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Jun 22, 2020

The building in the midst of the Covid lockdown

Nila 1 - Upstairs with the new grills
Nila 1 - Upstairs with the new grills

These days, there is a new measurement of time here : Before Lockdown and After Lockdown.


The Covid-19 lockdown was extremely severe here in Auroville and nearby Pondicherry. Everybody had to stay home and the border between Auroville and Pondicherry was closed from one morning to the afternoon. Since we are dependent on Pondicherry for many things including construction items, this affected us.

One thing we did manage to do was to buy the glass for the inlet shafts downstairs on the West side. They were delivered the Friday before Pondicherry went into lockdown. Something told us to rush and get that glass. Thank heavens we listened to that little voice!

Unfortunately, we missed the chance of buying the super adhesive needed to join wood to glass. We managed to buy a sample along with the glass, and tested it, and it was perfect. But then, we needed to buy five more. We were meant to go pick them up Monday morning. Our carpenter reached there Monday afternoon, and the shop was closed and didn't reopen until last week!

But blessings were there too. Our carpenter came nearly every single day for a half-day during the lockdown and his presence was a security for the building. And he was able to fit the glass for the inlet shafts. The reapers were fixed partially, as you can see from the pictures.

It was all very discrete with all measures of Covid security including frequent handwashing, masks, sanitiser, were in place.

There has not been a single case of Covid in either Auroville or any of its immediate villages. We kept close tabs the whole time. It was even reported in the media.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/no-covid-19-cases-so-far-in-auroville/article31187845.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/remaining-covid-free-the-auroville-way/article31627028.ece

From March 16, we've been officially closed. No students, no Tomatis until very recently when we opened up in a tiny, very measured way. All the workers (with the exception of the carpenter) and majority of the staff stayed home for almost two months. A skeletal staff kept the Lab building secure day and night.

When it seemed like we could, within measure, start some work again, we managed to do the grill work upstairs for Nilavan. If you follow our GlobalGiving Women's project reports, you will remember reading that Kushboo went on extended maternity leave of a full year. Well, she started back in February, and we allowed her to bring her child with her to work, since she had no other choice and no one to look after the child in the day. Thus Nilavan or Nila for short, joined our team as its littlest member. He keeps us smiling and laughing and is a huge element of joy. He and Foxy have a thing going. Well, since he started walking, we realised that the railings of the first-floor corridor were too far apart for him. It was dangerous because there was a chance that he could fit through and possibly fall! We hadn't planned on such a small child being a regular user of the building! Anyhow, we realised we needed to do something pronto. So we gave the order for more grillwork to fill in the in-between spaces. But, Covid lockdown! Getting the metal rods was next to impossible! Towards the end of May, after the first easing of lockdown restrictions, our welder managed to procure those and work started. We're happy to say, it is all finished and it is 100% secure now - not just for Nila, but for any other smaller child who might come to us. The painting work is over too.

One more thing we managed in the lockdown was the purchase and commissioning of a professional floor cleaner and polisher for our stone and cement floors. This too happened after the first partial easing of the lockdown restrictions. It got delivered but could not be commissioned because the Service Engineer from the company who was responsible for Pondicherry had returned to his "native place" - ancestral village - and all bus transport had been stopped. (This still is the case). Finally, the company managed to send us another Service Engineer who taught 3 of our staff how to use it. It was a huge decision > to make an investment at the height of Covid. But this thing is incredible, wow, what a fantastic cleaning and polishing job it does, and will last us for 10 years at least!!!

Another thing we are extremely proud of is the fact that we could pay our entire staff their salaries for March, April and May, without any cuts. Tapas and I don't take any salaries of course, but the salaries of the entire team - workers and staff all together - does come to a tidy sum per month. It is a matter of great pride for us that we were able to make these payments.  For a non-commercial, service unit of Auroville that is trying to be self-sufficient, this was a real achievement.

Of course, throughout the lockdown, our thoughts went to the Tomatis kids. We wrote to the parents to find out how they were doing, and were really happy to hear the vast majority had managed to survive the special conditions of the lockdown without too much of a problem.

