An Interview with Claudia about Volunteering in Auroville
I’ve been intrigued about Auroville, a community in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, so I asked my friend Claudia, who has recently volunteered in Auroville, to share her experiences.
Claudia Emmanuel is currently a photographer and undergraduate at the University of Cape Town in South Africa who focuses on producing creative work based on raising awareness about environmental issues. When she’s not hitting the books, kiteboarding or getting involved in various green initiatives in her hometown, she enjoys learning from authentic travel experiences. You can get in touch with Claudia and see more of her photography at Claudia Emmanuel Photography.
So Claudia, can you briefly explain what Auroville is for those that don’t know?
If you’re an open-minded individual interested in an alternative lifestyle, Auroville might be for you. Auroville is situated about 10km north of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India. No matter how much reading you do on Auroville, you won’t be able to comprehend what it is truly about until you go and experience it for yourself.
Auroville, aims “to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”
To really get the essence of Auroville, I recommend staying there for an extended amount of time, not just going for a day visit. The best way to do this is by getting involved in the community and volunteering.
Great summary, so what made you want to go and volunteer at Auroville?
Food is pretty important to me, so I decided to volunteer at Buddha Garden in Auroville to become more familiar with the processes of an organic farm.
OK, so to visit Auroville do you have to commit to volunteering there?
You don’t have to volunteer to visit Auroville. There are also numerous guesthouses in Auroville where you can stay while attending workshops and therapies on offer. However, if you want to integrate yourself into the community properly, then I recommend volunteering. There are also other volunteering opportunities available besides working on organic farm, which you can find out more about on the Auroville website.
What were the living arrangements like and did you have to pay to volunteer at Auroville?
The organic farm where I volunteered, Buddha Garden, included accommodation. I stayed there for a total of 2 weeks – the minimum amount of time that you have to commit to staying and volunteering there.
Within 24 hours of arriving, you have to complete a few administration errands. Firstly, according to Indian government regulations, you have to fill in a special form to state that you are staying there. You then have to attain an Aurocard, which I didn’t actually find to be too useful as most places accept cash.
I also had to pay for my accommodation at Buddha Garden. The first four weeks is Rs 250 per person, per day which includes; your accommodation, contribution to Auroville, breakfast Monday to Friday and wifi internet connection. This amount reduces to Rs 150 per person, per day for the rest of the time after that.
The accommodation at Buddha Garden is extremely basic. I shared a ‘dormitory’ with four other people for the duration of my stay. My sleeping arrangement consisted of an old, used mattress on the floor with an accompanying mosquito net. However, you may have first preference to move to a private hut the longer you stay at Buddha Garden. There are only two bathrooms shared amongst all the volunteers, which does not include a shower or hot water for washing – you’ll have to settle on the common Indian bucket bath.
If it sounds like you wouldn’t be able to manage with this arrangement, you could always find alternative accommodation in Auroville and still come to the farm every morning to assist with the volunteer tasks.
Ok, so what did you like the best about life in Auroville?
One aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed about staying at Buddha Garden was being able to live completely ‘off the grid’ for 2 weeks. The farm has a solar pump that allows water to be pumped from the Siddhartha Farm well and also has solar panels that supplies the farm with electricity.
I also have very fond memories of congregating at the coffee shop down the road with all the volunteers after completing our duties on the farm every morning.
Cruising around on my (very old) bicycle on the bumpy roads under overhanging tree canopies was also a simple, beautiful delight.
I spent Christmas and New Years in Auroville and all the volunteers got together to make it a special and memorable time.
But nothings perfect right? Were there any downsides?
I found the accommodation at Buddha Garden quite a challenge. The room did not emit a lot of light in, bugs are free to come and go as they please as there is no protective screen on the “windows” and the room felt like it was consistently damp. However, with that being said, you can still seek other accommodation and still volunteer at Buddha Garden.
Do you have one standout highlight of your time at Auroville?
On Christmas day I went to a quarry with clear, clean water with the other volunteers from the farm. We drove there in a large group on our motorbikes, laughing, enjoying the passing Indian countryside and feeling the wind on our faces. We sprinkled fresh flowers into the quarry’s water and jumped in from a considerable height. There was so much laughter and happiness. I’ll never forget it.
And what was been the greatest challenge?
Well, I had a very unfortunate experience while I was staying at Buddha Garden. One of the volunteers committed suicide. I never knew her and I don’t think it had anything to do with Auroville, but it still had an impact on the overall atmosphere on the farm. Sometimes the unforeseen happens on our travels and we just have to be strong to cope with it.
Wow, sounds difficult! What do you wish you had known before you started volunteering at Auroville?
I do wish I had known how to drive a motorbike before arriving. This is the most common mode of transport in Auroville. I was stuck with a rusty old bicycle (that pinched my bum!).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If you have the means, I would suggest booking into a guesthouse and volunteering from there. Also, if you’re interested in organic farming and living off the grid, check out Sadhana Forest. It’s not completely part of Auroville and is quite close by. It was actually my first choice, but I unfortunately couldn’t commit to the 3 weeks that was required at that time of year. I believe you will have a valuable learning experience while staying there.
Also, go to as many workshops and therapies as possible and don’t miss the chance to go into the Matrimandir!
Thank you so much Claudia! If you have been volunteering, living or working abroad and want to share your tips and experiences and be featured here contact me here