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issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

The Rural Changemaker Published by we-magazine · · · Editor: Ulrike Reinhard · Layout: Bea Gschwend

Entrance of Villa Janwaar, our new community centre.

Villa Janwaar By Ulrike Reinhard

Maybe some of you remember Pippi Longstocking. Pippi is the main character in an eponymous series of children’s books by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is red-haired, freckled, unconventional and superhumanly strong – able to lift her horse one-handed. She is playful and unpredictable. She often makes fun of unreasonable adults, especially if they are pompous and condescending. Her anger comes out in extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats his horse.

Pippi lives in a small Swedish village, sharing her house “Villa Villekulla” with her monkey named Mr. Nilsson, and her horse – but no adults or relatives. Villa Janwaar reminds me a lot of Pippi and Villa Villekulle. A place where nothing seems impossible and the most unexpected things are happening. Located in the centre of Janwaar it quickly became our new epicentre and stands by no means in the shadow of the skatepark. In con-

trary it beautifully complements the park. A whole new bunch of kids got introduced to our work and they deeply enjoy all the activities. Even when there is nothing going on – they come. They’ve understood the place is theirs and they’ve taken ownership. They love it and they keep it clean. For many it has become the place where they go first in the morning. They hang out in the surrounding garden, play cricket, overuse the swings which are hanging from the

If you want to support our activities in Janwaar please donate to: The Rural Changemakers e.V. · Vereinsregister Berlin · Amtsgericht Charlottenburg · VR 36642 B Finanzamt für Körperschaften I Berlin · St.-Nr. 27/678/57308 Berliner Sparkasse · IBAN: DE44 1005 0000 0190 7388 98 BIC: BELADEBEXXX · Paypal:

Imli tree or try to make their first moves on a skateboard on the huge concrete platform we call our own in the neighbouring property. We are proud of our growing library, music instruments, paints and pencils. Sometimes the kids listen to music and relax in the adult– and work-free place. And once in a while we have video screenings – it’s then when the entire village comes together. No one is telling the kids what to do, they don’t have to ask for permission if they want to do something. And the kids themselves are the guardians of the keys. When ever I want to get in and no one is there – I have to look for the one who has the keys. It’s kids paradise. The Villa was given to us by the former sarpanch (head of a village) of the village last year. We only pay a marginal rent. We have two rooms upstairs with a huge veranda, a bigger room downstairs where we broke through the wall – and a huge yard. We renovated the house, made it more open and designed the yard. Now we have quite some outdoor space where we can sit and work. For us Villa Janwaar is a huge gift. It fulfils so many functions. Besides the experimental and self-learning we practise there, the most important function is its social function. At the Villa Adivasi and Yadav come together, older and younger kids, once in a while parents stop by – all on eyelevel. There is no one who has the say – except the kids. It has created the sense of one community. It’s so lovely to hear the villagers say: “Villa Janwaar”. They don’t use any Hindi word for it. It’s The Villa. It has become part of their lives and an icon of their new identity. Just like the skatepark.

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Disruptive. Disobedient. Different. By Ulrike Reinhard

Many people have been asking me what makes our model in Janwaar so successful and visible. I believe it’s these three attributes: Disruptive. Disobedient. Different.

Ramkesh jumping over a hurdle while the board is rolling below.

Disruptive Disruption is needed to unlock a “closed” system and get it out of balance. When something gets out of balance it’s starts to move. And movement is needed for change. The closed system in our case is the village. The skatepark disrupted it like nothing else before and slowly the kids started to move. Now it’s them who drive their village forward and who’ve become the trigger for change. We encourage disobedience You don’t win a Nobel Prize if you do what you’ve been told to do. So a healthy degree of disobedience is required. We encourage our kids to ask questions, explore and experiment, push boundaries and enter unchartered territory. They should never take things for granted and don’t take no for an answer. DISOBEDIENCE in its true sense is learning. Here are 10 reasons why we are different 1. We don’t compete. 2. We create WITH the people FOR the people, meaning we don’t pre-define programs. We just let things emerge. 3. We create and believe in networks, not in hierarchies. 4. We focus on solutions in a collaborative process. 5. We celebrate pull- and avoid push-strategies. 6. We completely rely on social media – mainly Facebook. We provide content and tell meaningful stories. 7. We’ve had our fight with the establishment early, and we won. 8. We’ve created a collective good with added value for everyone. 9. We share. 10. We are built to become obsolete. If we do our “job” right – we won’t be needed one day. 2

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

REMOTE. The Rural Changemakers of Janwaar. By Shail Desai / First published March 10, 2018 on and has been reproduced with permission.

