Gathering insights from Sadhana’s key stakeholders

Students working with the human rights organization, Sadhana, delved into ethnographic research today, interviewing key members of the organization and the surrounding community. By designing specific questions and ways to interact with their interviewees, the students gathered important insights about what the organization means to those its empowers.They will use this information to shape their design process as they work to develop a strong visual identity, which will encapsulate the strength and impact of Sadhana. Maya, Felipe, Zimeng and Monifa will return to the community tomorrow to take their research to the next step.

Zimeng interviews one of Sadhana's social workers, who works closely with the community on various human rights issues.

Monifa talks to Savita Jadhav, founder of Sadhana, about the the communication needs of the organization.

Students decide on partnering organizations and form two teams

On Friday, the end of the first week, we reviewed the organizations the students visited highlighting key observations, opportunities for projects, and potential for impact working with the time and resources of the three week course. The student discussed the challenges and potential they found within each organization. This discussion allowed students to distill the information they had gathered to help them narrow down the projects’ focus and how to divide into two teams for the remainder of the course.

Sarah facilitates as students distill organization information and balance the two working teams.

By the end of the day, students chose to work with Sadhana, the organization that works to promote the human rights of people living in the cantonment areas near Dehu Road, as well KESBO, the boys school and orphanage. The students then picked the organizations that they would most like to work with and the particular project opportunities that interest them. We looked the first choice of each student, as well as the skills and strengths of each member of the potential teams. The goal was to balance the two teams and to match up the skills and interests of the team with the partnering organization. It was decided amongst the students that Monifas, Felipe, Zimeng, and Maya will work with Sadhana and Kylie, Arielle, Vanessa, Mike, and Anna will work with KESBO.

The students then met as their newly formed teams to further discuss the project opportunities and to make a plan for the second week. They planned their schedule for the day and the type of activities and questions they want to ask their respective organizations. One of the benchmark activities for week 2 is for students to identify key stakeholders within each organization. From there, each student will conduct an interview with each stakeholder to gather important information to help them prioritize projects and offer crucial context to their observations and conversations thus far.

Learning about cantonment areas firsthand: a tour with Sadhana

Today we visited Sadhana, an organization located on the edge of one of cantonment areas of Dehu Road, a town that is a 30-minute train ride from our Malavi guesthouse. A cantonment board is an area originally set up by the British military during Britain’s rule of India. After the British left, these cantonment areas, scattered throughout India, were left in the hands of the Indian military. Cantonment areas and the 700-800,000 people who live within these slums lack access to governmental programs and fall outside of the democratic process that other India citizens can exercise. Sadhana is an NGO that works to help the people living in the cantonment areas understand their rights as citizens and demand that they received the same treatment and access to land, educations, health services, and infrastructure as those living outside of the cantonments.

The founder of Sadhana, Ms. Savita Jadhav, talks with students about the structure of the cantonment board.

Through early childhood schools, surveys and awareness campaigns, and children and youth activities, among others, Sadhana’s social workers, who live in the cantonment areas themselves, work directly with the community to help them gain awareness of and to fight for their basic rights. We met with Sadhana to understand their mission and the impact their work has had on improving the conditions in these areas and giving a voice to those who have been left out of the democratic process.

Sadhana staff sing a rallying song used to teach and encourage the cantonment area residents to demand their rights as Indian citizens.

One of the areas where the students can lend their expertise is in the creation of communications materials that can convey a clear, succinct message of Sadhana’s work and its goals. There are opportunities for stronger communications with both the internal and external community. The struggles of the people living in the cantonment areas are often not heard of outside these communities. Raising awareness across India and internationally is one of Sadhana’s goals.

Women gather around one of communal water taps used to wash clothes and for collecting water for cooking and bathing.

We toured the nearby cantonment area, one of a few different cantonments boards located around Dehu Road. We saw the stark contrast between the housing and infrastructure (water, sanitation, etc.) in the nearby town and its bordering cantonment neighbours. Electrical wires that have been strung from house to house create a tenuous power ‘grid’ for the settlement. A handful of communal water taps are shared among many households reliant on them for cooking, washing, and bathing. A lack of toilets in the home and in the community require residents of this area to use the adjacent open field in place of a washroom. This poses a danger, particularly to women, who must wait until the cover of dark to go into the field, where they are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

Intricate mehndi designs on the palms and arms of a newly enaged women who lives in the cantonment area near Dehu Road.

