Class of 2015 Blog

This blog represents the students’ thoughts and observations during the 2015 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.

It’s All A Blur

It was our last night before our final presentation to the community in Zuarinagar and I was in serious need of a caffeine boost. Our team – the infrastructure group – had been up the previous night preparing for a land use proposal to present to the Goa Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) to try and get permissions to build a waste management system for industry owned land in the community. After the meeting with GIDC we spent the remaining hours of the day running around the city for supplies to get a prototype prepared for the next days presentation.

So, droopy eyed and slightly crabby from yesterdays events, we started our last day of the program at 12:00 AM sharp. Our presentation to the community was a continuation of what we pitched to GIDC – a solution for a waste management system to be implemented in and by local residents. We had proposed a permanent and temporary storage and organization system for which we needed to prototype one piece of the overall system. Luckily, right next door we had a metal smith to help start us off! The rest of the night went by quickly – we were covered in dirt, sweat and calluses from sawing and tying rough ropes all night. By around 7:00 AM we were done with the prototype and entirely out of it. The rest of the class were starting to wake up and get ready to meet the community – our group was told to stay behind and rejoin the others after getting some rest. To be truthful – it was all a blur from that point!



After a quick swim, nap and doing final repairs to the prototype (it had accidentally been damaged by the resident dog) we headed out to Zuarinagar. The three groups presented their final designs to the crowd that came to attend the meeting – we had a positive and enthusiastic response to our proposals. Following the Q&A we all went to watch the Rangoli winner from yesterday demonstrate her rice flour designs and see the newly built bridge the Behavioural Change group had made for the kids. As we started to head back to the guesthouse we were given a loud and warm send off by all the local kids we had worked with for the three weeks.


Back at the base we were caught between having nothing more to work on and still feeling like there was something left to happen. And despite our group being up for the last two nights our need for shuteye vanished – or at least got sidelined by the prospects of visiting the beaches in Goa again. It was our last chance to eat the amazing banana fritters from Johncy’s – the best seafood restaurant on Benaulim Beach.


Goodbye Goa :(


Today was an early morning, the earliest morning yet for us. There was no sun in sight as we lugged our bags to the back of the bus.
No goodbye is ever easy, and this one was a lot harder than I could have imagined. Leaving a place we called home and the people that made up our special family for 3 weeks. Especially Raksha, our guide. If you ask me, she’s undoubtedly the most wonderful person in India. With her kind heart and multiple languages she always made our trips a success.
As our final night came to an end we all pondered about how different life will be, we won’t step out our doors to a group of friends. Things were going to change. But we all looked forward to returning to our families and sleeping in an air conditioned room.

Although the outcome of our trip seemed unknown most of the time, we eventually found our purpose, implemented or suggested solutions that “lit a spark” for the community as Arron would say. We started a change that would not have happened without us. The community accepted us and showed their thanks with many smiles and a lovely bunch of flowers. We all felt very appreciated. That gave us a hook that made us want to stay and continue to encourage change.

I felt that knot in my stomach, as we drove away. I did not want to leave. Knowing I had 30+ hours of travel before arriving home motivated me to stay. But we were on our way, back home again.


Bridging the Gap

My eyes shot open a minute before my alarm went off. I couldn’t tell you what kind of bird was screaming but it sounded like it was afraid of heights. I peeled myself off the sticky mattress, washed my face and threw on my community clothes. Today’s the big day.

A couple two-bite bananas later and Raksha, Natassja and I were crammed into a rickshaw. The driver sparked a couple of wires together and we had a fan. Luxury. We got to Zuarinagar and were met with the usual crowd of curious faces. As we measured the gutter separating a row of houses from the children’s playground, the kids hopped back and forth, dodging goats in a parkour-like fashion. We had been inspired to start this project after witnessing a boy fumble his footing and land in the gutter, cutting his knee and dripping in sewage. By bridging this gap in a literal way, we hoped we could also metaphorically bridge the gap in this community that lacked a connection to each other or the land that they shared.

