Health Cell 2016 report

At the 2016 AID conference, volunteers talked about building the capacity of AID to work holistically through issue-based cells.  Volunteers interested in agriculture met during the conference and formed the agri cell.  Volunteers interested in restarting the health cell started meeting on the phone and google hangout in July.  Some highlights of health cell activities in 2016: Continue reading

Report, Uncategorized

2015 blog in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 640 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


2014 Report

Association for India’s Development

2014 Report of work: Aravinda Pillalamarri

Below is an update on my work in 2014 in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, Food Security, Rights-based Learning, Support to AID and AID Chapters, Volunteers, Projects and Publications. Continue reading


2013 Report

Association for India’s Development

2013 Report of work: Aravinda Pillalamarri


Below is a report of my work in 2013, and plans for in 2014 and beyond in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, Food Security, Consumer Awareness, Learning, Support to AID and AID Chapters, Volunteers, Projects and Publications. Continue reading

Reflections, Report

Studying Society the Sangati Way

What do children study in social studies?   Sangati is a program that encourages children to study society, starting with themselves.  Avehi-Abacus has trained teachers in more than 900 schools of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to implement this program.  I had the opportunity to visit some of the classes during their Sangati session.

The Sangati curriculum is designed with the aim of helping students make sense of their personal experiences at home and in their neighborhoods in a broader social, political and historical context.  The students I met had learned about Savitri bai Phule who worked for the cause of education for women and girls, and read stories raising caste issues such as Premchand’s Thakur ka Kuan (Thakur’s well) and Eklavya.

In the course of the discussion, the teacher asked them questions such as,

“What have been the conventional roles expected of men and women?”
“How has society changed?”
“How does education play a role?”
“Was Dronacharya a great teacher?”  (क्या द्रोणाचार्य महान गुरु थे?).
“If your teacher asked you for such a guru-dakshina what would you do?”

In their discussion we could see that while the material they discussed challenged social conventions and power structures, their ideas of how to challenge these in their own lives were yet forming and would take many more such discussions for them to articulate.
The politics of the classroom and the politics of their present reality layered upon one another, complicating the questions that the teacher asked based on the lesson.   It poignantly revealed how far the students were willing to go in challenging issues of caste and gender which we like to think are settled.
I read some of the textbooks and teacher’s guides, including descriptions of their classroom exercises designed to facilitate introspection on questions of caste and gender.  It would be interesting to try out these exercises ourselves in chapters.  There is so much that we in AID can learn from this program, as travelers along the same journey towards a just society.


Gender Equality in Our Lifetime?

Charlotte, 26 May 2013. Outside the conference room, S. Hiremath greeted me and said, “Congratulations to you and Sunita and the others for that session on gender issues. The way people spoke up and shared their experiences, I did not think I would see it in my lifetime! Really, hats off! How long can women endure this injustice in silence?”

The Survey, the Skit, the Session and the Silence
AID Conference 2013 at Charlotte, North Carolina

Daughter reads _The Art of Freedom_

The Survey Continue reading



Below is an overview of my work in 2012 in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, learning, support to AID chapters, projects and publications.


Jivika started as an effort to encourage consumer producer links, based on the faith that people were looking for ways to buy products that used fewer resources and supported more livelihoods in the rural areas at living wages.   We also sought to develop products that helped people live more sustainably, reducing dependence on disposables, and encouraging lifestyle choices compatible with a greener and more peaceful world.    We also wanted to see that half the revenues from sales went to the producers and not more than half went into marketing and shipping the products, so as to reign in the ecological footprint and the income-gap reflected in the overall enterprise.

Though it was difficult to meet all the criteria in any given product we kept these guidelines in mind while developing and marketing products.  This has limited the range of products that we make, the kinds of materials we use and the ways that we can sell and accept payment.  Because we want consumers to be linked with the people involved in bringing the product into their hands, we have not pursued online sales, which would in effect remove the person closest to the point of sale.   Typically people see products on the AID website or at a table at an event and volunteers talk to the customer, either via email or in person, before closing the sale.   Even in cases where customers contact us by email, volunteers may meet the customer in person.  These conversations form part of the outreach of jivika, to increase the amount of time that people spend thinking about where their goods come from and their role in building a sustainable world and examining the power of their purse to impact social and environmental justice.