Preparations for an engagement celebration were taking place being our tour. The mother and sister of the soon to be married women asked to have their photos taken with us.

Despite the many obstacles faced the communities within the cantonment areas, we were greeted with smiles, invitations to eat and enter homes, and observed relatively organized methods for carrying out daily activities despite the lack of government infrastructure and services. Small shops sell drinks, snacks and necessities. We observed a small metalsmith operation and were invited to stay for an engagement party where a home had been transformed into an ad hoc, open air reception hall. When we ask the bride-to-be if the people around her were her family members, she explained that many are her neighbours which, she said, are the same as family. This is a common theme here – a close knit community that thrives on relationships and sharing in place of the amenities commonplace just outside the cantonment boundaries.

A metalsmith in the cantonment area demonstrates how he creates his wares from scrap metal.

Travelling to Pune to learn about Chetna

A common sight in the streets of Pune - a cow amongst the bustling traffic.

Today we visited Pune, an hour train ride from Malavli. In Pune, the students met the founder of Chetna, an organization that focuses on the empowerment of women. Their focus is to help women understand their rights and the government programs available to them. From advocating for them in domestic abuse cases to helping young women access education and vocational opportunities, Chetna uses a multifaceted approach to strengthening the voices of women at the family, community, state and national levels. Part of the efforts is the creation of Self Help Groups, or SHGs for short, which are women’s saving circles. A group of 20-40 women pool their savings  each month depositing them into a group bank account set-up and overseen by Chetna. These collective savings allow women to earn more interest on their money and take out loans against the savings for enterprise opportunities, health and educational expenses for their families, as well as for unforeseen emergencies.

Meeting with the women of one of Chetna's Self Help Groups (savings circles).

The students met with one of Chetna’s 250 SHGs to determine ways that we might work with them on a design project. This group of women all have basic sewing skills and are interested in building on their skills in order to create products that can be sold. Earnings from this enterprise would be divided  amongst the group to invest further in materials and supplies and ideally augment the women’s individual incomes as domestic help. Almost all of the women work outside the home cooking and cleaning for employers. These women may work at 7-8 homes per day to earn enough for their families. Additional income and the opportunity to earning a living from an enterprise than domestic work is goal of the women.

Kids in the local community pose for photos.

Word of our visit traveled fast in this close knit community and the children, who are on summer vacation until June, gathered in a large group to see our students and to pose and to have their photos taken.

Mike learns how to write his name in Hindi with the help of new friends on the train ride to Pune.

The trains to and from our guesthouse is always an opportunity to learn more about the local culture. From talking to fellow passengers to seeing what trinkets the hawkers are selling, the train is a lesson in itself and a chance the reflect on the comparisons and contrasts between India to Canada.

Zimeng talks with a passenger on his commute home on the train.


Visit to KESBO and Shantivan Leprosy Center

Today we traveled to KESBO, a boys orphanage located in Kashat, one train stop from Malavli. The students met the founder Mr. Ali and toured the campus buildings talking with the boys who were working on their homework in their classrooms. The boys learn in English, Hindi and Marathi (the state language), receive vocational training and religious guidance, and are responsible for cooking, washing, caring for animals, and making repairs in and around the campus buildings.

Boys in their classroom at KESBO Trust in Kashat, India

After our visit to KESBO, we traveled to Panvel to visit the Shantivan Leprosy Center, which treats and provides employment for people affected by leprosy. The sprawling campus houses a weaving studio, medical and naturopathic centers, organic garden, and canteen, among other units which generate revenue to support the Center and provide training and employment opportunities. The students toured the airy space and enjoyed watching the artisans working on basic looms and spinning wheels to create rugs and other woven products.

Worker at Shantivan Leprosy Center uses a loom to weave cloth.

Working in tandem, these weavers use a basic loom that stretches across the big, airy production studio. Three mid-sized floor rugs will be cut and knotted from this large loom.

Worker uses a spinning wheel to prepare yarn for the floor looms.

