Ahmedabad Visit Travel Notes – Day One

Posted by on Jan 6, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

[Editor’s note: Stephanie Brown was a participant of this year’s tour, she has been journaling at her ShutterFly photo blog where she has posted many more images that she and her father Jerry took]

The Gandhi Legacy tour is a J-term course option at Salisbury University in Maryland.  One of our tour members, Anthony, attended as a SU graduate student last year and came back this year to bring his fiancé, Katie.  Half seriously they started talking about getting married at the Sabarmati Ashram during the tours Ahmedabad visit.  Arun caught wind of it and started making the preparations including re-writing the vows that his Grandfather once used to be relevant to the times.  Anthony and Katie picked out wedding clothes during a market excursion in Kolhapur and the wedding was planned to take place shortly after we arrived at the ashram.  It was a beautiful, simple ceremony.

Aerial view of Ahmedabad on Sabarmati River

Ahmedabad Day 1

Our first train experience was an overnight ride from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.  I thought this might be a good opportunity to get caught up with journaling and photo edits but since we did not board until after 10pm it was lights out after we settled in.  I slept remarkably well in my very hard upper berth and was pretty well rested when we arrived just before 7am. 

sabarmati ashram entranceAfter a quick breakfast and change of clothes at our hotel we set off for the Sabarmati Ashram and one of the great surprises of our trip.

The Sabarmati Ashram is actually the second site used in Ahmedabad.  The first was much closer to town but was limited in space and was abandoned after plague broke out in the city.  The second site, on the bank of the Sabarmati River was built to the needs of the community.  Gandhi called Sabarmati Ashram home until he set off on the Salt March to Dandi in 1930.  The ashram included paper making and spinning/weaving training centers the were created to further Gandhi’s belief in local production and self sustainability (swadeshi).  These buildings are now used by an organization called Manav Sadhna.

sabarmati ashram buildingWe had lunch with the staff and volunteers after coming together for multi-faith prayers, many of which were the same as Gandhi once used in the Ashram.  One of the founders of Manav Sadhna explained how he was inspired to work with the slum dwelling children of the local sanitation workers, so-called Untouchables.  They have a craft room and a residential school on sight, and within the slums they provide preschool care, support for basic health and dental needs, educational and food programs for school age children.  Their reach is phenomenal feeding more than 8000 children per day!

Manav Sadhna Children making Post cardsManav Sadhna has a unique ‘learning while earning program’ for kids, which provides them a safe haven from street life, a means to generate income, and the inspiration and motivation to further educate themselves. This program, however, is not limited to kids, but reaches out to women, elderly, and various artists in the Gujarati area. 

The backbone of this program are the handmade greeting cards, which are designed and sold by Manav Sadhna, and executed by the kids or adults. Currently, Manav Sadhna has over 100 designs, and has such specialty cards as Gandhi, Diwali, and Christmas cards. As of now, these items are sold through social marketing, word of mouth basically. On average, Manav Sadhna makes 25,000 cards each year. Recently there was an order for 30,000 card from various Indian Government organizations.

Manav Sadhna Happy Children eatingIn addition to greeting cards, Manav Sadhna makes other items such as bed sheets, pillow covers, clay pottery, as well as various ethnic Indian clothing. Manav Sadhna is in the process of developing a printed catalog to display these items. 

Obviously the resources needed to accomplish this work are significant.  It was quite apparent from the conditions of the facilities, etc that this organization is very well funded…in India that is typically a reason for some suspicion.  We learned in our debrief discussion that one of the founding members of the organization has family ties to the right wing Hindu party.  These connections are likely behind the the support and publicity that Manav Sadhna receives.  While this is not a reason to discount the good work being done it provided us with a very interesting glimpse into the importance of political connections in this country.