The Optimist Citizen

Painted facades, digital schools, and a football academy are resurrecting a village in Punjab

Barely three months ago, Aluna Tola was just another quaint hamlet in the heartland of Punjab. With a population of around 1200 and 250 families, it lies near Payal town in Ludhiana district of Punjab. Today, visitors to the village are surprised by its pleasant transformation. Thanks to a unique initiative by a local sports coach and a group of artists and educators from across the globe, this village in Ludhiana district is being turned into a model village for sustainability, education and artwork.

The most glaring example of this initiative is the artwork adorning the facades of the 250-odd households and other public buildings in the village, a process which is still underway but which has been turning eyeballs ever since it was launched on June 11.

“All passers-by stop by to click pictures and selfies. Relatives of the residents living elsewhere are thronging to the village on weekends to witness the previously-drab structures so remarkably painted and transformed into beautiful vistas. Recently, even a Punjabi music video was filmed here. We’re all excited like never before,” said Gurjeet Singh Malhans, 33, the football coach whose efforts led to his village being chosen under the ‘Model Village Initiative’ by RoundGlass Foundation, the NGO which is sponsoring the entire project.

According to Barkat Singh, an artist from Auroville who’s heading the artwork project, there are four components of the initiative — a multi-media laboratory in the village middle school, a football academy, artwork, and efficient waste management and segregation.

A Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) laboratory has been established in the village middle school where students are learning a wide range of things in a unique way. “The lab is functional six days a week and comprises six computers and a TV. The students are randomly asked a question, and encouraged to find its answer and context using the internet. They find answers by themselves and it enhances their learning since they look up a diverse range of topics,” said Natalie, the project in-charge who established the lab around three months ago.

According to her, this exercise is improving the students’ fluency and grasp over English, comprehension, typing skills and their overall awareness and general knowledge. “A co-ordinator has been appointed in the lab but the students are learning by themselves and being exposed to a new form of education. We have set up a similar lab in another village in Patiala and process is underway to introduce around 60 more labs in rural Punjab. We’ve already sought permission for this scheme from the education secretary of the state,” she added.

Meanwhile, a football academy which was being run by Malhans has also been incorporated into the initiative, with all its expenses being sponsored by the programme. Every evening, scores of boys and girls, including ones from the surrounding villages, are trained free-of-cost by Malhans, who also facilitates their participation in professional competitions and leagues.

“In fact, it was during one such league in Chandigarh when our under-eight team claimed the first prize that we were noticed by members of RoundGlass. They were pleasantly surprised on learning about the talent and enthusiasm for football in the village, and soon decided to adopt the village under their Model Village Initiative,” remarked Malhans, a former professional footballer who has now decided to dedicate his life to football coaching.

It is at Malhans home that the team of volunteering artists including Barkat Singh are camping to adorn the village. “Individual volunteer artists arrive here and complete at least a facade each before leaving. We’ve had artists from France, Germany, Morocco and Spain come here and paint a picture depicting the local ethos. Currently, some artists from Mumbai are camped here,” said Barkat.

There are artworks depicting animals and birds, the traditional way of living, rural Punjab etc. Barkat said that artists while staying here interact with the locals and then “try to project their dreams and aspirations onto the facades”.

“This is meaningful art which is intended to drive a social change. Currently, a feeling of despondency is prevailing in rural Punjab due to various issues like lack of employment, drug abuse etc. We want to instil hope in the atmosphere by creating beauty. Locals, some of whom were hesitant earlier, are now engaged themselves in the process and helping us in every way. They are discovering alternative ways of self-fulfillment and a meaningful existence,” said Barkat.

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The residents, surely, are excited. “This is turning into a very beautiful hamlet. The residents, especially the youth here is assisting the team in every way they can,” remarked Lal Deen, a village resident.

Another resident Joginder Singh said that it’s a positive initiative which is bringing a good reputation to the village. Residents said that they are excited by the attention the village has been receiving lately. “People here have become more cleanliness conscious, and due to interaction with these volunteers and foreigners, they are being exposed to new ideas and aspirations,” said Anwar, another resident.


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