It’s been three years since a skatepark came up in an obscure village in central India. Or, if one actually made the long-yet-picturesque trip to Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh, in the middle of nowhere. The facility, called Janwaar Castle, has raised a new generation of rural changemakers, who have left an impression on the rest of the country and across the world with their enthusiasm and talent. And each time they rolled out on a skateboard this bunch took on the onus of bringing about change around them. What was once a closed environment, resistant to any change that came its way, is today an open sandbox, ready for experimentation and moving in a direction that hopes to set an example for other similar rural communities. The journey over these years has been charmingly captured by the founder, Ulrike Reinhard, in the book REMOTE. The Rural Changemakers of Janwaar, with stunning visuals of Janwaar made mostly by ace photographer, Vicky Roy. “It was important to document how people see what is happening in Janwaar. From the kids to the villagers, people who have been volunteering with us, as well as visitors, this book captures their experience,” Reinhard says. “REMOTE, because that’s exactly where we are, in the middle of nowhere!” she laughs. At the start of the book, Reinhard explains what brought her to India and what it took to set up the skatepark. That, essentially, was the easy part; the bigger challenge was to expose the villagers to change, and more importantly, get them to embrace it. “Look at the smaller villages in India, they are a part of a very rigid, traditional set up. Without movement, there will never be change, so you need to shake them up and get them moving. This is essentially what the skatepark has done,” she says. The model on which Janwaar Castle was set up was an open process, where anyone could plug-in and play, with

no predefined program that focussed on a particular issue. Additionally, having previously worked in the field, Reinhard used the power of networks. “You see huge companies like Cisco which embrace these network models and allow their employees to decide where they want to see their company in the next few years. It’s the same with Janwaar – the villagers must drive it forward. When I saw someone in the village move, we would define a single individual learning pass for him. But it was designed in such a way that it gave back to the community.

who’ve been out, have really taken up the responsibility of being role models. They’ve become leaders in their own community, trying to give back to the village through their own learning and experience. “Besides” being selfconfident and open to interaction, they are also ready to deal with failure, which I think is great,” Reinhard says. Then, there is the issue of network connectivity, which restricts the scope of operation, especially when it comes to education and learning. For instance, Internet access could bring in

data from the village. We can now see who is eligible for which scheme. Our next step is to file these applications, which will have a direct and immediate impact on the village. Take a widow, for example, who benefits from it – some money will make her life a little bit easier,” Reinhard says. “It was also very intense learning for the volunteers involved. To understand how big the gap is between their smartphones and the data that its collecting is the first step towards closing this gap,” she says.

YOU CAN ORDER THE BOOK by sending an email to

THE E-BOOK IS AVAILABLE ON The vision was to uplift the lives of the villagers in Janwaar,” she explains. The biggest challenge for Reinhard and her team was to not interfere too much, and instead, step back and observe the direction in which the change was progressing. It all started with the kids – all too eager to learn and pull off the latest tricks on a skateboard. Over a period of time, some of them stepped up to show different abilities – from creative arts to vocational skills, which were honed by various experts across India. A few even had the opportunity to step out of Janwaar for the first time and observe the world outside. While three boys rolled out on skateboards across Europe for over five weeks, Asha had the opportunity to spend a month in England. “I’m really happy to say that these kids

essential tools such as the ‘School in the Cloud’ founded by Sugata Mitra, or help tap into the volunteer network around the world, who are happy to work with the kids on various subjects every once in a while. The lack of infrastructure hasn’t stopped Janwaar Castle from growing. One of the key initiatives that was taken up last year was the data project. A team of volunteers walked into the 130-odd households in Janwaar and gathered socio-economic data – right from what they did for a living, the number of members in each household, their income and how they spent it and if they had Aadhar cards. They then looked up the various schemes offered by the state and central government and created a programme to match the data. “So on one hand, we have government schemes, and then, the

Then, there are the six homestays that have been set up to accommodate visitors and give them a taste of rural life, as well as skateboarding. This in turn, has ensured cleanliness and hygiene, especially when it comes to sanitation. For some of the villagers, it has also translated to more income than their regular jobs. “In such a place, progress is when people start thinking about another future. They have started realising that village life has some clear advantages, after interacting with outsiders. This is helping them create their own identities and they take pride in their village today. It is what you need to prevent migration. If we succeed a little more in creating opportunities, things will change for the better,” she says.


issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Skatepark Stories By Mannan Gupta / Ulrike Reinhard

The Tony Hawk Foundation is embarking on a new initiative to seek out stories from skatepark communities. They want to hear how skateboarding has affected the life of young skateboarders in a meaningful way and posted three questions: 1 WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? 2 HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? 3 WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? I’ve told these questions to our kids and yes, they felt challenged. They recorded videos of each other and answered the questions. The answers are very simple and we’ve hardly done any editing.

