After living in Mumbai for years, the husband-wife duo Umesh and Meenakshi realised the various facets of urban life and the realities behind them. After working with a few organisations, they decided to settle down and practise various alternatives in farming, construction and education. They bought a 12-acre land at the Nagarkoodal village in Dharmapuri district and set up a learning centre called Puvidham School that follows a curriculum based on natural learning process, non-violence learning environment and experimental learning.
“The school was the outcome of long-cherished dream of mine. Children should be allowed to follow their interests in an atmosphere of enquiry and happiness instead of fear of failure. We teach organic farming techniques and provide a humane and child-centred education environment for children. There were only seven students when we started. But now, we have 72 children from Dharmapuri, Erode, Chennai and neighbouring places,” says Meenakshi.
After setting up a school, the couple went on to build a community of people whose passion for farming and education translated into local opportunities. Their other projects include Puvidham Farm and Puvidham Development Centre. “In today’s digital age, children are moving away from spiritual life and thereby, they forget to understand their purpose in life.
An individual’s way of life has to be spiritual and close to nature and he/she should take cues from nature every day. Children should learn to live in a community, share responsibilities and understand the reasons for the need to change our present-day lifestyles. We are trying to promote the idea of zero-waste lifestyles and help children learn self-management practices,” she explains.
Children can pick up academics at any time. But the basic attitude to life, in terms of knowing the value of self, understanding that material things do not necessarily bring you happiness, and that happiness is an inner state of mind should be taught at a young age.
“We are used to comforts which are detrimental to mental, physical and spiritual growth. Once we get into that trap of comfort, it is difficult to come out. As they say, it’s better to catch them young,” Meenakshi points out.
Apart from the regular school, they offer an 11-month residential programme on sustainable living and entrepreneurship for gap year students, homeschoolers and adults who aspire to make a change.
Meenakshi also organises two-day monthly camp called Return to the Soil for people who are curious to know what children do and how they learn in such a space.