Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is a timeless Sanskrit phrase from the Hindu text of Maha Upanishad that imagines the whole world as one joint family.
Emulating that saying are two youngsters—Kumar Prashant, an artist from India, and Ben Reid-Howells, a Canadian educator—who have undertaken a biking expedition named ‘Vasudhaiva Ride’ spanning two continents, to pass along the significant ‘one world, one family’ message, coupled with actual fieldwork aimed to impact lives.
The projects undertaken by the duo will focus on developing resources for peace, sustainable living and community wellbeing.
“We first met in Pune during an International Art Workshop in 2015, and it was our mutual love for music and biking that brought us together. The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam appealed to us so much that we wanted to incorporate a real-world application and instead of just any other motorcycle expedition, we really wanted to give back to the world, and that’s how Vasudhaiva Rides took form,” says Prashant to The Better India.
When Prashant and Ben had first broached the subject in their circles, the idea was met with warm support and encouragement from friends and acquaintances, who came forward and crowdfunded their journey which would connect both their countries—India and Scotland.
Prashant and Ben started with Mumbai, where they taught children at the Sai Baba Path Public School near Jijamata Nagar about sustainability and upcycling, in collaboration with UWC Mahindra College. Later, they visited Pushkar in Northern Rajasthan, where they designed and built a pucca house using only natural and sustainable materials in 24 days and a budget of ₹1 lakh!
“The idea was to help local communities understand that they too can construct affordable housing using alternative materials and in the process, bring them together in an organic manner,” says Ben.
Following this stint, they rode to Arrah, Prashant’s hometown which is located in Bihar, where they collaboratively worked with Bihari labourers from different faiths as well as volunteers from countries like Tunisia, Czech Republic, Mexico, Chile, Canada and South Korea to construct a community development centre.
All this was an effort to address the issues of unemployment and skill development in the area.
“The Bihar Project is one that is quite close to my heart and is an answer to everyone who says that people from Bihar leave the state at the first given opportunity and never return. We spent nine months erecting a structure made entirely out of a combination of locally sourced natural, modern as well as upcycled waste materials in place of conventionally used ones and that helped cut down the cost by almost 40 per cent!” explains Prashant.
The structure truly stands out as a model for sustainability. Not only can it grow its own food through upcycled rooftop gardens, but can also treat its own wastewater with a simple in-house treatment system and source solar energy! The latter was made possible with the contribution made by Greenpeace India in the form of a 5 kW solar power system.
Nothing went wasted in the process—even the post-construction cement debris was transformed into intricate mosaics that now adorn upcycled wooden doorways and the windows of pushcarts!
Another standout facet of the structure is that they utilised grills, which were otherwise wasting away, to make walls put together by mud plastering.
Bihar has often been dubbed as a state that is underdeveloped with severe unemployment and illiteracy issues, leaving people with no other choice than to migrate to other states and cities for better prospects in life. But that is exactly what Prashant intends to change once their journey ends in Scotland (Ben has Scottish lineage from his mother’s side) and train the youth from the region in art and skills at the community development centre as a long-term project.
After the Bihar Project, the duo headed to Nepal to execute their first international project. In the Kagathi village near Kathmandu, they built a playground for school children that also acts as a training ground for non-profit educational organisations in upcycling and resilient construction.
At present, the they are in Kyrgyzstan where Prashant is teaching the local youth in upcycling methods, and Ben is helping various non-profit organisations to work towards initiating a positive change. “Here we are giving away all the skills that we possess and would help these local communities to drive change,” adds Prashant.
Their next goal is centred on the European refugee crises, under which they will be heading to countries like Turkey and Greece.
Speaking about the experiential learning that they have imbibed along this journey in the last two years, Ben shares that knowledge goes both ways. “I’ve learnt infinitely more along with Prashant than I would have during any Masters program. For me, it means putting theory into action, which really is a transition from being an academic theorist to doing actual service work and bringing communities together; carrying needs assessment and executing that into projects, value-adding and sharing local stories. As an educator, I’ve been facilitating experiential education for the people we have been working with and the volunteers we’ve had,” Ben concludes.
If you wish to contribute to Prashant and Ben’s endeavours in making the world a better and more sustainable place, click here.
You can follow Vasudhaiva Rides and the rest of their journey or also volunteer by reaching out to them here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)