Selen Singh Yadav / 15 years old

Vinay Adivasi / 11 years old

Priyanka Yadav / 14 years old

Arun Adivasi / 15 years old

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? I think that there should be many more skateparks and bigger competitions like the one happened in November 2016.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? When I come to the skatepark, I feel very good. When I skateboard I feel like I am flying.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? I feel very good when everyone plays with me. We play together.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? It feels good. When people come from outside, we interact with them. From some we learn new tricks which feels good. Some people come to see how we skate and spread our story to far off places. They spread awareness about our village.

HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? I can speak better English now. The way we live our lives has improved. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? Because of skateboarding, I went to Jaipur to participate in street play in the Jaipur Literature Festival. I enjoyed it a lot there.

HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? Before the skatepark was built I never went to the school. After the skatepark was built I started to go to school everyday and I started focussing on my studies. No school, no skateboarding. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? A skateboarding competition happened in our village. People from far away came and I was also there.

HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? I learned that we should not fight, help everyone and go to school. Earlier I didn’t go to school and spoke very rudely to others. Ever since the skatepark I speak well to others and am also able to learn well. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? In 2016 a competition happened in our village. Just one day before the competition, I fell while jumping (ollie) and injured my head. At first I thought I would not be able to participate. But I kept trying and even won a skateboard.

Asha Gond / 18 years old WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT SKATEBOARDING? My favorite thing about skatebarding is “olie”. HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? I’m not afraid of people any more. Girls in the village get married very early. Because of skateboarding I will not get married at an early stage. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? My favorite memories is of the first workshop on the skatepark. Because of that workshop I went to London and got so many good opportunities … 4

HOW HAVE SKATEPARKS OR SKATEBOARDING CHANGED YOUR LIFE? Before the skatepark I didn’t go to school.We made a rule – “No school No skateboarding” so I started going to school. When foreign people came we had to converse in English, so I used to sit with them and learn English. Earlier I was afraid to travel. Because of the skatepark I started travelling and now I am confident enough to travel alone. There were many things I can do on my own now. WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE AT A SKATEPARK? In 2016, a competition happened in Janwaar. People from around the world came here. I also participated. Skating with them was a lot of fun. I also w0n a competition.We enjoyed a lot with them – danced and had a lot of fun. I always remember those moments.

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Inspired by Janwaar By Ananya Pratap Singh

Currently construction work for three new skateparks is going on in Dharambhanda (Odisha), Protovillage (Andhra Pradesh) and in a small village close to Udaipur (Rajasthan). All of the parks are inspired by Janwaar and the Janwaar team is actively involved in the process – we provide designs, we conduct workshops and support the local contractor with skateboarding knowledge. In Bhopal we are still a bit struggling to find the right right location – but we are on!

I always liked skateboarding as a sport – I never understood its underlying disruptive culture though. I tried roller skating in my childhood but ended up hurting myself badly. Yet, the thrill of “moving on wheels” still excites me.

Here it was: A perfect model to create change which liberates the mindset of children and triggers their imagination. It helps them to develop a sense of adventure and self expression which is truly

this day. In heated arguments they were open to listen and understand your view point. And all of this in an area where people shoot first and talk later. The biggest achievement of skatepark is the self

rather than education and degree. I also saw potential to bridge the economic differences and class divide that we face in the city. Skateboarding is an upcoming sport in India and a skatepark will attract

Today I am working as a social entrepreneur and changemaker in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. The problems I face with our existing education system are so evident and the system is so worn out that creating an alternative system was always a challenge I wanted to tackle. Inspired by educationists like Sir Ken Robinson and Noam Chomsky who put creative expression and humanities in the middle of a child-centric learning environment were clearly the principles I wanted to follow. One day a friend told me that a 60-yearold German lady, who is an avid motor biker and a passionate traveller, had built a skatepark in Janwaar, a remote village near Panna. I was born in that region, in Bundelkhand. Many people call this area the wild “Wild West” of India. It’s as pristine as orthodox and backward. The skatepark idea struck a chord with me because it was disruptive. When I first heard about it I failed to understand the magnitude of it. I read whatever I could find and I started to follow them on Facebook. And within two months time I found myself sitting across the table with Ulrike discussing the model and the problems she is facing. I had a million questions to ask. Another two months later I visited Janwaar. According to my father's method of un derstanding, you’ve to own the problem and become a part of it, I dove into Janwaar. And I can tell you it was a turbulent day. It was during Ulrike’s transition from the NGO she had left a few months earlier to set up her own unit with the help of the children and villagers. And I rapidly became part of it. This way I got connected to the “skatepark model”. I could easily see how it created an impact in the village and moreover in the mindset of the people. And most amazingly how it empowered children to drive change.

