Thinking of putting a bench in your garden? How about one made from clay, sand and straw, painted in soothing earthy colours and embedded with coloured bottles which light up with the aid of a simple wiring system? Or would you prefer a bamboo tree-house for your children? Or a jungle gym for the school playground perhaps? Living in a tiny flat with no space for a garden? Consider a vertical one using a simple system of plastic bottles cut in half or tall bamboos slit along regular intervals. Michael, Raja, Subhash, MG and Bala, eco-apprentices at Green Chakra can create all this and much more.
They may be barely twenty years old but these five young people, who grew up in one of Bangalore’s poorest communities, are already well on their way to becoming eco-entrepreneurs, providing sustainable design solutions for homes, schools and public spaces. On finishing school they found that the opportunities available to them were unstable, poorly paid and requiried only unskilled work with no prospects of growth. Rather than join an uncertain job market, they decided to enrol in Green Chakra, a year-long eco-apprenticeship programme supported by the Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust and Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology.
Green Chakra is managed by eco-designer and natural builder Jackson Poretta who started his own career as an apprentice in community farming at Michigan, USA. An educator, artist and tireless advocate for permaculture (modelling the design of human settlements on natural systems), Jackson strongly believes in the capacity of young people from under-served communities to become change agents in society.
He began Green Chakra with the aim of enabling school-leavers from urban poor communities to re-imagine the urban landscape whilst acquiring skills in eco-design, urban landscaping and natural building. Jackson believes that Green Chakra’s strength lies in bringing together three goals: urban re-generation, ecological justice and social equity. Arguing that we are only beginning to understand the health, sanitation and environmental costs of our unsustainable lifestyles, he states that “knowledge and capacity in designing, implementing, and cultivating sustainable systems will become an imperative in the near future.” Therefore individuals who have such knowledge will play a vital role in society.
During the programme, apprentices have learnt to construct a number of simple, quirky, yet functional objects using clay, bamboo, straw and dung or by incorporating waste from construction sites and scrap-yards. They’ve gained skills in drawing, animation and computer-aided drafting in addition to wood carving, gardening and landscaping. They’ve internalized the principle of using local materials to promote sustainability and have become strong advocates for the use of bamboo in construction and furniture design. They’ve experienced the satisfaction of seeing clients enjoy their products. Most importantly, they’ve begun to develop a strong sense of responsibility and self-reliance.
Jackson sets high standards for his mentees, expecting them to be highly committed and self-motivated. He urges them to understand all aspects of the job by participating in client-meetings, experimenting with new techniques and promoting eco-design in their communities. As a result the apprentices have begun to see themselves as ecological-leaders. They take pride in their skills and have begun to promote ecologically sensitive building techniques amongst friends and neighbours. As they’ve learnt the pleasure of crafting materials by hand they’ve developed a gentler, more sensitive relationship with nature and hope to teach others to do the same. To this end they run workshops in eco-design for schools and colleges, helping students to design simple, functional structures on campus. At a recent workshop in Drishya, a school for children from urban poor communities in Bangalore, students designed and created clay benches for their school playground with the help of the Green Chakra team.
The solutions that Green Chakra has implemented for rural markets such as rocket stoves (which use 80% less wood than an open fire), solar cookers and composting toilets can be adapted to the urban environment. But they will require a radical re-thinking of urban life-styles. The young eco-entrepreneurs will need to educate their clients to re-consider the idea of ‘waste’. As Jackson says, “In nature there is no waste, everything returns to the earth.”
The Green Chakra team have just completed a series of client projects: an eight-sided outdoor structure for art and reflection, an elegant bamboo lighting system, 3-D satellite models for the planetarium and a twenty foot temporary dome for Srishti’s Graduation Exhibition at Freedom Park. They are eager to take on more projects for individuals and organisations and will be delighted to advise clients on sustainable solutions for their homes and workplaces.