Class of 2014 Blog

This blog represents the students’ thoughts and observations during the 2014 Design Abroad: India course. It also serves as an archive of the project and work accomplished in collaboration with the local community. To learn more, read the following blog posts, starting at the beginning through to the final day’s post.

The Long Goodbye

By: Sonali Ghosh & Nicole Marie

It’s a not so bright and early morning start for all of us as we were up late putting the finishing touches on our projects and presentations. But we are still going at it, and excited to show off our final presentations! We all grabbed some breakfast sandwiches for quickly got on the yellow school bus and off to the orphanage we went for the first presentation. Once we got there we all raced to see the newly built staircase. It was touching to see the bond created between the children at the orphanage and the visiting students. After watching the first presentation, hearing some heartfelt speeches and seeing the children perform a few dances, they then gave all the students who worked with them these lovely customized cards as thank yous. After that, we visited the pathway one last time to take photos and say our final goodbyes.








As we boarded the bus once again, we made our way over to Dehuroad to present our group’s final project. In a small cramped room with no A/C with about 30 or so people sitting around us, a projector and screen taking up most of the room, we began presenting our final project! Even as we were presenting people would be coming and joining the audience, all of them excited to finally see our creation. It was great to see all the smiles around the audience as people watched our video, the kickoff for our campaign. When our presentations were all complete, we all received roses from the Sadhana/CJAM members to say thank you to each and every one of us.

us cjam







After a long day of presentations we went back home and had a few hours to relax before our last Indian dinner together as a group. We got all dressed in our saris and our best kurtas and boarded the bus one final time. To our surprise, we arrived to a venue set up with a DJ and some chefs who cooked us a delicious Chinese meal. We enjoyed a meal of chicken lollypops, fried rice, noodles, and some more chicken. We then danced to some Bollywood music and then eventually called it a night and went back home for the night – But not before we were given our certificates of completion for the couse. P.S we all graduated!

indian girls


certificate india


india crew

After a comfortable three-week stay fully immersed in the Indian culture, it will be a hard transition to go back home. We will all miss the vivid colours, the spices, the musical variety and the humble and generous people of India. All in all it has been an unforgettable experience for all of us!


We Created Rain

Last week, we noticed a missing link from overall circulation of the Shikshangram campus; there were no stairs or pathway connecting the main building to the girl’s residence. However, a cow path has been created on the slope from constant usage, indicating an opportunity for design. We then asked the children to draw out what they imagine could happen in between the boys residence and the girls residence, we were shock by the colourful and creative drawing given back to us. We closely examined the drawings and discussed different possibilities amount our team and with the orphanage staff. We finally decided to create a stair on the slope with a mosaic platform in the middle and a tree at the center of that platform. The finished design was finalized on Monday of the last week, on the same day construction started. To our complete amazement, the whole project was done in 4 days.

The India Design Abroad course flew by very quickly. It felt like yesterday, when I was at the orientation thinking to myself, how on earth will I be able to handle such an abstract project, and terrified at the fact that this is for real. We would have to build what we design. What if it doesn’t work? What will we do about the structural problems? Are we going to have enough time? What if I under perform and slow down the whole team? I was very uncomfortable.

But Aaron, ISAC’s COO and a very wise man whom I have grew to respected and loved; said to us: “Uncomfortable, is a good place to be, learn to choose freely.” Those words stuck with we for the rest of the weeks, I kept thinking about it. What does it mean to choose freely? What does it have a choice? How much courage and faith does it take to make a choice? What does it mean be free? How does being free different from being self-centerness and egocentric? If everyone chooses freely, can anyone freely choose? What if choices contradict, then who decides who gets to choose?

On the day of our final the presentation, Raksha, ISAC’s program manger, briefly spoke to the children at the orphanage home. Then turned to us and said, “we will make rain”. I was confused but unimpressed, I thought it would be something similar to African rain dance, where people would gather, jumps around dance in circle, in hope of creating rainfall.

But I was wrong, it really did rain. The children began by tapping one finger against their palm; there was a weak but steady tapping sound in the room, as if the rain had just started hitting the ground. Then they changed to two fingers, the sound of the rain got louder and heavier. The intensity slowly increases, finally reaching a heavy down pour. I was amazed, touched and embarrassed, all at the same time, it was beautiful and wonderful. As the wobbling tears began to fall, I finally began to understand what does it mean by chose freely. It is to break free from preconception, to believe in the unbelievable, to think the unthinkable and to reach the unreachable. It is to understand the fear of unknown and to acknowledge the possibility of creativity.