Back into the rickshaw, we drove down the highway to a yard where we could purchase slabs of cement. After crunching some numbers, we realized we wouldn’t be able to cover the initial opening of the gutter because the area was too wide and unstable, but we’d still be able to create a bridge over the two main entry points. Slightly dismayed but not discouraged, we purchased the slabs and arranged for delivery with just enough time to make it back for a lunch of rice and dahl.

Natassja headed back to the site to supervise delivery and installation while we prepared for the evening ahead. We met her at the site -just as the final stones were set in place- equipped with 5kg of rice flour, signs and prizes for our rangoli competition that we would be hosting. The Magic Bus group gathered the kids and chanted their new song they had written about community cleanup, and we watched as children marched around the playground, singing and cleaning the garbage. Members of the community gathered around the bridge, jumping on the stones to test them then nodding approvingly to each other. We admired our handiwork, it was rewarding to see what a difference a stack of cement blocks could make.

As the Magic Bus group wrapped up their session with the kids, we arranged rows of chairs around the new bridge and tested the sound system. The children immediately ran screaming with excitement, dancing up on the speakers and filling the chairs. We had a captive audience awaiting our event. With the help of Raksha translating, I announced that we would be holding a rangoli competition along the newly built bridge and had enough space for 13 women to compete. We had decided on rangoli because it’s a traditional art form practiced by the women that welcomes prosperity, inaugurates new beginnings and is a symbol of cleanliness and good fortune. The theme of the competition was community clean up and we used a line from the children’s new song to inspire the women’s designs. The line roughly translates to “this community is ours, just like our home, we are going to keep it clean.” Trust me, it sounds better in Hindi.

Good vibes and smiles pulsed through the community as the women and young girls began their rice flour designs. Some were in the traditional geometric designs, while others took the quote more literally and depicted a flourishing community situated around the temple. The children danced Bollywood style while the men and elders stood watching at the foot of the bridge. Before we knew it, all 22 blocks had been covered -an extra 9 women had snuck into the contest.

We attempted a communal vote by handing out 150 voting chips, but kids were caught cheating and trying to throw the vote. A fight almost broke out, but it was quickly diffused by Raksha, our trusty translator. An executive decision was made that as a team of designers we’d collectively decide the winners, and after a few minutes of deliberation we announced 1st, 2nd and 3rd and handed out consolation prizes. The celebrations continued, and we were humbled by a beautiful gesture of flowers from the community as they thanked us for the work we had done over the past 3 weeks. Bombarded with requests for photos, our cheeks hurt from smiling as we loaded back onto the bus with a trail of kids following behind, offering us high fives and secret handshakes, excitedly hopping up and down and waving us off until we drove out of sight.

Back to Heaven Goa for a long night of work translating the winning design into a symbol for phase 2 of the project; to be utilized within the infrastructural waste management system that the other group was working on. Only one more day to go.

Infinitely in Transit

We woke up to Raksha’s voice coming through the window, “Girls… girls!!! It’s 4:40!!!” We quickly threw on our clothes and grabbed a bite before our 5 am departure to the airport. As seven of us boarded the bus in the dark, our three-week stay in India felt like a dream. While we were going through the past three weeks they felt infinite, as if we would never reach the end, but here we were and it felt surreal. We waited at the gate for our flight only to discover that there was an hour delay. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep but that feeling that this would never end returned and that hour felt like five. I’ve never been on a domestic flight that stops in different cities along the way. The route the plane was scheduled for was Mumbai then Delhi then Srinagar. Because of the delay we were now an hour behind schedule and anxiety overcame me. Our connecting flight out of Delhi was departing an hour after we landed… what if we didn’t make it?? Sitting on the plane after our first stop in Mumbai we waited to take off for the second time and that never ending feeling returned again. After finally landing in Delhi we said some quick goodbyes, then Rachel and I had to run around the entire airport to catch our next flight to London. We were unable to transfer through so we had to collect our luggage, go all the way back to departures, check in to get our next boarding pass, go through security again and then run to the gate. The gate was of course at the very end of the terminal. Out of breath and red in the face we just made it for final boarding. It felt like we would be living in transit forever and this airplane would be my new home but after another nine long hours we were finally in London. Sitting in my friends apartment in London looking back on these past three weeks, it feels strange that we were in India for what feels like forever but in a weeks time when I leave to return home to Toronto, this trip will probably feel like forever ago… But I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it was an experience we will never forget.