For the Women's project, we couldn't do much, and the volunteer who was working specifically for that project, had to stop since the Lab was closed.  She volunteered at another Auroville project making masks.

When we started working again after the easing of some lockdown restrictions, while the Lab was fully closed to the public, we went through a wonderful experience together: we did this HUGE cleaning and sanitization of the entire Lab, upstairs and downstairs. Every single piece of furniture, every book, every computer, every stand-alone item was cleaned and sanitised using a probiotic cleaner and sanitizer. Volunteers came and helped us too (bless them!). It was needed, and a wonderful thing to do, and to do it all together was special. (Photos of that will follow).

So we are still in this hanging, in-between stage. We are still officially closed to the public, so the Lab and its classes are not open at all. The Tomatis children can't come back until lockdown is officially removed, and then, there will be many restrictions including 14-days of quarantine for those coming from other states, etc. The workers can work again, so we are doing many things to prepare for when we will be allowed to be fully open to the public.

So in brief, yes, the lockdown severely affected our projects.

But for the building, what we managed to do included :
- fixing the glass and some reapers for the air inlet shafts on the Ground Floor - West side,
- fixing safety grills upstairs
- cleaning and polishing the floors downstairs
- the Covid sanitization.
- The Transsolar data collection (which is still being collected and sent monthly to Germany to Transsolar)
- increasing our LinkedIn connections with people, experts involved in sustainability in the hope that we can get the message out about how unique this building is, with its system of cooling without Air-Conditioning.
- recalculating our building load and consumption including future consumption to see how many solar panels we will need to be energy-positive. We're also going to redo our Electrical Consumption paper.

 

Finally, we are happy to report that the building still stays cool inside, with a substantial difference felt as soon as one goes out of it or comes into it from the outside. This, without the cooling system being finished! What will it be like, with all the towers and shafts finished one day? It is an exciting thought!

Nila
Nila
Nila - Our Littlest Team Member
Nila - Our Littlest Team Member
Kadhir and Selvam with the Floor Polishing Machine
Kadhir and Selvam with the Floor Polishing Machine
Air Inlet Shaft Almost Completed
Air Inlet Shaft Almost Completed
Air Inlet Shafts Still Incomplete
Air Inlet Shafts Still Incomplete
May 26, 2020

Great start,but Covid threw a spanner in the works

Dear friends,

The work that happened (and did not happen due to Covid-19), is best described in the words of the Volunteer whom we took on precisely to work on the GG Women's Tomatis English Training Project.  Do have a look at her report attached.

We're still in lockdown.  Let's see what happens in the next few weeks.  We're hoping the lockdown will be lifted from June 01st.  Of course, we can't go back to how things were before, and masks, social distancing, washing hands, sanitizing frequently touched furniture, etc, will all be part of the protocol when we re-start both at the Lab and at Tomatis. There is an opportunity to take the project forward post-Covid that has appeared in collaboration with another Auroville organization, working with village women north of Auroville.  We'll let you know if and as and when that develops.

Meanwhile, please have a look at what young Pratyusha had to say about her work on the project and her experience.  Attaching her report as well as the recommendation we did for her.  PLEASE OPEN THESE ATTACHMENTS.

Hope all of you are staying safe and healthy, and that none of you have experienced any losses in your families due to Covid-19.  Auroville has, thankfully, remained Covid-free throughout this period.

Lots and lots of love from Auroville,

Mita

PS: I just opened an Instagram account.  I'll share photos and videos about the building, Tomatis, the Lab, as well as general reflections and insights, team photos, updates, things I am learning, raw vegan recipes I am experimenting with, etc.  In case you are on Instagram, please follow me: https://www.instagram.com/mitaralltomatis/


Attachments:
Feb 18, 2020

News about our beloved building

Hi all!

Our first report to you was on Nov 5th, and the second on Nov 19th.

Between then and now, we've done exactly what we mentioned we wanted to do in our Nov 5th report : the flooring of my room, the room next to it (basically the South-West block First Floor) and (drumroll!), the upstairs toilets!!!

