Learn from India: A personal learning journey

by Aerin Dunford on December 23, 2013

“A ‘learning-exchange’ was taking place all the time as the boundaries of age, culture and socio-economic background simply vanished in the process of our mutual friendship.”

 – Vipul Shaha

A little over a year ago, Vipul Shaha was living in the United States and had just completed a degree in educational psychology from Harvard. In the eyes of many, the world was his oyster—filled with opportunities to start changing things for better. Yet Vipul himself was not so sure about this. Despite his desire to be constantly learning about “‘cutting-edge’ theories and innovative models in education,” he had a sense that his learning edges were to be found elsewhere. So he decided to embark on a self-directed “Year On” adventure in his native country of India.

In so many ways Vipul’s incredible story of learning and transformation throughout his journey illuminate ideas we’ve had along the Walk Out Walk On path. He touches on the general themes of development, technology, education, un-learning and gift culture. And he shares his own personal experiences working on an organic farm, which opened new reflections about the value of simplicity, manual work, tribal skills and lifestyles, and letting go of the ‘ready-made world.’ While moments of joy and deep gratification are landmarks along the way, there is also profound confusion, doubt and trembling.

Now that this year-long ‘Learn From India’ tour has come to an end, Vipul took some time to reflect on the whole of this experience and what it means for the way he had come to see the world during his time in the U.S. The themes that Vipul touches on in his blog, “A Journey Called Life” are complex and interwoven and yet somehow simply, beautifully represent the messy, holistic nature of his experience.

Here is an excerpt:

My co-learning and co-creative interactions with tribal folks, village crafts-persons and farmers, housewives, cottage industry entrepreneurs, social activists, education psychologists, anthropologists, development sector workers, spiritual healers and seekers, and, most importantly, the large masses of what I would term as ‘ordinary inspiring people’ have made me rethink everything and question some of the fundamental issues of life, such as what it means to be truly ‘educated’? Am I truly ‘privileged’ and ‘empowered’? If yes, why do I harbor so much inner-turbulence and a sense of de-rootedness? What is real wealth? What we call ‘modernization’ and ‘development’—is it truly in our collective interest?  Has the technological progress made our lives truly more fulfilling?  What is the very purpose of life itself?  What direction is the human civilization heading and am I contributing to its evolution or destruction?

While each one of us arrives at our own evolving version of the truth every moment, I would like to offer an illustration of why some of my pre-held assumptions about education and ‘development’ or ‘progress’ have been challenged through these times.  It may throw up many new questions and perhaps shed light on a few others. I believe that everything is ultimately inter-related and thus must be looked at in a holistic sense.

To read a story of Vipul’s time with Amar in a rural village in Gujarat, visit his blog.

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