IMG_8173 IMG_7902 IMG_7851

The Big Day of Presentations

Today is a big day for all of our groups! Excitement and nerves fill the air as we make our way into the bus. Yesterday, we had our Magic Bus session with the kids and saw all our hard work in action as the children had fun, laughed, and learned. Today, we present our work and our findings to the community. We also planned a group activity where adults and children play one of the games we designed for our Magic Bus session: Blanket Ball! Since the game was such a success during our session, we thought it would be a fun activity to conclude our presentation.

As we set up in the temple, a group of community members begin to gather around. My group and I watched the Infrastructure group, and the Behavioural change group present their final projects. As I watch their presentations I am in awe, both groups clearly put such thought, research, and dedication into their final projects. Their thoughtful presentations and creative prototypes raise discussion, questions, and curiosity from the community members who have come to watch our presentations.

My group also presents our work. We run through how our Magic Bus session was organized, what it meant to achieve, and what we wanted the children to take away from our session. Some of the children from the community joined us as we sang the song we used for our Magic Bus session. Later, we played Blanket Ball with the community in the field, which turned out to be a success once more!

Once our day of presentations was done, we said our goodbyes to all the new people we had met. Today had been our last day in the community. Tired, but happy to have seen the final product of our work, we arrived back the guesthouse. The rest of the evening was finishing off any last bits of work, and packing for our travels plans for tomorrow. We ended our evening by having dinner as a group, while reflecting on our experiences and learning moments in India. We spent our dinner congratulating Sarah, Raksha, Arun, and all of us students for our hard work in this course!

How to work under stress

It started off as another day of group works. But, it wasn’t one of those crazy dragging brainstorming of how we’re going to approach the community anymore. After having few words with Sarah last night, our group now really knew what we had to do. Things were finally cleared off and everyone started to figure out what their roles were. Two main things that needed to be done today for our group: the song and few games for kids in the community to build their idea of ownership and working together as a community when facing any problems.

That was the point where we were told that our group had to present our finalized ideas to Rashimi, the head manager of MagicBus within few hours. Everyone who were in our group began to feel the pressure and started panicking a little bit. But who said that the best results were always made under a bit of pressure; our group managed to create a full 15 slides presentation within the short given time. We were all very proud. To be honest, i was mostly super relieved that we were able to click the send button ten minutes before the promised time. The amount of adrenaline that got released at the moment we sent out the file must have been terribly massive.

Everyone in our group all felt completely knocked down after pulling full brainpower for five hours straight. We needed some fresh breeze in our brain. I thought I was going to pass out if I didn’t do anything about it. Few girls and I have agreed that we needed mental refreshing moment and decided to go out to the beach. The salty taste of the breeze of the ocean was enough to bring back the smiles to our faces. Our empty stomach was soon fulfilled with deliciously cooked vegetarian Indian style Chinese food as soon as we got back to our guesthouse. The taste of famous deep fried cauliflower dish was the only escape for me from never ending vegetarian dhal. It gave me an amazing illusion of eating sweet and sour pork from Canada.

Nothing could have been more perfect than ending our long day with a nice henna time. After waiting on a long line up, I finally got a chance to get my henna done from Raksha at around 11pm. The noise of a quiet night with looking at Raksha putting henna on my left hand brought me a huge sensation of relaxation and happiness.


Plans Underway

Panoramic Rickshaw

Panoramic Rickshaw

With a quick change of plans to the project that came Monday, each new group began to prepare for our community visit on Wednesday. The teams divided into the infrastructure group, behaviour change and children’s play and education. Each group was working away at how we would implement and plan within the final two days.  Organizing of materials, meetings, conversations and presentations had to be done. It was decided that in terms of accessing the community we would have one visit tomorrow to have an interaction with the community and one final presentation day of of the sustainability plan on Friday. During the day most of us were found crouched in front of our laptops, our notebooks or having group discussions. We felt like we were back at OCAD for a moment  doing work until the smell of Hussein’s cooking and brought us back to where we were.

