29 May 2018
The smell of kerosene was incredibly overwhelming, as was the lack of sanitation and electricity as we visited a slum community in Bangalore.
We were nine town planning and urban design students in India as part of a three-week student scout program, assessing their need for sustainable energy products.
This was an experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Some of the Indian mannerisms and body language were confusing at first, but over three weeks we became accustomed to it. We learned to never assume that the food will be mildly spiced, that paneer is not chicken, and that traffic lights are more of an option than a requirement. We also realized just how bizarre the Australian language must sound to others.
The locals were equally fascinated by us. Children would tail us, giggling away, testing their English.
We were there with Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise that provides sustainable energy products to the people of India. The trip was part of our final year Community Planning Course, and funded through the New Colombo Plan Mobility Program.
We gathered information on the size of slum populations in Mysore and Mangalore, and about their primary needs, their access to basic products and services and whether any organisations were already working in those slums.
We wanted to know if they needed solar power lights, water filters and cook stoves which can significantly increase air quality, lighting, general well-being, safety and education.
One thing we noticed in all communities was the huge gap between demand and supply. Housing was a major issue evident in so many regions.
From there, we completed a comprehensive needs assessment, putting our last four years of town planning and urban design theory into practice as we consulted with locals, recognised connections of place and landscape and looked at greater sustainable practices. Pollinate Energy would use these reports to decide the areas of greatest need.
We all became great friends and are hopeful that international liaisons continue in the future between Pollinate Energy and USC so future students can be provided with the same opportunity to further their planning careers.
Pollinate Energy recruits and trains disadvantaged Indians to sell sustainable products, such as solar lanterns to replace Kerosene lamps, in urban slum communities in 5 Indian cities. They have impacted over 120,000 people since 2013, and are growing into new regions and cities all over India.
Dr Nicholas Stevens, Program Coordinator for Urban Design and Town Planning, organised the trip and said it was an opportunity for us to internationalise our four years of study.
“It puts infrastructure development, community planning, cultural heritage, urban design, in fact all their courses, into important new perspectives,” he said.
“The opportunity for students to reflect on their study in a very different social, political, economic and environmental context is so valuable for their learning and ultimately their perspectives on the planning profession,” he said.
(USC students who travelled to India were: Ace Jacobson, Lija Primmer, Kasaia Bray, Laura Small, Lachlan Masters, Jess Swan, Giuseppe Scuderi, Emma Staples and Georgina Schramm.)