The Education Troopers: A Walk through an Ancient Civilization and a Mystifying Ecosystem – Kutch, Gujarat

When you have theplas (Gujarati bread) and aloo bhaji (spiced potatoes) packed for breakfast, any day trip is going to be fun. An enthusiastic and energetic bunch of ten AIF Clinton Fellows decided to enrich the Education Thematic Conference with a bit of adventure. And there was nothing better than walking through the ancient Harappan archaeological site: Dholavira and the Rann of Kutch (salt desert). The bus ride through beautiful Kutchi villages and the salt desert brought in a mystifying feeling, an impression that the land held secrets of the past and probably answers to the future. For me this experience was a childhood dream come true.

Dholavira, Kutch, Gujarat In the picture from left- Tim, Abby, Nadeem and Pious
Dholavira, Kutch, Gujarat. In the picture from left: Tim, Abby, Nadeem and Pious.

The district of Kutch is in the western state of Gujarat, India. The first time I encountered the name “Kutch” was during the 2001 earthquake. Experiencing the tremors in Mumbai and later on watching villages flattened by the earthquake got me to delve deeper into this area. Years later as I traversed through my culture and history classes, I realized how important this land is historically, culturally, internationally and environmentally. Dholavira is one of the major Harappan cities and well known for its meticulously designed town planning, water conservation methods and monumental structures.

A water reservoir at Dholavira, Kutch Gujarat
A water reservoir at Dholavira, Kutch, Gujarat.

The archaeological site is situated in the middle of the Great Rann of Kutch, one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. The Rann (meaning the salt marshes) has a desert on one side and the sea on the other making it an important ecological site. During the rainy season the entire marshland is flooded and post that the water evaporates leaving behind layers of thick salt.

The Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
The Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.

If one falls in love with a place by seeing it, I probably fell in love with the place through pictures in history books and tales narrated by my professors. I was determined to explore it further. And the AIF Education Thematic Conference allowed me to look at this place from a whole new perspective. It made me look at myself and question: “how would I have liked to learn about this civilization and ecosystem as a child in the most innovative and creative way possible?”

Rann of Kutch- From left- Pious, Annika, Palak, Avan and Nadeem
Rann of Kutch. From left: Pious, Annika, Palak, Avan and Nadeem.

The AIF Education Thematic Conference was organized in Kutch for the Fellows to get a better understanding of the Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) and explore our individual interests within the education sector. The ten AIF Clinton Fellows – directly or indirectly – are associated with education, but we were all pretty uncertain what to expect from this thematic conference. Each of us had specific objectives (as described in Figure 1) to be a part of this conference. But to summarize our mission in four beautiful words of my Co-Fellows, Benjamin Brennan: “Learn anything and everything”. So keeping an “open mind” (as directed by our AIF Education Director, Arjun Sanyal), we education troopers marched forward to explore more the concept of Education.

Figure 1: What we wanted to learn at the conference in Kutch
Figure 1: What we wanted to learn at the conference in Kutch.

Education in modern times is looked at from the prism of a “job market” and not much at “life” and the magnificent elements around it. Ensuring quality education is challenging and daunting due to various reasons. While ensuring interests in history, culture and ecology has its own challenges, building that interests in children at an early age needs a lot of new creative pedagogies. The day trip made me look more closely at “innovation” in the education sector, especially in social and environmental sciences and making it more relevant and interesting for children when we are at the brink of an environmental crisis. Post the conference, five fellows – Timothy, Avan, Olivia, Nadeem and I – have been involved in creating innovative methods of teaching “conservation” to children through different a multidisciplinary perspectives and building their interests in environmental sustainability.

The education troopers at Dholavira, Kutch, Gujarat PC- Arjun Sanyal
The education troopers at Dholavira, Kutch, Gujarat.
PC: Arjun Sanyal.

This quest for innovation in education reminded me of the lyrics from the song Raise a little hell: “If you don’t like what you got, why don’t you change it? If your world is all screwed up, rearrange it!” In order to ensure quality education and develop interest in learning especially about the environment, history and culture, there is a need to rearrange the existing world order of education and create a fun and interactive way of doing it.

And I’m sure a lot of you would wonder why this experience was so important for us in an educational conference. I believe, understanding and feeling an environment and ecosystem is a key aspect in making education relevant to a community. The AIF Education Thematic Conference opened the doors to innovation in the education sector, especially for environmental education. This experience gave me the opportunity to unlearn the already learnt aspects about culture, history and ecology and discover how these three elements are interconnected in a place like Kutch. To unlearn the learnt is the best way to innovate in the education sector and create new learning pedagogies for the future generations.

The education troopers-Rann of Kutch PC-Arjun Sanyal
The education troopers at Rann of Kutch.
PC: Arjun Sanyal.

Cheers and thanks to my Education Troopers – Avan, Annika, Abby, Ben, Tim, Nadeem, Olivia, Palak and Pious – for making this conference a memorable experience. Thanks to Arjun Sanyal and the Unnati staff for bringing into perspective the diversity and challenges of localised education and innovation in the development space.

Denise is excited about interacting with diverse people in different environmental, social and cultural settings through her coursework, work experience, volunteering stints, travels and field studies. She believes that AIF and the project will bring in a new set of challenges and learning experiences that will help her appreciate new perspectives and innovative solutions for sustainable development. She wants the fellowship to deepen her learning experiences and enhance her passion and research skills to understand sustainability issues and the inter-relationship between societal and environmental systems. Her greatest achievement is being able to learn and appreciate the everyday lives of people in rural India and she believes that these interactions with people from diverse rural settings will help her during her fellowship journey.

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