Photo by Snehdip Biswas: Skateboarding at Janwaar Castle on an early November morning.

creative. It inculcates humanitarian values such as gender sensitivity and mutual respect and teaches them a peaceful coexistence and love for nature. And when I stood in middle of that skatepark with kids rolling fearlessly all around me on wheels I remembered why I liked skating in my childhood. Ulrike explained me how she implemented the concept of open networks in Janwaar. What I saw is that it’s very much evident in the village how the community is evolving and how people start contributing while taking out at the same time. It’s a true game of give and take. Only those who contribute will sooner or later be capable of taking something out of it. The most exciting thing for me to understand was how without boundaries or gates the whole skatepark functioned. Knowing how India and specially rural India operates I was very sceptical. But that’s the beauty of an open network: you don’t need a gate and therefore no gate keeper. That’s crucial. It’s fundamentally challenging the “control freak” in us because at the end it makes us obsolete. To “keep it open” was the biggest catalyst to change the mindset of people I realized

learning process which it triggers. First we try to resist the disruption, we are afraid of the new, and then we try to understand it. This learning process is in full swing in Janwaar. I kept thinking about it for so long that I actually didn’t realise that I’d made the decision to build a park in Bhopal – in the city where I now live and work. The problem in our city, just like in any other tier 2 and 3 cities, is that our youth is disoriented. They study at schools which never look at the student’s interests. The colleges don’t teach how to learn and as a result the young generation is highly demotivated, has no clue about our real problems because they are only trained to get a job to survive. In our current decreasing economy the unemployment increases and when that happens the youth is easily radicalised. The outcome is alarming: class divide is deepening, gender conflicts grow in numbers, religious fundamentalism and more crime. AND I believe that the Janwaar model is capable to disrupt this equations and solve many problems that persist in an urban slum. The tone in these slums can be easily set to learning

all the kids from low as well as high economic backgrounds and there is a good opportunity to change the mentality of them and us. And at the end it might vanish the elitist approach we practice to solve social problems in the coming generations. If this model is implemented properly it will surely have a positive and harmonious impact on the urban societies. It will change the narrative into one which focusses on self learning and talent rather than just education and degree. Understanding the Janwaar skatepark model not only provided me a deeper understanding of self-learning and models which encourage that, it also gave me a deeper understanding of how to implement an open network in a community and how it could be used. All this has drastically shifted my paradigm and I am trying to use it at all levels in our social organization as well as in all up-coming projects. I am currently working to build the first skatepark here in Bhopal in an urban slum. It’s a bumpy ride and I can feel my fear in leaving my “comfort zone”. But I am so much looking forward to finally jump on a skateboard … 5

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Empowerment through Art By Katharina Kakar

Katharina is the founder of the NGO Tara Trust. Between 2008 and 2018 around 3000 free art workshops have been conducted in Goa and across. /

Group photo – the makers and shakers of Goa and Janwaar at the end of the workshop.

Ulrike and I first met in February 2017 at Art Ichol, an art space two hours away from Janwaar. A collaboration between Janwaar and Tara Trust was born soon after and in March 2018, Priscilla D’Silva from Tara Trust and two German volunteers, Nora Muenich and Antonia Fassnacht, travelled to Janwaar to live and work for two weeks with the children and villagers and conduct an art workshop. “To get to know and being involved in the life in Janwaar was an amazing experience”, says Antonia. “After only a few days I felt at home, because my host family gave me the feeling of being a part of them. I loved helping with the preparation of food. That is how I learnt to make my favorite Indian breakfast, Poha. My host family also taught me how to make chapattis. I just felt so comfortable sitting on the kitchen floor with the women of my family, listening to their chatting and observing everything around me. Soon it became my daily job to roll out the chapatti dough. With each day, 6

my chapattis became more round and were proudly shown to everybody.” For Priscilla, who grew up in an urban setting in Goa, living in a remote village, left many impressions as well. “The experience of staying in one of India's rural villages and live in the house of the villagers, observing what they do throughout the day, feeling what they feel, was truly exceptional”, she says and continues, “The culture and mindset of the elders in the village seem to be from the olden era, but they take into consideration the needs and likes of the children, at least to a certain age. There are a few children who have their parents’ full support for higher education and work. All others, thanks to Ulrike, have the opportunity to grow through the skatepark project and the activities Ulrike organizes.”

an understanding of the conservative yet open world of rural India, but also contribute with their workshop to reach out to the children. Nora says: “During one of our activities we did a warm-upgame, where one had to cross the hand of the other. Although I am conscious about the issue of caste, it still came as a real surprise to me, when one child refused to touch the hand of an Adivasi child. The following days it was incredible for me to observe, and it touched me deeply, how the kids of these different groups were playing and communicating with each other, which I feel, must be a result of the skatepark. I am looking forward to come back to this inspiring place and I am positive that the discord between Adivasi and Yadav will further lessen. The ones who can spread that message and bring change are the children!”