Working with the Srikakulam team we are training tailors and young women learning to sew in making some of the unique products in our line that are also simple for novice tailors to produce.  These include baby slings, menstrual pads and cloth bags, where size specifications are not as exacting as they are for ready-to-wear garments.   Those who do well will be assigned loose-fitting clothes such as the khadi hoodie or pyzama.

At an AID wide level, more of our partner organizations are supplying fair trade goods.  We need to develop some criteria for adoption of products.  While not all products will meet all criteria, we can expect every product to meet at least, say, three criteria of social and environmental responsibility in order to be marketed via AID.

Fair trade:  We have been producing and marketing products that help support sustainable living and livelihoods.  These include khadi kurtas and other popular garments, nursing kurtas,  baby slings, and cloth menstrual pads.

Products for sustainable living

  • -energy-saving “EZ Cooker,”
  • “anytime-anywhere” nursing kurta,
  • “no need to whisper” menstrual pads
  • “say no to plastic” cloth bags.

I have taken these products to the weekly organic farmers’ market in Mumbai.   Three large EZ Cookers are in use every week at the organic cafe which is part of the farmers’ market.

AID Publications

Maharashtra Nature Park

AID 2013 Calendars at Maharashtra Nature Park

I continued uploading AID resources on the AID website as well as Twiki and AID Gallery and helped volunteers and chapters access these for various publications.

Our 2013 Calendar highlighted the role of bicycles in diverse aspects of sustainable development, including health, environment, transportation, education and livelihoods. I worked with publications team and fundraising team, including Vinod, Rishi,  Sai, Shilpa, Naga, Dushyant, Mona and others.

We printed 5000 copies of the calendar in the United States and 1000 copies in India.  Some of these were used for a physics conference in Pune and others were sent to AID India Chapters for local awareness.

AID Cares

As part of the campaign to bring sustainable agriculture into our every practice, also known as AID Cares, I table at the organic farmers’ market in Mumbai, and raise awareness of the same in local and like-minded circles.

Women’s Issues

Gender Footprint:  Following the AID Conference of 2008, I sought a way to connect the micro and macro components of gender bias and violence.  This connection becomes all the more urgent when gender issues come to public attention, as they did at the end of 2012.  It was vital to ensure that outrage did not reinforce people took the opportunity to introspect and begin changing from within, as well as recognizing violence inherent in social and political structures.   The Campaigns team issued a statement and sent the same to the Justice Verma Commission, appointed to issue recommendations to address violence against women and gender justice.

Srinadh reminded the group that this could be “a moment to ask questions of ourselves and each other not just authorities.”  Reviving the ongoing gender discussions that have ebbed and flowed within AID, the publications team started planning to raise the issue in the newsletter and at an AID wide level.

Piya Chatterji reflected the hopes of many volunteers who took part in the discussion in the conclusion of one of her messages:  “And I hope that AID might be able to open up forums of discussion around these issues in a more systematic way.”  I plan to work on this in the coming years.


The work closest to my heart is currently on the periphery of mainstream and even of prominent alternative development programs.    My approach has been slow and steady, seeking partners who are involved at the ground level and also sounding out communities that have the potential to be involved and benefit from the kinds of interventions.

These involve health and education through what can be termed a natural, community based and continuum approach that connects how we are born to how we nourish the body and mind.

Women’s Rights in Birth

In January when I presented birth stories of a few rural women at the Bangalore Birth conference I noted that much of the knowledge that they had gained through non-textual sources was being rediscovered and made available to those who rely on textual sources for learning.  In the transfer from the non-literate to the literate, the knowledge had become expensive, affordable to the few and leaving the majority who had sustained that knowledge over generations, now deprived and dependent on inferior systems and services.

Slow Learning

In February I presented my newfound concept of slow learning at the Learning Societies Conference which took place in the village of Jhadpoli, in Vikramgadh Tehsil in Maharashtra.  The session was well received and led to further exploration of this approach to learning.

Slow learning recognizes the learning that takes place because something else was not learned.  The “something else” typically belongs to a standard roster of learning outcomes, already known and classified according to the knowledge system in the community prevailing around the learner.  While not learning this prevailing knowledge, the learner explores other knowledge, with a freedom that depends precisely on the inability of the prevailing community to recognize and classify that knowledge.  The learner pursues knowledge as if doing it for the first time in history, regardless of its value or correctness in the prevailing knowledge system.