This day became a learning activity in and of itself. All of our insights had to be presented analogue, a presentation style many of us hadn’t experienced since elementary school. We worked away until the late afternoon on how best to approach and development visual graphics that could be translatable and easily digested.

As we wrapped up the presentations a few of us decided to take a rickshaw into Maragau, seeing as this might be the last opportunity to gather materials and to wander around Newmarket for the last time. The rickshaw whisked us away under the midday heat to the city. First stop: Fabindia, to see what what was so fab about it. Turns out it is the Indian version of Anthropology. We soaked up the air conditioned atmosphere, admired some beautifully patterned kurtas and compared futon prices and then off we were to Newmarket. Our rickshaw driver led us to where he said we would find the best spices, despite the fact that we were already quite familiar with this area. With some saffron in our pockets, we wandered a little more, only to discover that every exit looked the same and there were minimal opportunities to reorientate ourselves. Exiting Newmarket, we decided on a quick stop at the ice cream shop that had the unique Indian flavours we had enjoyed before. The cool fig and mango icecream is always the perfect treat. Arriving back at the guesthouse we had the groups favourite “Indian” meal waiting for us: Chinese food! 

Busy Week Brings Us Great Insight

Today, our separated groups (education, infrastructure, and behavioural change) brainstormed 3 possible ideas that we could implement in the Zuarinagar community. The infrastructure group was tasked with developing various system designs that could be adapted by the community and practiced, the education group would create a program that could be used by Magic Bus. The behavioural change group would create ways of messaging that would promote health education, a sense of ownership and other knowledge surrounding waste management.
After we developed our ideas through the ideation process, we travelled to the community and presented them to the people who lived there. It was a small group that consisted of women, children, men and elders. Children were coming and going out of curiosity, women left to go back to their homes to return to their work, and the men and elders gave us insightful feedback.
The garbage and infrastructure group presented possible systems designs that could be implemented into the community and many questions were posed by community members. They were concerned that no one would volunteer or take turns to monitor the waste or pick it up from households, if it was a paid position it may not generate enough income, and people would not be interested in paying a fee for these services.
The messaging for behavioural change presented two ideas to the community. The first was a Kollam or Rangoli design that would be a symbol for cleanliness that could be placed at entry points to the community. The other option would prevent the children from jumping over the trench that surrounds their play space by creating a simple bridge with concrete blocks; this bridge would have messaging and symbolism that would promote cleanliness in the community. The community members enjoyed both of these ideas, and the group thought that a combination of the two could be appropriate.
Lastly our class assisted the education group in conducting a Magic Bus session. The created a few games and we helped them organize the children into groups and clarify instructions. The practice session was successful in the groups process; they discovered what games would work best, how to simplify them, and make them relatable to education surrounding waste management.
Continuous online research was done to answer the questions and concerns the community had for the infrastructure group. The group contacted Green Goa Works, a local organization that tackles waste management in Goa to gain more insight, and possibly pair up the organization with the Zuarinagar community. Clinton Vaz was a member of the Green Goa Works, and recently started another organization titled vRecycle. There is a lack of infrastructure that supports waste management, and the government does not fund it. Clinton explained how his organization works, and vRecycle promises to help people manage their waste once they begin recycling and separating their garbage at the source. They discovered that 10% of waste is non-recyclable and is used as a fuel for cement kilns. The insight that the infrastructure group has gained from the community, and Clinton will help them further develop their system of waste management in the community.
Today we gathered a lot of information and inspiration that would bring us closer to our Friday deadline. We have learned so much in the past two days since altering our group project, and we have made a lot of headway, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. We are all excited to see what we will bring to the community!