Our volunteers felt that it was an experience with a lasting impression that changed perceptions – their own, perhaps also of the villagers. Living with families in Janwaar allowed them to get

For the three young women, the hard and at the same time beautiful village life, made them think about the places and privileges they grew up with. During their time in Janwaar, they

created music instruments with the children. They made harmonicas, a rainmaker and guitars, drums, bamboo rattles, tap-taps and maracas – all out of discarded items. The instruments became part of a music wall to play with in the newly opened Villa Janwaar – a community house – that Ulrike is building up. They also created a vertical garden and birdhouses out of painted plastic bottles and addressed environmental issues through theater scenes. Our goal as a Trust is to empower children to build their confidence and skills, to engage in teamwork and have fun with art and music as a tool. “It was great to built the music wall together as one big group project”, says Antonia. “Many kids were involved and brought in their ideas. The outcome is beautiful and we had so much fun playing music and rhythms on the wall together.” Everyone involved truly built bridges between cultures. We will be back next year!

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Seeing is Believing Ulrike Reinhard in conversation with Eku Wand

Eku is professor for Media Design/Multimedia at the Braunschweig University of Art, Germany. His first trip to India ever led him right away to the jungles of Panna, Madhya Pradesh, where he intended to shoot 360 degree videos with the kids of Janwaar. He spent 10 days in this rural area and made quite some discoveries.

Why did you come to Janwaar? What inspired you? There are a few reasons, not only one. First of all I’ve an intrinsic motivation to look into different communities and cultures and I am curious for adventures. I am at a stage in my life where I successfully initiated and accomplished an environmental campaign in Indonesia (#SaveBangkaIsland, which went on for seven years!) and where I am ready to see and learn about other approaches how to tackle change processes and create lasting solutions. I wanted to explore other tools and methods than the ones I used in Indonesia to successfully run a project. And since I know Ulrike for so many years and followed her Janwaar Castle project closely, so I thought I will visit and see. It might help me to proceed on my own way. And then of course I wanted to share my knowledge with the kids on subjects like sketching, drawing, animation and video.

What were your first impressions of the village/the people/the kids ? I received a warm welcome. Everyone was extremely kind and open – an inviting atmosphere. I knew I would go to a rural area – but the very basic level of the living circumstances in the village were quite challenging and also surprising. I had to adjust and I had to convince myself NOT to run away but to face it and live it through. Quite an experience I’ve to say.

needs and daily fights and share these learnings with the outside world through short video snippets. To understand what is going on on the grassroots level is key to provide the help which is really needed on the ground.

How is it to “work” with the kids? For me it turned out as “another” challenge. It’s so different from teaching media design and technology to adults or students on university level – this is what I usually do. I had to let lose of the concept and plots I had in my mind and switch to what we call “found footage”, meaning the kids go out and take videos and then I compile them into a manageable portfolio.

Eku and Anikesh. Anikesh is pushing the record button on the iPad.

The good thing is that these kids are completely open. They have an “empty” mind, very naive, they have no expectations and they simply do things because they’ve fun doing it. They use technology without any premisses – they use it for what it is. So it was me who had to back down my own expectations, but honestly this took me some time to accept. After a few days I felt comfortable to look at the capabilities we have and from then onwards we were ready with our 360 degree cameras to capture a full sphere of rural life in Janwaar. My concept had changed from “covering” stories to “collecting” what we can get. And I have to say I am really excited to discover where this “found footage” will go …

What is your goal during your stay? The colours and photos of India’s tourism industry which we all see in the West are always so “clean” and beautiful. But I wanted to look behind the scenes – I want to explore and experience the basic lives of India’s rural population. I want to understand their challenges,

What was your best/worst experience in India so far? Best: I love Indian sweets. And I deeply enjoy Madhya Pradesh – it’s still so rough and wild. Worst: The dirt. 7

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

A new school in Janwaar – first step made! By Tonmoy Talukdar

In Janwaar we radically rethink the idea of a “school”. Many of us agree that the existing education system doesn’t meet the needs and knowing that good teachers won’t stay for long in such a remote area – we decided to make our Janwaar kids fit to run their own school. Together with Prakriti school in Noida we are setting up a two year program for five kids to make them fit for the purpose. The assessment Tonmoy conducted in Janwaar was the first step to achieve the goal. It’s an experiment and we are fully aware that we might fail – but out-of-the-box thinking is desperately needed to close the existing gaps and come up with something more suitable. Therefore, somewhere down the line, it’s the system that is fatally failing.

Tonmoy conducting the assessment at Villa Janwaar.