Drawing from the kids



Dr. A’s Glasses


Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s iconic glasses were the theme of the day for Team CJAM. Yesterday, we got a green light for our concept and we now had 2 days to pull it all together in time for the final presentation on Friday. By using Dr. A’s glasses as a symbol for our awareness campaign, we could tie the Indian constitution to the cause while also speaking of Dr. A’s vision for equal human rights.

The tactic for the day was to divide and conquer: Hannah, Nicole and I visited Pune in the morning while Ali and Sonali stayed behind to prepare for filming at Dehuroad. The Pune goers spent a long hour and a half on the train to get into the big city. We were on a strict mission to print templates of Dr. A’s glasses and gather art supplies for our group’s video. Oddly enough, the first print shop we visited was on Dr. Ambedkar Road. His presence was felt via an elevated full length bronze statue of the great man which overlooked the busy boulevard of pedestrians and auto rickshaws. Following our errands, we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Naturals for fresh scoops of chiku, mango, coconut and almond ice creams. If there is one thing I’ll be craving once we’re home in Canada, it will be Naturals!


In the afternoon, the team at Dehuroad began filming footage for our video. We wanted to involve as many members of the cantonment areas as we could, bringing together different communities and age groups. In our video, we wanted our local actors to literally and metaphorically share Dr. Ambedkar’s vision for equality. This was done through the passing and wearing of his iconic glasses. In post-production, we will cut the video to make it appear as though the actors are passing the glasses through space and time to another person in a different setting! Throughout the filming process, we were swarmed with community members hoping to take part or get a closer look. It was a great success. We now have momentum and tomorrow we will head to the great city of Mumbai for video and sound editing.



And then there was rain

After the first morning stretch we all got ready for a long and exciting day ahead! Team Shikshangram spent most of the day retrieving supplies for the pathway that we are implementing. Our design is well underway and for the next couple of days we will be labouring under the hot sun. Thankfully we have many little helpers eager to work with us side by side. The actual construction workers amaze us everyday, they wake up at 6am and continue to astonish us until about 8pm. They barely break a sweat, while we almost collapse from just taking a walk up the hill! We often look like exhausted pups panting in the shade. My mind is constantly racing for water, we are so unacostemed to this heat that its practically the only thing we talk about. IMG_2549

We often have mirages of pools in the distance or even winter coming early. You know youve gone absolutely mad when your praying for snow in May. With extreme temperatures come extreme storms. The growl of the thunder came without warning, gusts of wind flowed through shikshangram and the kids went wild, they were ready for what was coming next. We all waited in anticipation until finally the first drop poured down with millions following it. Then suddenly it was mayham, 7 year olds jumping off platforms into puddles, slipping and sliding in every direction, we all started dancing and feeling the rain. It had been weeks since the last drop of water, it came so fast and left within minutes. We were soaked through and through but had never felt better in our lives, our hearts were pumping and faces were red. My cheeks were hurting from my smiling so much! With a gran finale the express storm gave us a double rainbow show. The heat came back and we sat in absoloute content starring up at the colourful sky. IMG_2594

Shovels and hennas and camels, oh my!

For the Shikshangram orphanage group, today was the start of construction for our project.  We first had to meet with the founder and the in-house art teacher/landscaper to combine our ideas for a slide to get from the boys’ building to the girls’ building as well as a safe pathway down the steep hill.  We were very impressed to see that the art teacher had built a 3D model of the hill with the inclusion of Shikshangram’s plans to build a retaining wall and fence surrounding the immediate area.  With this, we were easily able to add our slide from a platform in the centre of the path down to the bottom.  We decided to construct the path from halfway down the hill because it would have been too steep and long to build from the top of the hill.  We ended up running into problems with our budget, but Satish Moon (the founder) was generous enough to provide us with his materials, workers and money that he had already set aside for the completion of the girls’ building to help us build the path.

We spent the day creating an outline on the hill of where we would be placing the stairs, platform and slide. We also cleared up site from garbage and scraps of wood.  Next we searched the site for materials that could be used in a mosaic design on the platform.  We found a bin full of broken tiles that we began washing and sorting into coloured piles.  All of the children loved helping us sort and wash the tiles.

We later had a visit from the dean of the Faculty of Design at OCAD, Gayle Nicoll and her husband.  They came to India to see first hand how our projects were going.  They were very happy with our concept and gave us some great suggestions and ideas as well.

Later, back at the complex, we had a visit from one of the ISAC members’ nieces who gave the OCAD students some beautiful henna tattoos.  After that it was out to the Las Vegas of Malavli, Kinara Village.  There were coloured string lights hung all around the open-concept restaurant, which gave it a warm glow.   The first thing we noticed when walking into the restaurant was that there were a horse and camel available for rides as well as a fortune teller ready to predict our futures.  Complete with a live band and playground, it was a really fun night out.  A big thank you to Gayle and her husband for that treat!