Therefore while typical education programs may have a checklist of learning outcomes that will be used to evaluate the learners, with more checked items indicating more learning and in turn greater success of the program, slow learning looks between and beneath the checked items to the inner curriculum driving the learning of the child.  In this sense, the fewer checked items, the more space for this inner curriculum to grow.

Slow learning empowers the learner over the learned and honours what is not learned and what is not readily recognized as learning by prevailing knowledge systems.

Examples are given in Slow Learning, published on the pages of Swashikshan: Indian Association of Homeschoolers.


January 2012  Birth India Conference.  I presented on Birth Stories and the advocacy, training and empowerment required to ensure that women have the right to informed and healthy birth experiences.

May 2012 AID Conference.  Took part in sessions on Projects, Publications, Campaigns and Internships.

August 2012 Northeast Unschooling Conference.  I presented on Multigenerational Living and Learning, a practice that has until recently been the norm around the world but is threatened by current trends in education and labour.

December 2012 – World Breastfeeding Conference.  I presented on the topic of Forgotten Foods:  Tradition, Nutrition and the Price of Memory.  The video is here: “Forgotten Foods” presentation at World Breastfeeding Conference Delhi.

Visiting AID Chapters

Along with Ravi I visited San Francisco Bay Area, Baltimore, Maryland, Boston, Albany, Amherst and other chapters.  We worked with volunteers and spoke with community supporters to help explain the way AID works, what makes the work effective, and how they could participate in supporting the work.  In Boston, Seattle and Maryland the chapter also hosted a fundraising dinner where we spoke with community supporters.

In Seattle along with Sunitha and Murthy and Madhavi we met with some local members of the community to seek donations.  We got some thoughtful suggestions and feedback on our awareness materials.



Below is a summary of my work in 2011 in the following areas:  Jivika, Women’s Health, support to AID chapters, projects and publications.




Since the production unit in Orissa has not been running we have approached tailors in Ponduru and Santakavita area of Srikakulam District to make khadi products.  We are working to improve production quality and train new tailors.    Earlier we were relying on already trained tailors but they have so much work already that they aren’t interested in getting trained for new designs.  Though a good government training program exists, it requires full day commitment for three months and daily travel to Etcherla.  Though the program also covers trainees expenses, we haven’t found people ready to go through that program and then get trained in our designs, so we need to set up a local program in the village with timings that are convenient for the trainees.


We have been supplying the Jivika products to chapters and individuals who order them and taking to meetings and in Mumbai, to the weekly organic farmer’s market.

Current Product Line includes:

  • Hoodies, kurtas (men’s, women’s, children’s), pyjamas, yoga pants

  • Cloth menstrual pads

  • Shopping bags & vegetable bags – to say NO to plastic bags


When in Mumbai, I attend the farmers market to promote Jivka products and to connect with organic farmers, rural workers, fair trade workers and promoters, and concerned members of the public.  Apart from products, the Weekly Farmer’s Market provides a space for community voices, in the form of petitions, poetry readings, dance and recently hosted one event in the Seed Festival.


EZ Cooker promotion is going on at village and urban level.  YouTube Performer Wilbur Sargunaraj profiled the EZ Cooker when he visited Mumbai.

Wilbur Sargunaraj presents the EZ Cooker – YouTube


Women’s Health


Goal: To articulate and advocate for a rights-based model of birth for all women in India.


Along with Dr. Supriya Kumar, in 2010 I started talking to mothers, midwives, doctors, health workers about how mothers decide where and how and with whose assistance to give birth.   We have spoken on the phone to women in a number of organizations throughout India and I have spoken in person to women in Srikakulam District, and also with women from Badwani (MP) and Mozda (Gujarat).  When speaking with health workers, we sought to understand the impact of conditional cash transfer schemes such as Janani Surakhsa Yojana (JSY) in the decision making process as well as on the birth outcome.  We have kept notes of our conversations.  I have been meeting others working in the field, including a team of doctors in Mumbai doing a formal study of birth experiences in Municipal Hospitals.


At this stage I am not drawing conclusions but only seeking to hear from women and health workers about their experiences and perceptions on the place of women’s rights in women’s health, particularly with respect to reproduction.   These will inform the way in which women can collectively advocate for health policies that respect women’s rights.


In November I submitted an abstract on Women’s Birth Stories to Birth India conference held in Bangalore in January 2012.   I am concerned about the decline of social and institutional support structures that enable midwives to work effectively with women giving birth.  Part of the work required for reversing this decline is rebuilding confidence in women’s bodies and women’s knowledge systems.  These in turn impact breastfeeding, a critical factor in the the health of women and children.