It was sometime in early July when I received a message from Ulrike – “can you give me a call – I might have a very interesting two day job for you with Prakriti’’. As she explained my job would be to help Prakriti conduct an educational assessment of a few selected kids of Janwaar. I was hooked to it right from the beginning and in the end, the only reply that I could think of was – count me in. Janwaar as a village interested me because of all the stories I had heard about it – a village I wanted to explore further. With the job in hand I felt excited. In fact, right since my school days, I would venture out and conduct such kind of assessments in some of the government schools, back in my hometown in Assam. Also to experience rural India and village life was something I was longing for since a long time. I left for Janwaar in the first week of August. After a quick tour of the village, I began with the educational assessments. It included three categories – math, language and environmental studies (evs). Right since the 8

first assessment, I knew the disappointing results that were about to show up. When it came to math, the kids faced a lot of difficulties in identifying the place value of the digits, solving the word problems, multiplication, etc. Their performance in evs was comparatively satisfactory. In the language assessments, the kids faced a lot of difficulties in reading the passages due to which, answering the questions, which followed the comprehensions became a tough task too. The kids couldn’t translate some basic HIndi words into English. Their poor performance in English was something that was expected as they all go to Hindi medium schools but their poor performance in Hindi, was something that wasn’t expected. After the assessments I paid a visit to the teachers of the government school and they started stating those usual problems of poor infrastructure, high student-teacher ratio and so on. Then the “blame game” began: first they blamed the government and then the parents for the poor performances of

the kids. Though these are problems that need to be addressed, the teachers should make the utmost use of whatever is available to them and dutifully complete their tasks because in the end, we cannot let the children be the victims of a vicious cycle of problems and the never ending blame game. A lot needs to be done when it comes to the educational scene of villages like Janwaar. Firstly, building a strong foundation along with getting the basics right in the kids is very important. However, most importantly, education should come across as something which is fun rather than boring and burdensome. Mind you, the kids are very talented and skilful. Kids in the villages aren’t born stupid. The only difference being, their sets of skills are in a different field and they are talented in a different way. We don’t need to make them toppers, we just need to equip them with the basics and for the rest, their set of skills and talents are enough. The best part was the fact that the kids had the zeal to learn and if you took the effort to make them understand, they understood.

The village life was a treat to me. Away from all kinds of commotion, the silence that prevailed in Janwaar was heavenly. The weather and the winds were like the cherry on the cake. Gazing at the fields and once it got dark, gazing at the stars with some Assamese melodies in the backdrop would be my favourite pass time. Village life is full of discipline, much more disciplined than most of urban India. Circumstances have made the people tough and they are much more organised than their urban counterparts. Everybody took his or her responsibilities very seriously. The best part about the entire trip was Janwaar’s network issue though. My phone was always out of coverage. It made my trip very peaceful. This made me realise how phones and social media have taken over our lives, which has thereby reduced our peace of mind. We remain so engaged over our cell phones that we forget to give time to our families and to ourselves. After dinner, Arun and his family would sit down and the entire family would converse. This looked like their favourite pass time, as the electricity issues would not allow them to watch television and the network problems would not let them gaze at their phones. I couldn’t understand what their topic of conversation was but it did sound intense and it did seem like, they were having a lot of fun. This made me realise that these are the kind of conversations that eventually lead to a strong family bond (something that is in decline in urban India), as they are real conversations and not “virtual” ones. There is so much to learn from these village people … we “urbanistas” should always keep this in mind.

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Fragile. Fearless. Free. By Ulrike Reinhard

so on. But her looks and dresses are misleading. When it comes to taking a stand she acts just like a strong boy. And trust me, she does take a stand and can be very convincing. Durgha will never take no for an answer – and she is always pushing the boundaries. Very untypical for a young girl in a village.

Durgha Adivasi

Durgha is one of our youngest girlskaters. The other kids gave her the nickname “kukera” – which means chicken. They say it’s a funny name – all I can see is that Durgha doesn’t like it. And she makes this very clear. She chases anyone who teases her with this name. That’s one of her strengths:

She very much has her own mind and isn’t afraid to speak up even against the older Yadav boys. Durgha is just six years old. She looks a bit fragile but this is only the first impression that strikes you. When you look at her fancy clothes she might seem very “girly” – all pink frocks and frills and

This year she’s started to go to school and she takes it all quite seriously because she knows that school is her entry-card to the skatepark. At the skatepark she’s a rock star. She’s been coming here for the last two years which basically means for one third of her life. Fearlessly she stands on her board and from her first insecure “steps” she’s made very quick progress. Her fearlessness and courage come very naturally to her. By now she can drop from the ramps and safely cruise and zig zag through the

crowd. And even though the number of skateboards is limited at the park, you’ll never ever see her WITHOUT a board. It’s her secret just how she manages to do this. When she’s cruising on the board you will never hear her shout: “Ulrike, Ulrike – look at me!” which is what the other kids do to gain attention and show off the latest tricks they’ve learnt. No, she’s always completely focussed trying something new or simply enjoying the ride. At the skatepark she’s in a world of her own. Unlike any of the other girls you will always see her skateboarding alone. This is quite unusual. Not that she is in any way excluded. No. She simply does it her way. To me it always feels like she has something in her mind, some kind of plan … or dream. Only she’s not yet ready to let it out … !


issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Finding your Talent By Yashraj Sharma / This article was first published on

Villagers in Janwaar, a small remote village in Madhya Pradesh, are getting immortalised by a teenager’s lens. Thirteen-year-old Shivjeet Yadav didn’t know he had a natural flair for portrait photography. A photographer’s visit to his village changed that.

