Learning Exchange between the Swadhyaya and Pitjantjatjara Communities

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Project date: 1998

This basis for this project stemmed from preliminary contacts in 1998 with the Swadhyaya community in Western India and the Pitjantjatjara aboriginal community in Central Australia. Both communities indicated that they would be open to an exchange of key figures.

The Swadhyaya community had grown since the 1960s as a unique pattern of mutual engagement that had empowered some 100,000 Indian villages to develop successfully as communities and across caste barriers (including "untouchables") without financial or material assistance, counteracting conventional social problems in the process. It derived its strength and coherence from the cultural framework provided by the Hindu spiritual and cultural tradition dating back over 2,500 years to the Rg Veda.

The Pitjantjatjara community at Amata lived on traditional tribal lands in the Central Australian desert, and was faced with a classical pattern of psycho-social problems such as alcoholism, petrol-sniffing, unemployment and alienation, even though they were supported materially and socially by Australian welfare benefits. The Pitjantjatjara, at the time numbering some 3,000, derived their spiritual and cultural strength and coherence from the Tjukurpa (Dreaming/Law) developed over 40,000 years in relation to their land. This pattern was severely endangered by the encounter with western civilization, despite a variety of well-meaning community development initiatives.

There were a significant number of interesting psycho-cultural parallels between the development situations and potentials of both communities which contrast with many conventional community development challenges.

It was the intention that this exchange be partially assisted by westerners known to either or both communities. To explore the wider relevance of this approach, such westerners would have sought to derive and communicate insights to other challenged communities, with which they had special relationships, using communities in Scotland and Palestine as test cases. Deliverables would have included videos for such wider communication purposes, and a series of reports with a view to developing further initiatives from this encounter, notably in relation to a number of other cross-linking international initiatives.