Although the value of breastfeeding is well known traditionally as well as scientifically,  powerful commercial interests work against this natural and normal way of feeding a baby.   Therefore women need support from social and health institutions that are independent of these interests.  Women’s health must be firmly linked to women’s rights as well as right to health and right to food initiatives.  To explore ways of working with these ideas in practice, I am meeting people from organizations such as Birth India, Society of Midwives, and Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India.  Some of the upcoming conferences through which I hope to identify appropriate partners to get more involved in this field are:


  • National Bioethics Conference (initiative of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics)

  • National Conference of Society of Midwives India | Site

  • World Breastfeeding Conference, December 7-9 | Site



Support to AID Projects


I helped communicate with AID chapters regarding Rural Development Service Society work in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts towards effective implementation of MGNREGA, translating the report and proposal and questions coming from the chapter during review.


In February Ravi and I visited villages where tribal families from Chhattisgarh had settled in Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh.   In March, at the invitation of Center for Social Justice (Ahmedaad), along with Gandhibabu of ASDS, Suresh of AID-Hyderabad and others, I attended a consultation at the Planning Commission office in Delhi with the aim of bringing the concerns of Internally Displaced people before those who would be developing India’s 12th plan.  Groups from Kashmir, NorthEast, and Gujarat also presented the issues of the internally displaced communities of their region.   Prior to our session there was a consultation with representatives of Primitive Tribal Groups, and we attended that as well. We had an opportunity to see the Approach Paper that the committee prepared after this consultation.  I was disappointed that it did not reflect the major concerns or basic perspectives on development and displacement that we and other groups had put forth.  Other members of the group with more experience with the Planning Commission, such as Gagan Sethi, opined that acknowledging the presence of Internally Displaced Persons was itself a considerable step forward and one should not undervalue that.


Srikakulam:  Apart from Jivika and Women’s Health, I have been involved in supporting the teams in nutrition distribution, kitchen gardening, and children’s libraries.  We are trying to transfer some of the skills from the village coordinators to the SHG groups so that they take over activities such as marketing hayboxes and menstrual pads.



US Chapter Visits:


In May, we attended AID conference in Boston and stayed to meet supporters and people working like-minded organizations, and to work with Boston chapter volunteers.  In June-July we visited chapters in Boise, Maryland, Charlotte and Duke.   In contrast to holding a concert and using the space in the brochure or the time in the interval to talk about AID, donor dinner allowed us along with volunteers to make a direct appeal to the community with substantial information not only on specific projects needing funds but about the connected nature of AID work on development issues through projects, campaigns and chapter level work.   The format also allowed opportunity for interaction, bridging the gap between volunteers and community members, who rather than attending as “audience” felt like fellow travellers in the common cause.  The time was also useful for addressing issues that community donors but could not resolve through local chapter or phone / email.




AID Archival Material:  Prior to the annual conference, Kavita from Boston sent an appeal asking those to those who had documents, photos, audio and video recordings pertaining to AID projects, campaigns or chapter activities to bring them or bring a list / summary of what they had.  At the conference, we formed a small team to look into preserving the material and making it accessible.   Our goal was to store, catalogue and index these materials.   We could not make progress during the time I was there.   Veena Krishnakumar offered to start the process of digitizing the materials.   She was not able to start this in 2011 but has offered to start in 2012.   It is very important that we digitize and protect these materials so that they are not lost and equally important to make them so that we have continuity with prior work, and learning from past.  This work will need more concentrated and sustained effort.


In Boston, we met with volunteers to record songs of people’s movements.  Unfortunately due to a technical error the recordings were not saved.  I have requested volunteers to redo this and save and upload the recording so that we can add it to the Archive of People’s Movement Songs on the AID website.  The songs reflect people’s analysis and perspective on social and political issues, in a voice, language and idiom that is not reflected in most news media or history books that visitors to AID website normally read.  Having the audio along with the lyrics will enable visitors to hear and learn the songs and carry the message further.


AID Calendar


For the twentieth year of AID the 2012 calendar showcased various AID projects as well as AID chapter activities.  I worked on getting photos and preparing text, stored in Calendar2012  twiki pages.  As usual, Publications & Fundraising team worked together to produce this and distribute it to chapters and donors.



Plan 2012


Jivika – Along with Srikakulam team we will train new tailors and streamline the process of producing Jivika products on demand.