Shivjeet Yadav or Sepi, like everyone calls him, all of 13, was holding a digicam and clicking photos. He was on a dusty, kaccha road in Janwaar village, where his only companions were the odd bullock cart that passed by and a few grey-haired men huddled under the shade of nearby trees. Over the past year Sepi has taken hundreds of photographs of his friends, neighbours and other villagers. The best part? No one turned down his request. “They were happy,” said Sepi. “They even posed for me.” Sepi and several of his friends had their first brush with photography when Gaurav Prabhu, a Mumbaibased portrait photographer and photography trainer, arrived in the village in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna district last year. He was exploring off-route destinations and the 26-year-old came across the Instagram account for Janwaar Castle, India’s first rural skatepark for children, in Janwaar. He was intrigued and signed up as a volunteer but was soon asked by the mentors at the skatepark to teach the children photography. Prabhu agreed. “I wanted the kids to capture their childhood memories by themselves, like everyone is doing around the world,” he said about his one-week-long photography class. This is not the first time change in Janwaar has come from outside. Janwaar Castle was set up in 2015 by Ulrike Reinhard, a German author and activist, who had first visited the country in 2012 on work. Her travels took her to Madhya Pradesh, where she fell in love with Khajuraho. Soon after, a hamlet near Panna National 10

Rohit, Sepi’s cousin, at home.

Ankush, Sepi’s cousin, with a calf at home.

“Madame” Balloo, Sepi’s cousine, holding a child.

Parvat Adivasi talking to an elder.

Park became home and she began journeying around the state. It was then that she discovered Janwaar, a village with a deep caste divide between the Yadav, the landowners, and the Adivasi. Reinhard, who had visited the Skateistan project in Afghanistan a few times, knew that skateboarding was used there to empower children, and she felt Janwaar would benefit from something similar.

Lekhram Gond

One of the rules in the skatepark is “Girls First!”. Sepi, who is the son of a cattle grazer, doesn’t wholeheartedly agree with it but he does allow the girls to go ahead, photographing them as they make their way around the park. He has shot people swimming, skating in the graffiti-covered skatepark, doing nothing and even posing for him. While he enjoys photographing humans the most, he also

keeps an eye out for birds on trees. “That kid [Sepi] has something that will make him a great portrait photographer one day,” said Prabhu, who hopes to return to Janwaar soon to see how the children are faring. “He just knows what to capture.” Naturally talented It didn’t take long for Prabhu to see how talented Sepi was. Sensing that

issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

Alfred, Arun, Lakshmi ( front), Asha, Deepa and Lavkush at the skatepark.

Unknown boy.

the 11 children in his class – a mix of Yadav and Adivasi – may be wary of the unfamiliar device, Prabhu encouraged them to play with a couple of digicams on the very first day itself, to overcome any fear. This was the first time Prabhu was teaching photography to children, so he decided to keep things simple. He used local slang to explain concepts: headroom, a key element in composition, became khopdi-fasla . In order to help with framing, Prabhu asked

the children to draw images of what they wanted to photograph. They made rough sketches of flowers, skating tricks and the landscape. After the afternoon class ended, Prabhu asked his students to take five pictures each and report to him. While most returned with photographs of flowers, skates and trees, one had clicked five portraits. Moved by the precise framing and natural eye for portrait photography, Prabhu asked the child, Sepi to photograph everybody in his village.

Sepi says everyone praised the first five photos he took. “They said, ‘He is very talented, he will do something great,’” he recollected. The other children and the volunteers at the skatepark, where Prabhu was conducting his classes, were sceptical that a 13year old would have the dedication to see the assignment through. But he returned in the evening with around 200 photos in his silver digicam, of the “aadmi log” from the 130-plus houses in the village. “No one really taught me how to click humans, it just came to me,” he said. “I wanted to shoot people, and I did.”

Sepi, who studies in class eight, is yet to decide what he will become when he grows up. For now he is happy taking photographs. “I like the zoom thing in the camera,” he said. “It is so good: if you rotate it, you can see a person who is standing far from you clearly and vice-versa. It is magical.” Editor’s note: Meanwhile Sepi is invited to Germany to take photography classes. He is already applying for his passport.


issue_01 / SEPTEMBER 2018

DEAR JANWAAR: A Very Special Place in my Heart By Mannan Gupta

When someone posts an update on Facebook, a new picture, video or story on Janwaar, it never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s been nine months now since I left the village. For more than two years I was an essential part of Janwaar Castle and the rural changemakers but now I only contribute occasionally and from a distance. Yet I still love it and I always will. I learnt an awful lot there. I guess I wasn’t as good an entrepreneur as I was as a facilitator. I couldn’t manage the transition from an employer to a social entrepreneur – so I left because I wasn’t able to support myself. Maybe I haven’t given it the time which is needed to make such a transition successful. Inside Garbhanga forest, Assam, with Janwaar kids.

