My tryst with community engagement began through public participation processes on some of the architectural projects I had the opportunity to work with when I was in my late twenties. It was only when I was 35 did I enjoy the benefits of ‘giving back’ to community. We grew up as children with the values that 10% of our earnings had to be shared or given for charity. Young and immature that I was then, I often disagreed with my parents that I’d rather help someone on ground than send money to an organisation or individual. When I was ready in my mid-thirties to take the plunge, friends often argued to focus on only professional work justifying and truly so, that most begin charity or community service post retirement and urged me to wait till 80, like most do. But the times were changing. The approach to social work too was seeing a fillip.
Why do we need to engage with community? Why do people do charity work? When we work, pay money for charity or simply help another we connect to humanity in a way where we empathise and think beyond ourselves or our immediate needs or wants. We want to help. We see the problems another is facing and we are troubled by it. We want to alleviate the one in need. And when we have felt helpless, the moments when we have helped ourselves, become the sources of empowerment which builds convictions to help another. This is at a personal level.
At the community level many a times we hope for help to come from the civic body or the government. We often find ourselves complaining, accusing or throwing up our arms in helplessness. But the times when we empower and find solutions within are the ones that make best practices and success stories. Stories to emulate. And to replicate.
Fortunately I gave wings to my compassion for community and this helped me immensely to understand issues on ground better and how I could help spark positive change by first experiencing the change myself. This helped me work with better convictions too. So after many community initiatives like the Nirmalaya Campaign, Tiger petition, NoMoZo (Non Motorized Zone), Black Spot Fixes, Plastic Free, etc, the real learning came when I had the chance to work on the Ecoloo project in the village of Karmali where we ideated a dry/ composting toilet model to eliminate pollution. To afford safety and better sanitation to the beneficiaries particularly women, children and the elders from the village in the absence of basic facilities and the abject situation of open defecation and pollution of water bodies in the village. Working with Pravin Borkar and his wife Roopa was an extremely good eye-opener. When Roopa married Pravin and moved to Karmali she had to use the outdoors as they had no toilet in the house or a public facility nearby. And it was ok then, as they lived on the upper edges of a hill with a thicket that afforded her the privacy and security to defecate outside or nearby her house. But as the neighbourhood grew and the vegetation became sparse she was finding it extremely difficult to use the open outdoors. And in the monsoons the problem would be worse. Other women in the vicinity would in adverse circumstances defecate on old news-papers to be then chucked outside! Some that defecated outdoors would often be intimidated by strange men who would suddenly appear and refuse to go away thus adding to the feeling of insecurity. Some would hold up for long periods because of this circumstance. Roopa too was also having health issues as a result to this. After we built the Ecoloo within their old utility space indoors she has been extremely happy and relieved. Now her children as well as relatives have learnt how to use it and she feels a sense of dignity and pride. And thanks to Mitsuko Trust and Fundacao Oriente for making this possible.
Today marks an important day as we embark on another super journey to engage and empower community through the Goa Dome project. A couple of years ago a young Urban designer Richa Narvekar evinced an interest in working with me on projects with a focus on community engagement. We teamed up like long lost siblings and our connection to our ancestral villages in Canacona and passion for Goa had us discussing ideas on the lines of NoMoZo. We wanted to reclaim public space for community use. We dreamed up a foldable, portable model and called it the ‘Reclaimer’ that we would take to abandoned or unused spaces and enliven the dead space with different interactions for community engagement. So what could be the perfect Reclaimer structure? We took inspiration from origami but hadn’t developed it enough. And last year Richa had to briefly move to Ontario, Canada on work. But an idea had sparked.
Since last year along with interns and volunteers I had hoped to work on a portable model of a Geodesic dome that could be the Reclaimer. An opportunity came my way when Kunal Bhatia, film maker and promoter of the free dome project visited Goa to conduct a workshop but unfortunately I was unable to either meet him or attend the workshop. But he continues to be our source of inspiration. Fortunately since last month, with the help of our super intern Aishwarya Rege, DIY promoter Vishal Rawlley and student volunteers Ashwin Mascarenhas, Omkar Naik and Saiesh Raut the dome/ reclaimer is ready for some action.
Our objective is to bring together community - children, youth, adults and senior citizens to make and use the dome. We have begun Dome 1, with a school in Karmali run by Liza Sereedharan that needs a temporary multi-use classroom space, So the children have been divided into groups for planning the dome, designing its components, procuring the material including joinery and building or putting it together for use.
Dome 2 is being planned in the Kamarabhat area where Vishal Rawlley along with a super team of volunteers and children from the community have been working on cleaning and improving the surrounds of the St Inez Creek.
And Dome 3 is the Reclaimer for the city and Goa which will be travel to places to enliven public space, engage community and give us all the opportunity for social work. Join us as our young team led by Aishwarya shows how.
(Tallulah D’Silva is a practicing architect in Goa)