Over the last nine years Auroville International (AVI) Germany has sent up to eight young men each year to Auroville to do a year of social instead of military service. AVI Germany has been accredited by the German Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth to do this work.
This situation has recently changed. In January 2008, the German Ministry for Development and Economic Relations launched a new programme called ‘Weltwärts' (World outreach) for youth of both genders wanting to go abroad for voluntary service. Contrary to the previous programme under which all costs (insurance, air fare, accommodation, food etc.) had to be covered by the volunteers or their families, this new programme offers generous subsidies. The special focus of the programme is on gender and social equality, which means that youth from less well-off families can afford a stay abroad to widen their horizons and expose themselves to a different culture. The programme also provides subsidies to those who employ the volunteers as well as to Auroville International Germany to run the project.
AVI Germany obtained the accreditation for the new programme in May 2008. Under it, 11 youth – five women and six men – were selected for voluntary service in Auroville. They arrived in Auroville between July and September where they joined seven youngsters who had come under the old programme. They all work in a wide range of projects that are village-related – in village schools, health and environmental services and cultural projects like Svaram. The volunteers have to comply with certain guidelines, like committing themselves to work at least for one year in the project of their choice for a minimum of 30 hours per week, writing regular reports, and learning Tamil for three hours a week
The volunteers came well prepared. As part of the programme they had to participate in a 10-day introductory seminar in Germany , where the topics were not only the climate, health, clothing, and correct behaviour in a foreign culture, but also spirituality, the beginnings of Auroville and Integral Yoga.
Even though it means quite an effort to organize the volunteer programmes, it is part of AVI Germany´s attempt to help strengthen networking and provide support for Auroville and its bioregion.
Johannes with Dr.Lucas at a village school taking part in a tree-planting project . Photo Courtesy Johannes Dörr
My year as a volunteer
Why I have chosen to do voluntary service in Auroville is because I want to do something meaningful and exciting in a fascinating country like India . Also the project of Auroville attracted me. I choose to work for Dr. Lucas Dengel and his ECO PRO service, helping to experiment with new applications of EM (Effective Microorganisms). It is now my job to visit the farms in Auroville´s neighbourhood, try to convince them to use EM and demonstrate how their compost and subsequently their plants would benefit from its use. I also work in several environmental projects in village schools in Auroville´s bioregion. This work is very satisfying. The children smile at you; they are extremely motivated and prepared to work hard.
During my first weeks in Auroville I realized that this place offers many possibilities – workshops, seminars, excursions, a vast range of sports activities, and so on. Right from the beginning I launched into several activities and quickly made good friends, which made the process of integration easy and enjoyable. I discovered that Auroville is a conglomerate of interesting people: Aurovilians with the craziest personal histories, travellers from all over the world, many students and, of course, the Tamil people.
Life in Auroville also has its shadow sides. You are confronted with your personal problems and unknown ones arise. They can be of a very practical nature, like finding a permanent place to stay, which has taken me seven relocations in two months. Also living in a community is not always sunshine and roses. You have to be very sensitive since people here are exceptional but also sometimes peculiar. I am well settled now, but there are three problems that still plague me: physical wounds that refuse to heal; the tendency to spend too much time in the “German bubble” – the group of German volunteers and German Aurovilians; and the constant departure of visitors whom you just have befriended.
Life here is truly exceptional and I am grateful for each day I am able to stay in Auroville.