OCAD U Students in India

The students arrived to the Malavli Guesthouse and took a tour of the local area, which including their first local train ride to nearby Lonavala. Part of the tour was to pick out fabric to have traditional Indian saris, salwar korta, and korta.

Left to right: ISAC staff, Farooq, Mike, Arielle, Anna, Vanessa, Maya, Monifa, Kylie, Zimeng, and Felipe wait for the train at Malavli station.

Arielle, Mays, Kylie, and Monifa look at fabrics in a Lonavala shop

Pre-Departure “To Do” List

Hello India Students!

I hope you have survived the end of the term in one piece! Once you have gotten some sleep please make sure you get everything done for India that needs to be in place before Monday, including:

1) Immunizations/prescriptions filled
2) Tourist Visa picked up

3) Travel medical insurance policy purchased

4) Flights booked and information emailed to me (ASAP please)

5) All forms completed and ready to hand in to me on Monday or before (I will be on campus on Thursday all day, Friday afternoon, and Monday afternoon.)

6) Plan to register for the course and pay your tuition by May 1st (check most updated per credit tuition costs before filling out your cheque)

Other things to do:
– Register as Canadian Aboard with the federal government (
– Let your bank and credit card company know when and where you will be traveling in order to avoid blocked usage (your travels could trigger identify theft alerts)
– Pick up a outlet converter for India – you will need a two rounded pin adapter, which looks like this,
– Assemble basic supplies you want to bring with you for documenting, brainstorming and prototyping activities (i.e. sketchbook, pens and pencils of choice, markers, post-it notes, x-acto knife but remember it must be in checked baggage, etc.)

And lastly, we will be meeting on Monday, April 22 at 6pm at Motimahal Restaurant located at 1422 Gerrard Street East ( for a little taste of India. Dinner costs are on your own – luckily it’s cheap and delicious! We will order individually downstairs and then have space for our group on the second floor. Meet outside (unless it is raining) at 6pm, and please be on time. Plan to be done around 7:30pm. Besides dinner, we will also be going over course materials.

Let me know if you have any question and/or if you need to drop off forms before dinner on Monday evening. I will be on campus on Monday afternoon between 3 and 5pm.


Meeting Presentation and Info

Hi all,

I have updated the meeting presentation to include answers to your questions from our meeting last week. Have a look at, CourseMeetingPresentation.

Your flights should arrive at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM) on Sunday, May 13th sometime before noon. ISAC staff and I will be meeting you at the airport, and we will travel together to Malavli. The commute time from the airport to Malavli is 3-4 hrs so that is why it is important that we try to cluster everyone’s flights together within a few hours.

We will finish the course on Friday, May 31st. ISAC will provide transportation to the airport on Saturday, June 1st. Choose departure times in the afternoon to give us enough travel time. If you are planning to extend your stay in India, further transportation and connections from Mumbai will be up to you.

We will be meeting again on Monday, March 25th from 5:30 to 7:00 PM in Room 670. At this meeting, we will provide you with further information about how to prepare for the trip as well as visa application information and payment deadline dates.

Have a great week!


Welcome to Design Abroad: India!


It’s great to have you be a part of Design Abroad: India. This new three-week course is an exciting opportunity for you to travel, explore, and to co-design with a local community in rural India. You will be working with organizations to identify design projects that can help further the organization’s goals and the people they serve. Examples include working with women’s empowerment organizations, microfinance groups, an orphanage for boys, among others. Possible project opportunities include designing or re-designing products, services, or environments, developing educational materials, and creating marketing and outreach campaigns. The scope of the projects will be determined once you arrive in India and delve into co-designing with the organizations and the local community.

When you are not working on a design project, you will be immersed in the culture of India – from the food, design, art, and music you find to the traditions, natural beauty, and new friendships you discover. As a group, you represent a variety of backgrounds, skills, and interests. I am excited to see the experiences you will have and the work you will accomplish in India in May. In the meantime, I look forward to meeting with you soon.



p.s. Here are two images: the first is of one of the guest houses where we will be staying. The second shows the kind of traditional clothing women are encouraged to wear while in India (Don’t worry we will talk more about this and how you can easily find appropriate clothing for very reasonable prices once we are in India!).