity, modesty and honesty which all comply fully with some of the UWC ideals. I am proud to be a part of this.”

Liam Goodacre
Faculty Philosophy

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