Close Call

Woke up at our hotel in Delhi to a delicious breakfast at the hotel, make your own omelet and a variety of other tasty treats. The first stop of the day was to the Lotus temple. After waiting in line and entering the gateway there was a large beautiful garden surrounding the temple. Bright blue water fills surrounding pools almost like a moat. Before entering you must remove your shoes, we rushed in because our feet are not used to the hot ground. When entering the temple it was like nothing I had ever seen before, light shone through the petals in a symmetrical manner surrounding the ceiling. The sound of silence and birds chirping filled the space and two large vases of flowers filled the space with a lovely aroma.


Let me tell you, the next stop of the day was pretty much the opposite of the calm and peaceful experience we had. It was around a 30-minute drive to Old Delhi where we got into a tuktuk for the rest of our journey for lunch. How many OCADU students can you fit in a tuktuk? The answer is 6; we swooshed into two banging into one another as we weaved through traffic. At any moment you could put out your arm in any direction and touch another car, tuktuk, person or cow. Driving in India everything feels like a close call. One thing I have noticed about the culture here is everyone seems to be fearless.


Our last stop of the day was to a market where we shopped until we dropped. Did I mention that at all times you feel like you are in a sauna?! That didn’t stop us from bargaining for good deals and running around from tent to tent. The bus ride to the airport was like a show and tell – everyone excited about the souvenirs picked up for friends and family (friends and family reading, get excited.) By the time we got to the airport and rushed onto the flight everyone’s rosy faces looked ready for a nap. After admiring the bright blue lapis coloured sky with bursts of orange we landed back in Mumbai safe and sound. During the three-hour bus ride back to Malavli we sat in our groups and discussed plans for the upcoming week. After going over details I am pretty sure everyone on the bus fell asleep (it’s hard to say for sure because I was fast asleep as well.) All in all the day was a bit of a roller-coaster from calm to hectic, but an amazing day.


Agra (a great) Day

It’s early morning but the signs of a sweltering day are already visible and as we walk out the door of the air conditioned hotel and hit the true heat of Delhi those signs are confirmed. However, with Agra and the Taj Mahal scheduled in the day ahead heat is at the back of our minds. After three hours of the bumpiest bus ride I have ever experienced and a loop around Agra to make it through the chaos of vendors, people, and vehicles we arrive at Agra Fort in all its red sandstone splendor. As we are guided through the fort we learn about the functions of each room and the vengeful nature of rulers past. However, beyond the vengeance there is calculated thought; windows that can be seen out of but not into, false perspective to make the Taj Mahal appear closer than it really is, an echo chamber that allows voice to travel from one corner to the other, and even a magnifying glass to view the Taj Mahal when eyesight started to fail. When our tour ends the two hours we have been there feels more like twenty minutes but the heat is starting to get to us so we head out of the fort for a break before strolling through the Taj fort1Now somewhat re-energized we head to the Taj Mahal, which upon seeing words really cannot describe, it is a designers dream polished white marble in perfect symmetry but also so much more. It typical tourist fashion we can’t help snapping a few pictures and striking a pose or two but most of all we just want to sit and absorb it because no picture will ever do it taj 2Group taj 1 Finally the day is over and we able back onto the bus … or is it. First we are met by a fierce storm before we even leave Agra dust, wind, and lightening, luckily all viewed from inside the bus where we are safe and driving out of it but our opinion of that safety changes over the next two hours as we are awoken from our attempts to sleep on the bus by first one then a second scream. We are not the only ones on the bus there is also a mouse! We complete our journey knees tucked to our chests to avoid the floor stopping the bus only for a post midnight pizza delivery by motorbike on the freeway. Now the day is truly over and there really isn’t one more ounce of excitement that can fit in.


Time to stop & smell the masala

After a late night of attempted Bollywood dancing and intense group meetings, it was time to prepare for our weekend trip to Delhi. The day started off with a delicious combination of dhokla, chutney, and chai. This was followed by group presentations, which each included implementation plans, where we received feedback and suggestions.




We then prepared our bags for our trip to Delhi. We took a three-hour bus ride to Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai. I had the pleasure of sitting with Ms. Tranum and Ms. Raksha. I’m not sure if they felt the same way about sitting next to me, with my sarcasm and stupid jokes. Either way they were stuck with me, as it is hard to deflect my jokes on a moving plane.

For example, I saw a beautiful temple with a golden dome-like structure from the plane window.  I then asked Ms. Tranum if she could see the temple, to which she began to laugh hysterically. I wondered if I had said something wrong but realized that a temple in India is like a fish in the ocean. The unique differences of these places are what make India so mesmerizing and multi-faceted.