In Srikakulam our team will involve local SHGs in the process of marketing EZ Cookers and cloth pads, and create online training and support resources for other organizations wishing to make these products, to supplement or substitute for onsite training by our team.  Along with Peter Bakos we will train more local tailors to make Jivika Khadi products so that we can have regular supply of consistent quality.


I will continue to work on a rights based approach to health, focusing on birth and nutrition, including breastfeeding.  I will continue to be involved in building consumer-producer links in the area of food through Mumbai Farmer’s Market and other initiatives.  I would also like to expose lies broadcast via food advertising and see that companies are not allowed to make false claims regarding health impacts of the food they are marketing.


Following AID conference I will be in the US till September, to visit chapters and also to work on AID archives and current media efforts.   I need to work with volunteers in the US to set up the process for archiving, cataloguing and indexing AID materials.  We will also need human resources to do the work once the process is set up.    I also plan to take forward the work in recording songs of People’s Movements, both in India and in the US.  In 2003-04 we recorded songs and compiled them, along with oral  commentary by Medha Patkar, in audio cassette and CD format.  Now I plan to distribute the recordings online through the AID website, adding some contextual information as well as lyrics and translation, to encourage more people to learn and sing the songs.  This will help to keep alive our links to the oral tradition of transmitting people’s history and social and political thoughts.


Early discussions indicate that upcoming calendars are likely to feature people and goods in motion – headloads, wheels, mass transit.  Another popular theme option is festivals, performance and theatre.   I will work with Publications and Fundraising Teams to produce the calendar and other awareness and outreach materials.



Goal: to strengthen support for paths of learning outside of the government or private sector school system, pursued in addition to or instead of the standard school system, either by conscious choice or due to inaccessibility / inadequacy of the school system.



Along with Homeschool groups in Mumbai and Pune, as well as at the Learning Societies Conference, using information obtained from the Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD, we are working to raise awareness of alternate learning paths, improve their accessibility for all, and to nurture the connections between formal and informal learning.  I have listed the various support groups available.  I plan to attend these conferences:


  • Learning Societies Conference in Jhadpoli, Maharashtra – March 2012 | site

  • All India Homeschoolers Meet – July 2012 | site

  • Northeast Unschooling Conference – August 2012 | site


In the long term, I would like to work on critical pedagogy, to help education and literacy achieve their potential to act as tools of empowerment.  Today we see them promoting conformity and consumerism.  Right to Education, however, must not only mean right to be admitted in a school and consume the information and ideas dictated, but right to ask questions and actually learn without fear while in the school.  Outside of school, children do ask questions, question the answers, and even question the questions.  Unfortunately in school, the vast majority of students get little time or space to ask or even answer questions in their own words.   Their role is to reproduce the answers provided to them.  Children who step outside of this expected role will typically be punished by a bad mark, humiliation or even physical punishment.   There is no grievance redressal mechanism for children whose right to education is violated in this way.


I would like to explore ways to introduce theories and practices commonly associated with homeschoolers to school-goers as well as in environments where children are not attending school because there is no school available or because they are unable to get admission.  This is not to suggest that they forgo their efforts to get admission.   But just as we have found that farmers are more receptive to trying out new techniques following a disaster, and have used that opportunity to shift from conventional, chemical-based farming to organic, self-reliant farming, something along the same lines may work for education.   Similarly, just as a farmer can try organic techniques in part of the field, a family can explore practices of free learning, slow learning, and independent study, if they are prepared to free some of the time and mental space currently occupied by conventional education.


I am also working on a series of books for children that draw on traditional knowledge, local heritage and rural culture.  I hope to have these beautifully illustrated and published in Indian languages.

Selected References



Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, May, 2009


Naomi Baumslag and Dia L. Michels. Milk, Money and Madness.  Bergin & Garvey, 1995.


Stephen S Lim PhD, Prof Lalit Dandona MD, Joseph A Hoisington BS, Spencer L James BS, Margaret C Hogan MS, Dr Emmanuela Gakidou PhD, “India’s Janani Suraksha Yojana, a conditional cash transfer programme to increase births in health facilities: an impact evaluation,” The Lancet, Volume 375, Issue 9730, Pages 2009 – 2023, 5 June 201


DILEEP MAVALANKAR, KRANTI VORA and BHARATI SHARMA, Strengthening Midwifery Services, Seminar Issue 604