A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Abode of Friends

Fifty years ago the area around the village of Vellanad was barren land. Now, thanks to the stalwart efforts of Mitraniketan (meaning ‘Abode of Friends) a rural development training institute just outside the village, it is dense with lush green palms, banana, rubber and tapioca plantations, rice fields, jack fruit, mango, and a litany of other medicinal trees.. and that is just the beginning.

Walking around the area, through the plantations, along meandering earthen tracks, with post-monsoon moisture still in the air, I was on a trail of discovery, piecing together the complex, beautiful jigsaw of Mitraniketan.

Not just one, but three schools. A vocational ‘People’s’ college. A farm science research centre. A food production unit. A well stocked community library. A clinic. An animal husbandry training centre. A printing press. A crafts training centre. Carpentry units. A Weaving centre. A Sports stadium. A yoga and meditation centre. A bio-technology research centre….and through the trees, more would emerge.

Mitraniketan was established in 1956, by Sri K. Vishwanthan, with the aim of educating for life skills. Then just a few huts, Viswananthan, educational philosophy was deep and rich with the influences of Gandhi, Tagore, the American educationalist, Arthur Morgan, and the Danish Folk School Advocate, Gundtvig.
Through it all came a vision of revitalising the land and the people of the region, through educational methodologies which would prise out the potential of both. As Viswanathan has written,
‘In today’s world of transition, we must examine how we approach the concept of development and re-orient our approach and methods in such a way as to put humaneness back into the equation.
Our primary task in this re-orientation is the enablement of people’ development will come about only when individuals as part of a family and community are reminded of their own power in determining the circumstances of their own lives’.
Mitraniketan is a place which seeks out rural solutions to rural needs, training local people in getting the best out of themselves and the land. What’s more, it maintains at its core basic community values- of service, contribution, discipline and trust. Walking around the place, you feel it all in the air. The place has a tranquillity and charm going beyond its physical place. There, my mind was active, my soul calm.

My three days at Mitraniketan were really just a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg. Lots more beneath. Fortunately, the history of Mitraniketan has been wonderfully recorded by the American author, Jeff Bigger, in his soon to be revised ‘On Dusty Soil’.

I’d like to than Nathan Cryder from Global Gain for putting me in touch with Jeff Biggers, and for Jeff for helping me make the connection to Mitraniketan. And to Viswanathan and his remarkable family, for their boundless generosity and welcoming spirit.

And, as Jeff would say, Onwards.


Blogger Nathan said...

I appreciate the "thanks" Clare, but I should be the one thanking you for giving me the opportunity to live vicariously through you. You have no idea how interesting it is for me to read about your experiences in the places I've suggested to you. I had a gut feeling "Mitra" would really be special!

Onwards, N

3:57 p.m.


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