TRAVEL FOCUS HOLIDAY WITH A HEART TOP DESTINATIONS FOR VOLUNTEER TOURISM
As Volunteer Tourism gets popular, India’s French township of Auroville provides peace and quiet in exchange for jobs
I t is 5.50am and my father and I are on our two wheelers, heading towards the organic farm where we are volunteering in Auroville, the French township in Tamil Nadu.
At 6.10am, the coordinator tells us we need to pick rucula from the bed, segregate the heads after a quality check, and wash, weigh, pack and label it to be dispatched to the local prosperity system. My father, the coordinator, and I spend an hour hunched over the rucula bed. As we work, the coordinator tells us how voluntourism has changed the way people travel. Many digital-nomads (people with location-independent professions such as writing, coding, editing etc., who practice slow travel) have contributed to the farm in terms of website content and photos for an online presence. In exchange, the farm provides bed and breakfast for four hours of work in the fields.
Voluntourism is a great way to travel, but it also calls for tremendous discipline. To do physically exhausting work from 6am every day means late-night socialising goes for a toss. That’s why very few youngsters go for it. It requires the stability of a disciplined life even without fixed geographical coordinates.
After an hour, my father and I ready the harvest for dispatch. As I wash the leaves tub by tub, my father compares the ‘Indian kids’ ‘back home’ and the non-Asian youth who are working with us in the farm. The sun blazes down, and the day is getting hotter. Another hour-and-a-half, and we have neatly arranged 54 packets of rucula in a basket marked ‘dispatches’. In another hour, these packets will be on the retail shelf. By now, my father is bored and fidgety. A farmer himself, this is something he has people to do for him at his farm. At 9am, a bell goes off and everyone rushes to the tool shed to deposit the equipment. Then we head for breakfast.
As we take our place on a ledge in the foyer, two girls sit opposite us. They are enthused because India seems safer than they’d been told it would be. Though they want to explore more of the country, they only have an Auroville visa, which is different from an Indian visa.
Headed back to our guest house, we stop at the financial service centre to get our Auro-cards topped up. The Auro-card is the only mode of payment for most Auroville bodies. The township has had cashless economy for as long as I have known it.
Vibrant art installations (inset) are a delight for volunteering visitors at Auroville