Swaraj University Completed its First Year

3 Idiots watch out – Swaraj University just completes its first full year!

Swaraj University

Innovation cuts across everything we do !!

Swaraj University celebrated its first anniversary on May 30th, 2011  looking back at the excitement, co-creation, friendship, deep questioning, emotional healing, unfolding of self, intense dialogues, discoveries, experiments,mistakes and learning, and all that has been part of the first year of Swaraj University.

Inspired by India’s rich guru-shishya tradition, Mahatma Gandhi’s Nai taleem and RabindranathTagore’s Shantiniketan Ashram, and Rancho’s 3 idiots, Swaraj was established in April 2010 and has been nurturing space for young people to self-design their learning process to become green entrepreneurs. At Swaraj University each learner gets an opportunity to develop his orher own personalized learning program based on their own dreams. Freedom to choose and decide what to learn, how to learn, and from whom to learn makes Swaraj outstanding. Reva Dandage, co-founder of this university, states, “Swaraj is India’s first university dedicated to strengthening our local cultures, local economies and local ecologies. Sustainability, social justice and holistic, healthy living are the core principles of our vision. Within this larger context, They are keen to support young people in putting their dreams into action and developing eco-friendly businesses that make a difference for the world.”

Swaraj university stand as a core community of nineteen enthusiastic and diverse khojis (that’s what the Swaraj University learners call themselves) and four facilitators with international experience who have motivated and guided the khojis in their journeys of learning. Enthused by the values, our principles—friends, family members, faculty mentors, supportorganizations and networks aims to spread all over the world.

Swaraj believes in strong diversity—of age, language, religion, even ideologies and beliefs. The khojis have come from Rajasthan, Gujarat, M.P., Maharashtra, U.P., Delhi and Karnataka,from urban and rural settings. There is no prior degree or diploma required to join. Khojis share a common commitment to do something good for society and the environment. The youngest of the group is 17 years old and the oldest 30 years old. Two-thirds have received partial or full scholarships. Says co-founder, Nitin Paranjape,

“We believe that everyone can learn and do something specific in the world, despite their academic background. They just need a chance to identify their talents, find their inner passions and be in a community of support.The mainstream education system creates a lot of failures. We believe that everyone can be awinner and find success in life.”

Some fellow khojis:

Harshita Wadhya, a young woman from Varanasi, U.P., a graduate from Delhi University decided not to pursue further education within the formal system and is now exploring her interest in alternative healing. Her focus is on energy work/pranic healing, love and forgiveness and its role in healing, and past life regression. She is also keen tolive sustainably, causing least damage to life and the environment around her. Dancing is also one of her passions.. She says that,

“After joining Swaraj University, I have started believing in my dreams and values again and have regained my faith in humanity. I really have enjoyed spending time with my mentor.”

Gyan Shahane, a 20 year-old from Nasik, Maharashtra, is interested in film-making, particularly in the drama/fiction category. He wants to use this powerful medium tobring about positive change in people and the society at large. He decided to leave school after 8th grade as he was fed up with the poor education he was receiving in government schools. His other interests are writing, reading, theatre and photography. He says that,

“The love and acceptance for the person I am that I got after joining Swaraj University gives me the strength and courage to do what I want to do and walk on thepath I have chosen for myself.”

The methods adopted at swaraj make the student think of their own , rather than education being a one way process by faculty. Over the year, they have also witnessed the formation of strong bonds of friendship and trust amongst the group that transcend the barriers of age, class and language.

The Place:

The university has an eco-friendly campus – Tapovan Ashram, an organic farm and nursery 30 kilo meter located far away from the hue and cry of the city , amidst the Aravali hills. Swaraj university offers exclusive resources , a well equiped library, a multimedia lab, residential facilities and a community kitchen there. The first batch of khojis has spent 4 months in the past year living together at Tapovan Ashram (one month every quarter) in Khoji Meets. According to co-founder Reva Dandage,

“The mainstream education institutions focus exclusively on theircurriculum to the exclusion of learners’ relationship with their environment – that they do not have any responsibility and relationship with the food they eat, the energy they consume or the waste they generate.”

Hence, all the khojis and faculty on campus take part in the designing and developing of community spaces like the kitchen, library, dorms, outdoor class rooms, organic farm and shouldering community responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and thinking of what they consume and how it impacts our environment.

“Life on the campus has been exciting, challenging the comforts of some, confronting the deep personal issues of others, while we explore ways of living harmoniously with each other and with nature,” says Sakhi, one of the khojis from Nashik.

Swaraj’s Journey towards excellence ….. Methodology

The course is conducted in Hindi, while keeping in mind each individual’s need for expressionin his/her native language. The program believes in practical learning by doing. The programis divided into Khoji Meets (one month every quarter during the first year), at the university’s campus and Mentorship Periods of 2-3 months anywhere in the country. The khojis spend the Khoji Meets practicing self-awareness, team-work and perspective deepening. Ecological sustainability, healthy living, social justice and self-designed learning are the principles around which Swaraj University’s program has been designed. As part of the perspective building and gaining a deeper understanding of these principles, the khojis watch movies, research topics and organize discussions there after, visit nearby villages, share articles and other resources,do hands-on projects such as building compost toilets and cooking solar food, interact with international students from other countries and invite resource persons to share their perspectives.

