Auroville has many Outreach initiatives that support the surrounding villages. One of the oldest of these is Udavi, an Outreach School that started as a crèche for the village children. Today it is hard to imagine the conditions in the village of Edayanchavadi at that time, but the history of Udavi gives us a glimpse into this part of the past. Presently, Udavi is one of the most important bridges between Auroville and the villages. The team is working towards all aspects of a child’s development. Many of the kids from there go on to become Aurovilians. In collaboration with Sanjeev, who has been taking care of Udavi since years, we sat down and wrote this short history of Udavi school.
From The Mother’s Crèche…
In the early 70’s, ‘Auroshika’ was a successful incense-making unit on the outskirts of the Edyanchavadi village, Auroville. Due to its high-quality deliverance, the unit was an outstanding success for Auroville financially. This helped in providing a comfortable livelihood to many in the village. The founder of this unit was Nata, an Italian who was a disciple of The Mother at the Ashram in Pondicherry. He was an engineer by profession. and was involved in many projects of Auroville. Later along with his wife Maggie, he turned his attention towards the village. At the Mother’s request, Nata began a daily lunch program for the village children. Every day hundreds of pale-looking innocent faces would flock up during lunchtime. They looked undernourished and unwell.The Mother then guided Nata and his wife Maggie to begin a crèche for these kids at the premises of Auroshika. Help came from all sides in the form of donations, and in the year 1974, the creche was born. Maggie and Nata began with thirty kids between the age of 2.5 to 5. They had to go through a thorough medical checkup. Mother named it ‘Udavi’, meaning ‘help’ in Tamil
… To an Elementary School
Part of the turnover from Auroshika was used to support the school. The creche now had a kitchen and a laundry room. The newly built small swimming pool brought much excitement to the already happy environment of the kids. As the school grew, so did Nata’s bond with the kids, to the extent that when the time came for the first batch to move to an elementary school outside, he simply did not want to let them go! He was not sure of the situation in the neighborhood schools. This led him to begin an elementary school for children above 6 years. And so on 15 June 1978, the Udavi elementary school began under the Tamil Nadu state board affiliation. After Nata left his body, Maggie in the year 1998, took up the school along with Guy and Anuben. There was a good change seen in these children.
The School under SAIIER
In 1999, workers at Auroshika unionized. They placed many demands on the unit management that they were unable to meet. This led to the closure of the unit in the village. Due to the disturbance, the school had to close for a few months. The 10th-grade students went to Pondicherry for coaching. At one point, the Ashram handed over the school to Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER), and Sanjeev the executive of SAIEER, took an initiative as a co-director of the school to once again liven the ambiance at the campus.
Moving Towards Integral Education
The school believed in the examination system. It also believed in the traditional memorizing technique, which was quite opposite to the principles of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on education. The school had monthly exams right from the elementary level. When the team tried to get away from such unhealthy learning techniques, there was a massive disapproval from parents. After many discussions, it was decided that the school would conduct only two examinations in a year. It was not easy to bring changes in the school for the team, but gradually it did come in. Aurovilians and volunteers stepped in bringing with them a new learning approach in the interest of the students.
The School Today
Today Udavi stands apart for its exclusive learning in the village. It is more a child-centered school, even though it has taken years of effort and resistance from the parents to accept the idea of giving space for the student to learn what she or he desires. The idea of memorizing, passing the exams for a certificate still lives strongly in the village! In the present environment, the children are not just bookworms. The principles of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo towards education are in practice. Apart from the syllabus, students take part in activities like clay work, craft, dance, music, tailoring and carpentry. They share a special relationship with their teachers where fear does not have space. The medium of instruction is strictly English. The focus of the school is not to be result-oriented, but to have the spirit of valuing whatever the students are good at.