Auroville’s popular doll project allies with U.N. mission to save oceans

Tsunamika will take the avatar of an aqua goddess in the conservation campaign

February 04, 2022 10:52 pm | Updated 10:52 pm IST - PUDUCHERRY

Auroville’s tsunamika project that turned gift dolls hand-made by fisherwomen devastated by the 2004 tsunami, into a global symbol of hope and belief, is ready to play a key part in the United Nations’ world-wide campaign for sustainable oceans.

The tsunamika will take the avatar of an aqua goddess in the campaign that seeks to build a conversation on oceans and highlight the need for preservation as part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

“The importance of conserving oceans is not emphasised enough in ecology education in India. We aim to start it by generating a conversation about ocean conservation in a country which has a 7,500-km coastline,” said Uma Prajapati, founder of Upasana Design Studio and spearhead of the tsunamika project.

“We will soon roll out campaigns in schools, stimulate conversation about the interconnectedness of oceans and human welfare at the grassroots level and involve the creative community in awareness dissemination”, she said.

The plan will involve cross-platform interventions on the theme of oceans, such as curriculum for schoolchildren, stop motion animation films, installation art, books and short films.

“Our network of over 1,000 designers are already ideating on the campaign. We are also receiving a lot of enquiries by volunteers wishing to associate with the campaign...most encouragingly not just from places surrounded by water like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but even from places which do not have a coastline...like Rajasthan”, Ms. Prajapati said.

Though the Tamil Nadu State School Board has included the tsunamika story in the school curriculum for sixth grade, the tsunamika project is looking at developing school learning modules on ecology that prominently features oceans on the lines of the curriculum designed by the UK-based Ocean Conservation Trust.

The tsunamika story

In the days following the tsunami in 2004, Ms. Prajapati set out to help affected coastal families by offering trauma counselling to over 600 fisherwomen in villages around Auroville. Soon, Upasana trained the first group of about 180 women to make little dolls from upcycled fabric waste bits. These dolls were named tsunamika.

The doll-making project helped the women focus on building back their lives and, most importantly, earn a living. As the story of tsunamika spread, several organisations, in order to help the coastal women, procured them in bulk and distributed them as gifts to their employees.

What began as a livelihood and empowerment mission, and a support mechanism for women and children in the area to cope with the devastation that they were experiencing, went on to exemplify many dimensions — a success story in empowerment and community rebuilding, a globe-spanning gift economy enterprise and an emblem of hope in humanity across the world.

Till date, more than six million dolls have been made and distributed across 80 countries through a global network. The tsunamika story book has received UNESCO recognition and has been translated into German, Russian, Danish, French, Spanish and Tamil languages.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is set against the backdrop of the relentless man-made onslaught on the oceans that kills over a million seabirds due to pollution, threatens food supply and changes marine food chains because of overfishing.

Approximately 80% of the pollution in the oceans comes from land, and coastal zones are especially vulnerable to pollutants — the biggest sources being septic tanks, plastic waste, trash, oil spills, toxic waste, farm waste, and industrial waste.Worse still, the stress on the coastlines from climate change are manifesting as extreme temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, increased incidence of extreme weather events and sea-level rise.

Since 2019, Upasana has been conducting coastal clean-up initiatives, pledge campaigns and movie screenings, as part of making ocean conservation, a movement. These activities were strung around the theme, ‘Tsunamika: Ocean My Home’ and focused on raising awareness and taking actions to conserve, protect and restore oceans locally and globally.

“We hope that in her new avatar, tsunamika, will also enter the league of fictional superheroes whose mission is to save the future of the world”, said Ms. Prajapati.

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