Kersti Nurka and Natassja Addeo

We’ve been here for long, long time

AAA_5962AAA_5933cTwo weeks passed. It seems that we have been here for a long time, because every day was packed with layers of layers of experiences and activities. Our project has been restructured according to the feedback of the community and all the research work we have done. The whole day, we were geared into three groups trying to figure out project prototype. It was mind boggling and twisting. The weather was extremely hot, but now we have adapted into the environment quite a bit. Everybody seemed to be in good working condition, not any dizziness or stomach uneasiness was reported today. Monday night was our special night; we all ate out; the dean of Faculty of Design has come to GOA to see how we are doing overall and treat us for dinner in Mickey’s restaurant in Colva beach. Everybody got dressed up for dinner, men wore outfit and women wore make up, some even wore traditional Indian Sari, including myself. Facing the beautiful Arabian Sea, we sat along a huge long table, feeling the wind from the sea, listening to the sound of the waves. The half Moon was high in the sky, encircled by sporadic stars. What a poetic night in GOA – the smallest and richest state of India. Somebody mentioned our project during the dinner, others shouted at her, “please let go of the project, let us at least have some time to relax and enjoy after a long day’s thinking, thinking and thinking.”

The Final Week

It’s the beginning of the third and final week with the Design Abroad program. Three words come to mind: exciting, scary, and stressful. We have been faced with numerous challenges along the way. The biggest, and initial one being: how can we just enter a community we know nothing about and expect to find out what they need?

There have been some obvious barriers (low speed wi-fi, anyone?) but joking aside, more prominently language and cultural barriers are at their strongest. Very few speak English and there are so many cultural norms different to ours. Religion is very engrained into the lifestyle. This is something that is not practiced to that extent in the place that I grew up and where I live. It is difficult for me to grasp.

Additionally, ethnographic research has proven to be able to show us what we (a western group of people) might think of as a problem. However, it takes asking, conversation and involvement with the locals to find out where our place is to help through design.

Through many interviews we also found out that the answer won’t just be served to you on a golden platter, but rather in fragments that have to be pieced together over time. Participatory design is a process and it takes a team of great minds and great leaders to work with along the way. There is no creative brief to tell you who your target is or what you need to answer to. There isn’t a formula, and that has been a hurdle I have faced. We must segregate ourselves from the organized, western way of thought, and enter each day with a neutral lens.

This morning we began defining what our goals and objectives over the next five days will be as we wrap up the program. The next four days will be busy and chaotic for everyone, but it will be well worth it. I’m excited and curious to see what will come of our time in India.

