After meeting in a Pune artist residency, Ben Reid-Howells, a peace educator and Kumar Prashant, an Indian upcycling artist decided to sell everything they owned and embarked on a journey of motorcycle travel from India to Scotland—one motherland to another. Aptly titled Vasudhaiva Ride, during the journey, the duo decided to carry out a series of projects for peace, sustainability and wellbeing. The essential mission is to connect people and organisations across borders to exchange resources, build local capacity and share stories, thus strengthening global efforts to overcome pertinent issues.
Since starting out from Khubavali Village, Maharashtra, on January 15th 2017, they have completed three projects in education, affordable housing and now sustainable development in Bihar. Their first project was with Sai Baba Path government school in the Jijamata Nagar slum community of Bombay. There they worked with students and the local teaching team to provide methods for effective education to create socially engaged students. Their second project aimed to redefine affordable housing wherein they brought together local villagers and an international team of volunteers to build a model home for 1 Lakh INR, in rural Rajasthan.
The last 15 months they – along with their rescued Pitbull Bulldog, Buddy – have covered 12,000km across India, sleeping, eating and doing mechanical fixes & jugaad, and involving youth, local community and international teams of volunteers and professionals in villages, community groups and schools, collaborating and spreading the vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: One world, one family. They stay mostly in villages as they travel and their work focuses on skills for social service and developing affordable methods of upcycling and resilient design; to holistically strengthen at-risk communities in rural and lesser developed India.
You can know more about the initial phase of their journey in this video –
The Bihar Project
After their first two projects in India, they considered what would be the third and last project of the India Leg of the Vasudhaiva Ride. With invitations to work in Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra it was a clear choice to go where the resources were ready and communities were waiting to support the project. However, Prashant had always intended to return to his native Bihar and bring his work to this state – a state essentially deprived of innovation at so many levels.
And so the Bihar Project in Arrah was born: to create a prototype for self-reliant housing, a house made of a combination of upcycled waste, natural materials and weather-proof construction materials, and a house that grows its own food, treats its own waste water and sources renewable energies. At first, the local community expressed doubt. Prashant too was hesitant. But they shared the plan and vision and Prashant’s family came on board to help fund the project. They assembled a team and in June, 2017 the work was afoot.
In the nine months that have followed, they have employed more than 100 local workers, revived multiple forms of sustainable construction, carried out community sessions with more than 2000 youth and teachers across Bihar and brought together a team of locals, Indian nationals and more than 40 internationals: living simply and working together in Arrah, Bihar. Their volunteers have worked hard through the monsoon, heat and winter of Bihar and have all left wearing the Bihari gumcha: Their way of welcoming them to this global family that for these nine months, has had its roots in Arrah, Bhojpur.
Presently, they have finished construction and are now sharing this story worldwide, to inspire more people to engage in social service work, and to share their new model for affordable, strong, self-reliant housing made of a combination of waste, natural materials and conventional construction materials: Proudly called as the Jugaad Resilient Design.
The Bihar Project has been their largest endeavour yet. The product of this nine-month project stands in a field backside Ara Station between middle class housing and a government canal lined with slum dwellings: the project has brought both these communities together. The house itself boasts a significantly reduced square foot costing, features an in-house water treatment system, rooftop urban garden and thousands of units of waste incorporated as building materials and design, including glass bottles, thela cart wheels, scrap metal, tyres and more. While the upstairs floor serves as a living space for Prashant’s family who funded most of the project, the downstairs space will be the first upcycling workshop to begin Prashant’s long term endeavour to introduce upcycling business to Bihar. More than 40 Bihari workers have already began learning upcycling techniques, serving as the pilot program for the skills development in the years ahead.
On February 3-4th 2018 the Opening Weekend of the Bihar Project took place, in which more than 900 people attended, demonstrating the strong community buy-in of this project to redefine housing in one of India’s fastest growing states. They received offers from architects and builders to replicate the model, indicating wide applicability and success of the project.
“We look back on the success of this project and recognize that it has only been possible with the unshakeable support of the local community here in Bihar. We see that, though Bihar is often described as a backward state, it is in fact a place of great opportunity, resilience and strong community”, says Ben.
The Vasudhaiva Ride – The Road and Projects Ahead
They are now preparing to leave India for the international leg of the Vasudhaiva Ride and their first project of the international leg: creating an upcycled, outdoor learning area in a government school in rural Nepal and providing trainings to the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) and multiple other Nepali NGOs in the education sector. For the projects ahead they are calling together teams of volunteers, interns and professionals from around the world to be of service to complex issues in collaboration with leading on-the-ground projects and organisations. After completing the ride to Scotland, Prashant will return to continue the work in Bihar and begin workshops and more programs in Arrah and elsewhere in Bihar.
“Though we are not an NGO nor affiliated with any one organization, we are not alone in this work and journey. Local, national and global organisations, community groups, colleges and hostels have sent interns, volunteers, social entrepreneurs and more to support and share this work. With the Bihar Project finished, we will now leave India to continue the Vasudhaiva Ride. On March 11th, 2018, we will ride from Patna, Bihar, to Nepal and from there into Tibet, China, Central Asia and Europe where our 2018 Focus Project will take place, bringing their skills, team and energy to current humanitarian issues and efforts to provide relief.”, adds Ben.
For more information on the Bihar Project and the Vasudhaiva Ride, you can visit their website. To become a part of Vasudhaiva Ride projects, you can e-mail at email@example.com and also financially help help them by sending support PayTM at 9764328226.
Editor’s Note: The Optimist Citizen would be closely observing and reporting the Vasudhaiva Ride on every innovation they create; at every place they stop. Keep following The Optimist Citizen constantly to get all the latest details of the journey.
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