When arriving in Delhi we were split up in to separate groups and driven to our hotel. I thought that the traffic on the DVP in Toronto was time consuming. This drive in particular was a unique array of honking where certain sequences meant different things. Just imagine bumper-to-bumper traffic where following lanes is optional.

After arriving at Hotel Tavisha, we ordered dinner from what seemed to be an endless selection of options and went to sleep dreaming about what more India had to offer.


Tattad Tattad

It was a crucial day for the CJAM team- we kicked it off with an early wake up call to get as much work in before leaving to our location. We were hard pressed for time as we wrote out our concepts on large white paper, being sure to use more pictures than words as most of our clients can’t read/speak English.

We would be presenting three directions for an awareness campaign for CJAM- a human rights group that focuses on the providing equal constitutional rights to cantonment residents. Our plan was to pitch these ideas and work on a final campaign concept based on feedback and a group brainstorming session at their office. We meant business and had a lot of work ahead of us, so we needed to be efficient, precise and able to communicate well with their group. 

But, as we learned, time constraints can hardly stifle Indian hospitality. So there we were, 5 students and our translator (and CCO of ISAC) Aaron, politely sitting through several Hindi songs performed by our “client,” and then some. Seems the tables turned pretty quickly on us. To make things that much more exciting, we were asked to reciprocate by singing a song ourselves. Everyone in the group refused but as Aaron said to me, there was no getting out of it, so I mustered up some courage and started singing the only song that came to my mind in that moment- Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks (Read: a twangy country song about drunkenly showing up at you’re ex’s wedding and telling her what’s what). Not quite the subject matter you want to bring to a group of highly respectful Indian women. But somehow we managed to present and get to a space where some great feedback and ideas were flowing from everyone in the room. In the end, the meeting was a huge success.

We got home pumped up and ready for some wild Bollywood dancing, taught to us by Raksha. We saw some really great energy out there tonight with some excellent choreography by Henry “It’s a G Thang” Zhang and Matthew “Strike a Pose” Sabloff. If you want to know what we were dancing to, check out Tattad Tattad here: 

It’s outrageous and yes, your son or daughter knows how to perform (almost) every move.

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Climb on the Magic School Bus

Today we had a very early start to our morning adventure. Our yellow “magic school bus” took us to our hike up to the beautiful Karla Caves. These caves overlooked the village and have been around for an incredibly long time; they date back to 160 BC, allowing us to step back and just “kick it old school”.

busarriving to karla

After finally getting up there by bus with a very steep incline, we walked up the rest of the way passing by venders, local restos, and shops alike. Yes this is a tourist attraction, but these caves are and always have been a sacred place. There was quite a bit of activity, which included goats, roosters and humans within the same environment. By this I mean that holy rituals took place, particularly that of Buddhist ceremony. It was nice to see how even though today wasn’t a day particularly out of the ordinary or deemed special, yet these practices proceeded to function as so.

religiousrooster sacredus caves line frame karla caves

We all had a nice little hike, but once we returned, right back to work we went! We split up into our groups and carried on with our project research. The group working with the Shikshangram Orphanage mainly stayed back at the yellow house brainstorming for their potential project, and the group that I am apart of went to our placement at the Sadhana Organization beside the cantonment area. Today was exciting because we had the opportunity to start taking the first steps to beginning to design with the citizens of the cantonment. We really got intimate and interactive and asked them all sorts of questions that helped us gather information while inspiring us all the while.

Mother and sonswomen grocerygroup cantonment





Inquiring, Interviewing and Interacting

For the group working with Sadhana, the past two days were full of interviewing and diving further into understanding our organization better! Monday was our first day on the job and we were excited and eager to get started. We had a late start to the day as we were recovering from our weekend trip to Mumbai. However, that did not stop us from jumping right into interviewing the key stakeholders of our project. Stakeholders included the founder, Savita and cadres, Saroja, Abdul, Anand and Jaya. Each member of the group took on one person to interview and engaged in a conversation that yielded both positive and negative insights. Interviewing stakeholders showed us that we cannot always assume we fully understand the situation and we can always learn something new and interesting. Allowing the questions and answers to blossom into a rich and meaningful conversation gave us answers to questions we never had or thought about.


After collecting and examining the information from the interviews we then sat down to develop strategy directions we could potentially explore. We would hit some roadblocks occasionally, which is normal when working on any project, but these were easily overcome due to the expertise of some group members as well as our prof, Sarah. Everyone offers his or her own insights, perceptions and expertise, which makes working in a group so rewarding and engaging. Our next step is to participate in some observational research and involve the community in our design process.