Day 2 of UnSchool Mumbai started off with the fellows sharing their ‘thing’ they brought from home with the group. There were pandan cakes, handmade brass objects, Malaysian wood print blocks, handwoven saris. The varied backgrounds of the group made for such a fascinating culinary and visual show and tell of diversity and culture.
Afterwards, we went straight into a deep-dive workshop into systems thinking with Leyla. She walked through the main concepts of systems explorations, systems dynamics and how they can be applied to complex problem solving and day-to-day life. The group collectively mapped the 3 interconnected systems at play in the world, then Myrthe facilitated the systems mapping session where small groups explored a critical social system.
Once we had pushed our brains into the realm of systems thinking, we filled our bellies with platefuls of delicious veggies cooked up by the team to charge-up for what was to become an incredibly adventurous afternoon.
We gathered outside Of10 eagerly waiting for what would come next. Priyam, our local producer (UnSchool Alumni from Berlin Fellowship) had managed to make some transport logistics magic happen. Now quickly becoming a new UnSchool tradition of frizzle-esque transportation, we got onto an old BEST bus, which would otherwise be functioning as a Mumbai public transportation bus.
This was a crazy surprise to some of our local fellows, who experienced a bus ride in an entirely new light. There were gasps of shock that it was even possible to hire a BEST bus, and shared stories of extremely packed buses and the gender segregation norms they were breaking by sitting on the ‘other side’.
The bus rattled along many Mumbai streets to our final destination of Versova beach, where we met Afroz Shah - fellow UNEP Champion of the Earth - who for 108 weeks has been running the world’s biggest beach clean up. Afroz has cleaned an impressive 5 million kilos of waste together with an incredible collection of locals, school kids and Bollywood stars (amongst others).
Our group of 22 added to over 200 people from all walks of life cleaning the beach. We joined school children, the local mayor and international guests and people from the UN environment program who were shooting a video as part of the global #beatpollution campaign.
We all eagerly donned the recently donated reusable gloves and got right to work, digging deep into the sand to find layers of plastic waste. Everyone was instantly shocked by the incredible amount of plastic bags, sauce packets, tiny lids and other unidentifiable bits of plastic impregnated into the beach. There were even old backpacks, shirts and shoes pulled from the sand. The clean up can only be performed during the low tide, but once you start it's hard to stop. Even as the water started to creep back in around our ankles, we were all busy working together to free the plastic debris from the grips of the packed sand. We talked about the lack of anything else we could find, such as shells or other beach life you are used to seeing. We looked along the the shoreline into the uncleaned part of the beach and saw mounds of trash, much of it being brought down to the ocean from the seven local rivers that connect to it.
After all the cleaning, we were invited to join Afroz and his many volunteers at his house for chai and dinner. As we sat around his home, we heard the inspiring story of Afroz’s passion for clean oceans, stories of the local volunteers who have helped him create a global movement, and the many people who have learned to love nature as a result of doing the simple act of cleaning.
There was magic in the air as we shared our own experience and discussed how such a massive problem can be addressed by taking small actions, and by how using your own two hands you can literally change the world. To add to the magic, we then sat down to the most incredible south Indian feast served on banana leaves cooked by Afroz and his neighbour Mona (with the very effective help from some of our fellows). The community of incredible volunteers fed us till we were beyond full of delicious food. This glorious day and evening ended with a bang --- Just as we were saying our farewells, our hosts popped on a song called Leila Leila (yes because of Leyla) and Mona insisted on a bollywood dance fest with her and Leyla leading everyone into a mini mosh pit of dancing, clapping and hugging. And just like that, we hugged our new friends and jumped back on our awaiting BEST bus for the long Mumbai night ride home.
On the bus ride back, it was time to reflect and process this crazy and activating day. Humbling, satisfying, inspiring, full, grateful, light were some of the words that fellows used to describe their experience of the day. Myrthe then asked everyone to pair up and spend the ride home sharing our stories of why we had felt that way as the bustle of this beautiful chaotic city whizzed past our windows and reminded us of just how amazing this world is.