The beauty of Janwaar is that it keeps growing organically – independently of any single person or element. The network grows with every initiative its members take. Volunteers arrive in Janwaar on their own, they’re not sent in by some big NGO and they come to learn from the changes happening in the village. Most of the time they come with a very specific idea or activity in mind. In exchange the villagers take care of them and learn from them. The list of activities is long and varied: creative workshops, movie screenings, video productions, tabla sessions and English lessons – Villa Janwaar, the newly created community centre, is becoming an essential and lively part of the kids’ everyday lives. I am still uncertain about what the future might hold for me and I’m exploring what to do next. Part of me wants to come back to Janwaar but part of me wants to gain more skill sets, to get more qualifications under my belt, before returning. No matter where I go, when I talk about Janwaar, a river of positive energy always flows through me. While traveling in Kashmir, for instance, I met some journalists and of course we started to talk about Janwaar. Well, one thing led to another and before I knew it, they were staring at my laptop looking at pictures from the village. Yash, one of them, was in awe when he saw the photos Sepi had

taken after the #photokhicho workshop. He wanted to write a story on him. And he did. He pitched the story and quickly got the go-ahead from Despite the dodgy network link-up in the village, we managed to get an interview with Sepi whose story started a year ago with this photography workshop and is now rapidly moving forward! Ulrike posted the story on Facebook and some of the people who read it now want to help Sepi pursue and realise his passion. Thommen Jose is sending Sepi a camera so that he can continue his work. What’s more, Sepi’s even been offered photography lessons in Germany, and of course he’s eager to seize this opportunity and has already applied for his passport. Every time I read that someone new has arrived in Janwaar, I am reminded of my first visit. It was in April 2016 that I packed a small bag, took my skateboard, and off I went. Deeply inspired by Ulrike when I first met her in January, and curious to see the world’s first rural skatepark, I wanted to experience it for myself. Sleep was impossible in the overnight train so I spent most of the early morning hours marvelling at the beauty of the sunrise. Going there was the best thing that ever happened to me. Every day exciting change was happening in the village and I was privileged to be a part of it. Doing things like helping Sukhmila make her first skateboard drop even

when I had little idea how to do so. Sharing my passion for mathematics with Anil while sleeping on the roof of his house under the starry sky. Or learning the Bundeli language from the kids who also encouraged me to make my first skateboard drop. It’s difficult to explain how I made a difference – I guess the main thing was that I stayed there so long I became like a familiar fixture and whenever I left for a short period of time I always came back. The villagers felt – or at least I think they felt – that my commitment to the village was authentic and honest – a city boy driven to do “something” in a small remote village. I’m sure that sometimes they simply thought I was crazy. Last year I rode my motorbike from Janwaar to Delhi. Shivraj, a 15-yearold boy from Janwaar was intending to go to Delhi by train but he asked to come along with me on the bike. And on the way, he said something which almost made me cry: he told me “You’ve really grown up since you first came to Janwaar.” He was happy that I kept coming back to the village again and again. At this time we didn’t know that our happy bond of trust would soon be subject to a terrible ordeal. Halfway between Janwaar and Delhi we had a bad accident as the bike suddenly skidded on the highway. Luckily for us, we only had some relatively

minor injuries, even so it still took us months to fully recover. Usually an accident like this with a child as pillion passenger would cause some kind of big trouble. Teachers, for instance, simply won’t take kids out on excursions for fear of how their families might react in event of an accident. But not in my case. The parents and the villagers kept reasonable, sympathetic and calm. That bond of trust between the villagers and me is something I always will cherish. Even during my last goodbyes in the village, when I told them my reasons for leaving, I could see that everyone was sad and downcast but at the same time also reassured that I would return. Over the past three years I have become an integral part of Janwaar as it has become an integral part of me. This sense of belonging will never fade. What we’ve achieved in Janwaar is hard for me to describe in words – all I know for sure is that it feels good to be part of this greater scheme. A few months ago I read a memorable line which really expresses what I think and feel about my time in Janwaar: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” The quote perfectly suits my work in Janwaar. I am so sure that I will return to Janwaar. Yet how? The answer is that I don’t know yet.

The Rural Changemaker  

This is the successor of #paw, the newspaper of the Rural Changemakers in Janwaar, Madhya Pradesh India! Read their stories and catch up to...

The Rural Changemaker  

This is the successor of #paw, the newspaper of the Rural Changemakers in Janwaar, Madhya Pradesh India! Read their stories and catch up to...