The toilets upstairs: People at Tomatis don't have to go downstairs to pee anymore!  Very recently finished, just today we got two comments from users about how beautiful they are.  They are very simple and zen, yet very elegant. The women's toilet (like the men's downstairs) is full of light.  The men's toilet has lovely colours.

The lime paint done by Selvam and Kadhir (based on the traditional kaddukai nut fermented and then mixed with the lime) turned out to be an absolutely beautiful colour.  We are so happy to have found this alternative to paint... anyway, you shouldn't paint lime at all, because that cuts off its possibility to breathe.  Well, with lime paint, the lime keeps breathing!  They've also painted the worker's room outside with the lime paint and it looks absolutely gorgeous.  We don't need to use that eco-paint anymore, we've found the solution for the lime paint, thanks always to Tapas and her ingenuity.  This means, we can keep maintaining our building with lime!!!!  The ecological alternative to paint!

My room and the room next to it : Finished in time for my birthday on the 01.01.20.  What an incredible present!  Tapas did this as a Yantra > a sacred Indian geometric design.  We got pinkish granite slabs (the cheapest we could find and also the largest), along with blue oxide for the spaces in between, and orange for the "egg"/oval shaped centre, bounded by a copper strip.  It is absolutely beautiful as well as powerful.  It is incredible how the floor transformed the entire room! Several Tomatis adult clients have mentioned how well they feel inside. I do all the consultations there now, and also find that working has suddenly become so concentrated.  The Yantra clearly has a deep effect. The granite is also cool.

This is a bit lame, but, I don't have pictures since my iphone storage is totally full. But we will post some pics soon.

We couldn't yet work on the shaft as wished though Tapas has been planning that with the carpenter, Iyyanar.  We're going to do price shopping for the glass. They are planning to search for teakwood (much stronger) for the frames of the internal shafts.

Meanwhile, did you know about Transsolar?  This world-famous climate engineering company based in Stuttgart Germany, with offices in the USA, Paris, etc, took on our building project pro-bono to study our climate-based solutions in their "Transsolar Academy".   

We are featured on their website : https://transsolar.com/projects/auroville-language-lab-all

Thanks to their help and guidance, and also help from CSR (Auroville Centre for Scientific Research), we set up temperature and humidity-measuring sensors in various parts of the building and every two weeks data is downloaded and sent to Transsolar by Raj and Mano. This study will go on till May. 

We are also listed in their projects here : https://transsolar.com/projects/filter:in-progress

We just found out that The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which was a gift from Portia de Rossi to her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, has a building based on sustainable architecture. https://theellenfund.org/the-campus 

Guess who they partnered with for the climate engineering aspects? Transsolar!!! 

We were featured in Transsolar's June 2019 Newsletter (https://us16.campaign-archive.com/?u=07a9649c04f2d4b3b5a2e3475&id=8e5e3b8030) and they were featured in Transsolar's October 2019 newsletter! (https://us16.campaign-archive.com/?u=07a9649c04f2d4b3b5a2e3475&id=8a2ba3ea25)

Maybe, just maybe, we can reach out to Ellen and Portia through Transsolar????  An idea to be followed up in the future.

Meanwhile, the Lab and Tomatis are both full and humming. Our shoe stand is too small now; we need another one.  It is quite amazing how so many people can be inside the building in its different spaces, and it seems to hold everyone without any noise or problem.  There's been wonderful work and lots of progress for the kids at Tomatis, and the adults too - transformative work. And a lot of activities and classes at the Lab. Progress on projects too. Huge thanks to Miko, one of our wonderful volunteers, a retired schoolteacher and language-lover from the USA who has come with all his enormous goodwill and knowledge; the students love him and he just "gets it"- all of it! It is such a pleasure. And the rest of the team too, is wonderful - we have wonderful volunteers and teachers as well as the staff > we all enjoy working together and working in this building is a delight!

The building seems to get more beautiful as time passes and we finish bits and pieces of it as and when we can. Everyone seems to love being in it.  The most recent comment in our visitors book is : "This building is so beautiful. Thank you so much!"  

One is starting to think : this isn't just "construction to combat climate change" (which it is, of course), it is "construction to nurture the human spirit".

Links:

 
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