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In Pune’s Yerawada, This Project Is Creating Spaces For Mindfulness

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The learners at Rootwards.

The problem is that the need to change yourself is fundamentally a kind of aggression towards yourself.” 

The words echo across flowers knitted on an Instagram screen among running streets and sunsets. Rootwards, as the name of the collection suggests, is moving towards the roots of one’s being. Started in 2018 in Rashmi English Medium School in the low-income community of Yerawada near Yerawada Jail in Pune, India, Rootwards is a project that envisions an ecosystem owned by a more self-aware community.

“Life wisdom is present within all living beings,” says Anupriya Tripathi, the founder of the program and a facilitator in mindfulness. “We need to get in touch with that, something that I feel has been forgotten. Well-being is about how you can use your body and mind to get into a sense of wholeness because where we are trying to reach is undefinable.”

Between 1990 and 2013, the burden of depression among students in India had increased by 67% and is projected to jump to another 22.5% by 2025.

Rootwards is a program that, although being child-centric, focuses on the educators (teachers and parents). It believes that the problem of education and awareness lies more with the educators than the kids. In that capacity, it allows the teachers and parents to be mindful of their inner selves. By doing so, it focuses on their personhood and that of the children, moving beyond the mere roles they’re caught up in.

“I have found that things affect students not just within a classroom but also in the whole environment within a school,” says Anupriya. In the last one year, the program has been closely working with many educators, students, and guardians who are the key stakeholders affecting education in Yerawada. The program offers workshops, sessions, and one-on-one interventions in the community, which is widely famous for its civic problems, uneven educational opportunities, and residents being prone to drugs and violence.

The learners during the session.

The residents of Yerawada are part of a diverse range of religions, hierarchies, and castes including the Maratha, Brahmin, Dalit, Marwari, Maratha Kunbi, and Lingayat communities. The project provides an intervention of approximately 5 to 7 hours every day in a week at the school to the students and teachers.

With Rootwards, many like-minded initiatives started a community centre for the mothers and kids from Yerawada towards building a more conscious community. Today, Rootwards has impacted over 120 people, who are an amalgamation of individuals coming from all hierarchies and races at Yerawada.

Rootwards majorly works with the women of the community. Around 95% of the total number of people that Anupriya works with are women, the majority of them being mothers and teachers of the students. Given the dynamics of the pink collar jobs that the women are involved in, they are relatively more accessible during most part of weekdays to participate in the program.

“While it is true that reaching out to the women is easier because of their work schedule, they are the crucial stakeholders affecting the community that we need to think about and work with,” says Anupriya. “Women spend a good amount of time with their husbands and children, and also have jobs within communities which make them very important. The teachers at the school that I work with are women, who are also important stakeholders directly influencing their students.” Rootwards is also planning to work with men once a month.

“I am grateful to Rootwards because it taught me the power of compassion,” says Anjali Mallen, a teacher at Rashmi English Medium School. “I have become more patient with my students, and feel closer to my colleagues at school without religious and caste differences. With little attention received from my family, I felt that nobody values me. But the program makes me believe that I matter. Unlike in the past, we look forward to going to school every day.”

Children learning at Rootwards.

“I have begun to understand the needs of people around me and calm myself during a crisis,” says Mamta Rajendra Thanvi, a resident of Yerawada. “I have shifted from hitting my sons to a new way of dealing with misbehaviour, and we also have a much better relationship as a family.”

On asking about the program’s contribution to the communal challenges, Tushar Thanvi, a 10th grader in the community speaks about different perspectives. “I have not only learned how to control my feelings when I am angry but also understand where others come from. Our sessions also focus on identifying problems in our surroundings and attempting to fix them which has added to my thought process.”

Rootwards’ purpose of enhancing mainstream education is tied to Anupriya’s life experiences. Throughout her journey since childhood, she has been through distressing experiences physically, mentally, and emotionally, which seemed to draw her closer to her inner self. She began to touch into her true essence, which was vast, quiet, loving, and ever-present through these life challenges.

“I eventually realized that what I deeply care about is the person within each one of us.” She feels that the evolution of her work, is deeply embedded in her personal experiences. Even now, the personal provides the necessary insight into the work. Therefore, it is all simply a way of living and the work is not divorced from who she is as a person.

“I started working with staff and parents due to them being at the centre of crisis than kids themselves. And how their sensitization could lead to the kids’ needs of a holistic support being met and healthily modeled.”

In an age of focusing on expansions of projects, the silent story of Rootwards creates an example of collaborating within network and in-depth immersion in a single community. Research shows that with rapidly evolving challenges faced by society, a collaborative network drives the potential of value creation.

Through immersive interventions, Yerawada is gradually walking on the pathway of mindfulness amidst the communal chaos that tries tripping it away. This trajectory, while being rewarding, has also been acknowledged by Rootwards as a challenge for making an effective mark. “Mindfulness is a new concept for the residents of Yerwada with the on-going issues,” mentions Anupriya.

“The sessions also need to be more customized since they are need-based. I prioritize interest, depth, and understanding of the participants. Hence, I am selective about my audience. The factors add depth to my work and make it certain to achieve my vision but they also indicate that it will be a long journey for me to do that.”

With the approach of identifying self-identities, Rootwards plans to align with more like-minded  schools and collaborative projects to deepen its understanding while it works in closely knitted communities. “At some point, I’ll also plan to have more people onboard who align with the vision,” says Anupriya.

Yerawada is simply a live representation of a 2002 report that depicted the place “as a bunch of slums with a large number of people packed in small spaces frequently creating problems.” However, with every passing day, the residents strive to dismantle it and create a more compassionate and mindful community. Perhaps, the purpose of this silent program is to identify those many segregated hearts hidden inside Yerawada and put them together into one.

Note: the challenges and dynamics of Yerawada have been confirmed by its residents and workers. The information about Rootwards in this article has been confirmed by the founder and the members. 

Featured image provided by author.
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