During the Meets, khojis also hone in their documentation and presentation skills, design portfolios and the give and take feedback for their learning and growth. Through exercises and sessions organized by the facilitators, khojis identify their individual learning goals, design plansto achieve them, identify skills that need to be built, re-define their dreams and big goals and chart out their mentor-ship periods.

The program believes that the world is confined in our classroom. During the mentor-ship period, the khojis learn skills and practical wisdom from faculty-mentors in fields they want to work in. Swaraj University has a wide pool of mentors, with experience and expertise in fields varying from organic farming to naturopathy and healing, community radio to filmmaking, women’s rights to working with street children, zero waste crafts to healthy cooking, sustainable design to appropriate renewable technologies. They have over 50 ustaad-mentors all over the country asour faculty and the list is growing.

Some of their mentors:

Nandita Dinesh, is a theater artist and director who did her training in the U.S. Shetravels the world, from Mexico to Afghanistan, trying to bring people together in places of conflict and unrest. Currently, she has developed a platform for young artists in Pune called “Mezza”. Her expertise is in participatory and experiential theater.

Praveen Pagare, a documentary film maker, has worked with different socialmovements throughout his career, from the Narmada Bachav Andolan (Medha Patkar) to Ekta Parishad (P.V. Rajgopal). He has worked passionately with Abhivyakti Media for Development, an NGO in Nasik, for many years, making documentaries on various social issues facing our society.

Deepak Suchde, is not your typical farmer. The first thing that strikes you when you meet him is the passion for his work and for his life. When he starts talking about eco-farming you know instantly that here is a person whose knowledge is insurmountable as you are drawn into the world of soil, plants, and the eco-system. He will tell you how to make your ends meet by farming in as small a piece of land as 10 gunthas (quarter of an acre) and live healthily and in harmony with nature. He is busy spreading the need to enrich the degraded soil made worse by use of unlimited chemicals and greed so that we can claim our right to organic living. He lives on his farm near Harda in central India. He has been internationally recognized for his efforts.

Manoj Prajapat, a green entrepreneur from Udaipur, runs a healthy food business “Jasso Ann Vasso Mann” – you are what you eat. He does various experiments in cooking with zero oil, solar and local grains. He runs a slow food café in Udaipur.

It is important to note that Swaraj University does not give out any degrees or certificates. It is a peoples’ university, accredited by the people. According Reva Dandage,

“We want students to have real skills and knowledge to take up real projects in their communities – not just hollow pieces of paper. Over the course of the 2 years, each khoji will develop their ownportfolio of practical experience and references. At the end of 2 years, they will each have the full confidence and vision to start their own green business.”

They are connected with other innovative universities around the world including Gaia University and Peer-to-Peer University.

Personal Highlights:

“As khojis or seekers, it has been an exciting journey of discovery and experimentation for all of us. They learnt through various experiences such as visiting a prison, organising a fair inthe neighbouring village, setting up a food stall made from local grains in a community, silent trekking in the mountains, working with local artisans like potters, puppeteers, etc., interviewing tribal nomads who walk miles with their goats, interacting with youth from foreign countries,tracing the pugmarks of a leopard, attending international conferences amongst many others. One of the highlights of the year was when they participated in an amazing week-long, hands-on, service learning, community building exercise called the Oasis Game in Shivaji Nagar in Udaipur that was conducted by our friend Edgard from Brazil. It pushed our thinking and learning invarious dimensions such as learning the skills of working within a community, knowing how to work for our dreams by making it fun and implementing the social-dialogue tools. For many of us, it ignites a new vision and spirit of sewa.”

“Traveling is a great way to learn. We lay a lot of stress on Learning Journeys in the first year. It creates the magic of bonding us all together, energizing us with fresh new ideas, inspiring uswith new people and social entrepreneurship experiments, widening our world views, givingus the opportunity to interact with other alternative communities and a chance to try our hand at doing things that we always dreamt of. Last year, they went to Pune and Ahmedabad and also did a very unique and inspiring Cycle Yatra, a journey into villages without money, cellphones, food or any other amenities. During the Cycle Yatra, they pushed their own physical and comfort limits, they were questioned their relationship with money and the broader question of dependency, and challenging mindsets of ‘progress, ‘security’ and ‘development’!”

They strongly believe in educating our students by maximum hands on practice which is the key to build ones career in creative segment . Several khojis have already received job offers after their first year. Many are in the process of setting up their own community businesses. Most importantly, they have seen deep growth and transformative changes in the khojis themselves.

For more information, see www.swarajuniversity.org

Admission for the next batch starts in July 2011. There will be an orientation meet on June 17, 2011 in Udaipur for those interested in learning more. 🙂

Article Contribution by : Manish Jain(Co-founder Swaraj University), Chani Soni, Monika jain



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