Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Marudam is a community that strives towards sustainable, aligned and holistic living, with a farm to grow most of its food, and with an organisation called The Forest Way to
Children up a tree-house that they
helped build
undertake outreach and nature conservation work. Such a community ALSO anchors a school, as a way to engage with children; and through that engagement, be inspired by and learn from them as well. 'School' is not its exclusive identity.
This space has up to 70 children, really living like a huge joint-family. All the (mostly) young people (called teachers) have arrived there for a love of nature, of community, of children and a love of what they are there to offer – like music, art, tending to a nursery, or working on the farm and forest. The parents of children come from diverse backgrounds. There are farmers, cooks, yoga teachers, sculptors, jewellery makers, entrepreneurs, painters, writers, theatre artistes and more. They enjoy sharing their skills and knowledge with everyone.

Art, craft and free-play are a central part of everyday at Marudam. I haven't seen any hierarchy of activities. Swimming and tree climbing are valued equally with Maths. Crocheting is valued equally with language. The adults in the space join in learning basic skills like mountain climbing, sewing, crocheting, weaving, 
Silambam class in progress
kalamkari printing, swimming and martial arts like silambam. I am yet to meet any older child or adult who does not know crocheting, clay modeling or swimming! Everyone goes for a whole half-day trek up the hill through the forest once a week learning about birds, animals, rocks, trees and the art of climbing. In fact, they decided to call mountain-climbing 'academics', in order to change the popular mindset that somehow it was not as important!

Indoor and outdoor sports is also a central activity here. This is probably the only place where I've seen girls enthusiastically take to playing cricket and kabbadi, and boys take to embroidery and crafting!
Little ones harvesting peanuts. What fun!

Both Tamil and English are given equal importance. There is great diversity among the children, teachers and volunteers - from urban middle and upper middle class, local villages to foreign countries. All the children are involved in sowing, weeding, harvesting rice, millets, fruits and 35 different varieties of vegetables grown on the farm itself. A wide variety of tasty and healthful foods - ragi koozhu (porridge), pulao, millet rices, pastas, thai curry, salads, payasam, puttu, firewood-oven baked bun, cakes, cookies, etc. are some that I’ve seen over the past few months.

Marudam and the community around
I see a sense of generous sharing of resources, knowledge and skill with the extended
Learning to weave a mat during the 'Craft Week'
community into the village without any sense of patronization. The thing I most love about this place is that the kids of most people who work here also come here. This includes the annas and akkas who do the cooking, cleaning, painting, driving and farming. Isha's many lovely friends are these kids. In my interactions with the parents of these children, it is evident how much they learn from and contribute to the space. Friday afternoons are opened up for anyone (child or adult) to offer workshops on any skill that they'd like to share with others. Marudam also opens itself up to children from other schools to participate in forest walks, and learning craft and other life skills.
Children from another school learn rock-climbing
at Marudam

There is a whole week every year that is dedicated to craft. During this 'Craft Week', basket weavers, stone sculptors, wood workers, bamboo workers, painters, printers and weavers come from the villages around to teach the young and old. It is opened up to children from other schools around them as well. It culminates in a mela.

Cost of Education
The cost of education that covers practically everything (food, craft materials, transportation, books, etc.) per year per child is Rs. 35,000. The number has been arrived at in order to maintain the fine balance between keeping the number of children small and being affordable to families from all economic backgrounds. Half the number of children come here paying either zero or partial fees, the rest of which is covered through donations. There are people who regularly visit Marudam to volunteer, sharing what they know or have: their skills, knowledge, resources or labour.
The weekly walk up the Arunachala hill

Marudam shares my dream of co-creating more communities where education happens in rich contexts and more organically. It is growing into a hub where families and individuals interested in this dream are drawn to.

Given all of these awesome things here, the 'school structure' at Marudam, which I am not in resonance with, becomes a mere detail to me. But I've also opened up to learning what it has to offer that I'm not seeing yet. In any case, what is most important to me is the consciousness with which the adults anchor the space. Whether it is a school, a home-school, or an un-school then becomes secondary!

Lots of pictures in the Photo Gallery here.

A video of the Craft Week here.

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