Samwaad Yatra Days 19-20: Mahatma Gandhi Ashram, Anaimalai

Due to local elections in Tamil Nadu, we were unable to visit any struggle groups or hold public meetings. The two days were spent at Mahatma Gandhi Ashram, Anaimalai. It is in a place called Anaimalai in Pollachi. The place derives its name from an elephant shaped hill in the area. The ashram has been functioning for around 20 years and is managed by Mr. and Mrs. Ranganath and their daughter Ms. Sarvodaya. We learnt that Mr. Ranganath took up to social work at the age of 18 after reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography. He comes from a very poor family and yet his mother, who passed away recently, supported his decision whole heartedly.

Mr. Silbi Balasubramaniam, Mr. Rajagopal, and Mr. Ranganath

The ashram takes care of 55 boys and girls who are almost evenly split. They are in the age group of 5 to 15 and have lost one or both of their parents. The children are all from deprived, marginalized communities. The ashram seeks to provide a gurukul kind of education that balances between value based education and the mainstream education.

Balanced education at the ashram

The ashram, as the name tells, does its best to live Gandhian principles of swadeshi or local consumption. Plastics, chemical based shampoos and soaps, detergent are all banned from the campus.

Washing with natural soap

They have about 18 cows and a few small plots for cultivation and gardening. They have a team of five people who raise funds from nearby villages and towns. This way, the ashram is independent from government funds, foreign grants, donations from people engaged in alcohol and meat as well as cinema artists.

Smallscale agriculture on the campus

The ashram maintains a high level of financial transparency. They have a board where at the end of each day, the financial statement of the day i.e., total inflows and total outflows are written for all the residents of the ashram to see. Seeing the attitude of service by Mr. Ranganath, the Yatris learnt a lesson or two about servant leadership. These two days provided us with a good opportunity to rejuvenate ourselves from hectic travels and make advanced plans for the Yatra in Tamil Nadu.

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