“We need to make our activities visible to the world,” says Raghu, an Indian Newcomer from the Netherlands .
“When I became a Newcomer last November, I was surprised there was no handbook or information package for Newcomers,” says Ragu Kolli, an Indian newcomer from the Netherlands who had been visiting Auroville on and off since 1990. Raghu, a professor of business and a design management consultant, returned to India permanently in 2008 and settled in Auroville. “I didn't know the other Newcomers, what they were doing, or where to find them. Each of us was individually trying to find our way around Auroville which is a complex place. Many people and activities are not visible in everyday life. It was frustrating, so I decided to do something about it.” Raghu made a proposal for a ‘Newcomer Programme' which received positive feedback from many Aurovilians and Newcomers.
“About the time I was discussing my proposal, Shivaya and Suzie were also thinking of doing something for Newcomers and so we put our ideas together,” says Raghu. “Over the years, various people had attempted different things for Newcomers, but nobody had ever sat down and analyzed their needs before. And it is quite a complicated situation.”
Raghu explains. “There are now about 140 Newcomers. There is not much opportunity for bonding as there are no occasions to meet together and the first year can involve many pressures including finding work, often moving from one house to another, and trying to find your way around Auroville.
“Newcomers are a very mixed and varied bunch. There are returning Aurovilians, partners of Aurovilians, children of Aurovilians, people who have lived or worked here for a long time as guests or volunteers and who have finally decided to become Aurovilian. Then there are the young Europeans who want to explore different ways of life, young Indian professionals, middle aged people opening a new chapter in their lives, couples with children, young aspiring Tamilians and, of course, a few lost souls.
“Some people are very clear about what they want to do and dive into their work right away and don't get to explore many areas of Auroville or meet people. Some others explore various work places and communities and continue to move from one area to another. Even then, it is hard to get an overview of what is going on in the community.
“So I feel it is necessary to have a broad understanding of various activities and get to know a cross-section of people across the community. Without this, it will be difficult to take part in the community discussions and communicate with others in later years.”
“We started the Newcomer Programme in January this year and the first event was held in the Town Hall and hosted by the Working Committee, L'Avenir, and FAMC. Carel, Raman, Toby and Otto talked to us about their work and it was very interesting for everyone. Our second reception was held at Saracon, and was hosted by Wellpaper, Svaram, KOFPU and Saracon. Orly told us about how her partner Danny and she had set up Wellpaper; Chandresh spoke of his early struggles as a Newcomer, and gave us a history of the place. Aurelio's team entertained us with music, and Anandi served us a great organic dinner. It was a memorable and inspiring evening. The next event was hosted at Pitchandikulam forest with Joss giving us a tour and showing us the remarkable projects in ecology and training at the Pitchandikulam Bio-Resource Centre. Our most recent event was a visit to Savitri Bhavan which emphasized the spiritual aspects of Auroville. It was well received and over 50 Newcomers attended this session.”
Shraddhavan (second from left) discussing Savitri with Newcomers at Savitri Bhavan
“It is a special experience to see all the Newcomers gather together. Everyone is so different and it gives a feel of the new energy. What surprised us most was the number of young Tamil women and men who come to the events. That may be because we send SMS information by mobile phones to those who do not have email. About half of the attendees are Tamil Newcomers, who are very attentive and take part in the small-group discussions.”
Raghu explains how in their group discussion on issues facing Newcomers, housing and work are the two critical issues that came up. “Since then,” says Raghu, “we announce to newcomers any work openings at the Auroville units, and also try to find work if a Newcomer requests it. Housing is a much more complex problem and we have not been able to address it yet. This is a topic for another meeting.”
The group plans to host about 10 to 15 events in 2009 that will expose Newcomers to various areas and activities of Auroville – farms and forests, health and healing, crafts and industry, governance, spirituality, architecture, village action, waste management etc.
“When guests come here, all they see and experience are the guest houses, restaurants, boutiques and a few cultural events, and healing courses. But there is amazing work being done in the farms and forests, there are many inspiring village development projects going on, there are beautiful products being made, and fascinating experiments like the new Pour Tous Distribution scheme.
“From what I have seen since last year,” observes Raghu, “we are not giving out the right message and we seem to be attracting mostly tourists. The Auroville website needs a complete revamp with up-to-date content. We need more publications like The Auroville Experience and The Auroville Architecture book. They are impressive and give a lot of good information. Auroville Radio is also doing a great job of broadcasting current happenings.
“We need to fund these vital media groups, and encourage all units and projects to showcase their activities to the world. We have such a wealth of diversity and activities in such a small community, and we need many more talented and skilled people in various areas.
“By showing the world what we do here, we will inspire and attract the kind of people who will want to take part in our activities and help us realize the vision.”