The virtue of walking

The night before Raksha told us about the waterfall, about how we’d go hiking up a trail with nature surrounding us and after about how’d we eat a complimentary meal and explore an old spice farm. We were excited to wake up, and when we did we all quickly packed our things ate our breakfast and made a dash towards our van. Hopping on, the usual scenes of Goan houses and palm trees scrolled past us while most of us napped. When I woke, we’d arrived. The setting was rural village, the old dirt road that led us there were littered on each side by old mud houses, built by generations before. We walked into a what seemed like a forest of palm trees and various plants stepping over fallen cashew apples along a trail that led us to the gates of an old spice farm that welcomed us with a open walled tiled roof eatery. The menu offered papaya shakes, melon juice, and chai just as a start. Food had to wait though because soon our guide for the hike arrived. He was a thin man dressed in a stripped shirt and loose pants with sandals. Given his attire we thought that maybe our hike would be more akin to a stroll. Our hike had originally been planned to be two hours but it was decided that we would drive then hike for one; some became disappointed but were still pleased to finally be able to explore nature in India. After driving up winding roads up a steep hill we came to the gates of the park where we would hike. The old steel gate opened and we proceeded onto a small dirt road that led to a trail. We got off and adjusted our things then started walking down the path towards what we expected to be an exciting and refreshing tour of the sights. Our guide led the way as we walked deeper and deeper in. Trees and small bushes began to surround us and dots of sunlight escaping the canopy shimmered on the trail. About five minutes in, we came upon a clearing. On our right was an incline into the heights of a steep hill and on the other side the reverse, a steep rocky descent down into the buses. The view of a distant giant came into sight. A mountain covered in trees, it seemed to make dwarves of anything in it vicinity and cut into the far distant sky. We stared and took pictures for a while slowly moving along the trail. We had our wow moment; this trail seemed promising. We kept walking and thin bamboo like plants a bit taller than us enveloped our team. We walked along this narrow trail, our eyes more focused on the trail in front, which had began to become rocky and loose. Then we started to feel the beads of sweat roll down our necks. We had become tired and barely noticed but our guide was on a stroll as if he was going to the supermarket. The thick tall plants became fewer and now we were into a dense forest packed with ancient trees and fallen leaves, I started to remember the sights and feelings of forests in Canada. We kept walking and now our breaths were short and shirts stained, the guide kept his leisurely pace. We navigated steeper and steeper, down more declines. Then we started hearing the sounds of a stream. We were getting close, not much longer now. It must a been a while though, I had now noticed new landmarks planted by mosquitoes on the back of my leg and I felt like a survivor of a grueling march. Finally, when I came back from the hypnotizing pattern of rocky paths and thick forest the waterfall appeared into view. It was cut deep into the surrounding mountainside. The water slid down a tall rocky wall splashing itself on the hard rocks on its descent. Below it was a small pool of water cradled by the rocks of the mountain with a small island of dry pebbles in the center. We eagerly tried to find our way down until we realized that to get down we had to climb deep down. The only things for our feet to hold onto were small rocks embed into the trail downwards. The guide as usual seemed to float down while we struggled to find our way. Finally we reached the pebble island. We shed our clothes revealing swimwear underneath and eagerly dipped into the water. The water greeted us with a refreshing cold sting that turned into a comfortable cool. We swam and splashed and dived, I opened my eyes underwater and saw the light of the sun dance and shimmer like the northern lights. The waterfall splashed into the pool, spewing mist and rained itself on us. We swam underneath, and felt the water come down. Despite its crashing force it felt like a massage. We swam in bliss then it was time to go. We took pictures and dried off. It was time to make our way up again. Feeling refreshed we started on the trail back up with renewed energy. We stepped onto rocks and gripped onto the dirt trail upwards. We started to feel our breaths only after a few steps. We slowly climbed until we reached back onto flatter trail. From there on our trail was a steady climb up. We marched with our heads down trying to ignore the shortness of our breaths and the sweat rolling down our faces. We walked past the canopies and up through bushes. Our breaths were now heavy, heavier than some of us had breathed in months and even years. We kept climbing for an unknown length of time until finally, we reached back into the clearing with the view of the mountain, the breeze rolled onto us and we felt its refreshing cool on our worn bodies. When we finally reached the van, we sat inside and enjoyed the AC. I felt like I’d been through a marathon but we did it, we felt the nature of India and came out new, or at least breathless. We had lunch after the drive back to the spice farm, with fried fish, chicken, daal, and mixed vegetables. It was what we needed after our hike. We sat drying until we started the tour of the farm itself. We walked out the gate and into the forest again. Expecting neat rows but we were surprised to learn that the forest was actually the farm. The trees and plants were all naturally grown, planted by bird droppings and the natural process of pollination. Our guide was another planter from generations of planters who had started the farm years ago. He showed us the nutmeg fruit that split open on its own to reveal nutmeg covered in a thin red white web that seemed to be more work of art than webbing for a seed. We walked further and saw more plants and trees that grew vanilla, pepper, and even coffee. We learned that for some plants the time of harvest only come for a few days a year and that to miss one meant waiting another. Through that I learned a bit about the virtue of patience and the importance of timing. We headed towards a temple afterwards and saw a man-made pool that was dug deep into the ground laid with ancient bricks. Methane gas escaped from the bottom of the pool and bubbles blew up from under, as if the pool hosted breathing creatures underneath. From the temple we walked and saw the house from which the farm started. It was a 250 year old home made with mud that absorbed heat in the summer keeping it cool, and insulated warmth in the winter keeping it warm. We saw in the back courtyard a tulsi plant and learned how the ground floor of the house had been cleaned with cow dung. Cow dung was antibacterial and kept flies and insects away, it seems that people, especially in India, always have a way of finding the best use of anything. We left and came back to the eating area outside under the roof. We sat and relaxed, helping ourselves to chocolate shakes made from chocolate grown on the farm. We also bought a variety of spices that were all locally grown. After the goodbyes to the farm and its keepers, we took the long ride back towards the guesthouse. It was a day that had felt like it was two. We learned the importance of endurance, and patience and how much the human body can perspire. With these thoughts I fell asleep on the bus and arrived back to welcome a new day.