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Alice Project – The Wonderland In A School Of Sarnath

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. “Where is the phenomenon that I perceive?” This question is the basis of the pedagogy started in the ‘80s by the Italian teachers Valentino Giacomin and Luigina De Biasi, and named “Alice Project”. As in the story of Carroll students are invited to follow the wise rabbit, i.e. the path to self-knowledge.

Alice Project – The Wonderland In A School Of Sarnath, photo essay by Maria Concetta Cardamone

This photographic project is about the first intercultural and interreligious school of “Alice Project”, founded in 1994 in Sarnath (India). The school is generously open to the lower social classes and adopt innovative teaching methods.
The “Alice Project” is the result of the commitment of two Italian teachers, Luigina De Biasi and Valentino Giacomin, who from the 80s had developed and successfully tested in three government schools in Italy a revolutionary teaching method, nowadays regarded as the “new Montessori”. This method was set up to respond to a negative trend in growth in the new generations: every year, new students had an increasing of behavior problems, less attention and concentration, increasing of cases of dyslexia (difficulty in reading and writing) and other learning disorders.

The method of Giacomin and De Biasi was named from the “Alice in Wonderland” novel by Carroll: as the protagonist of the book, in fact, students are advised to follow a path of self-knowledge, also sometimes by upsetting the classic western cognitive models and having meditation, prayers, yoga, ayuverdic massage as daily activities. Initially, there were only 75 students and four teachers. Today, after 20 years of operation, the school has more than a thousand students, 43 teachers, and is officially recognized by the Indian government as a non-governmental organization (NGO) “Awakening Special Universal Education”.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. Every morning students gather in a general assembly in the central courtyard of the school for collective prayers and songs. The school of Sarnath in India is the first school and intercultural intereligiosa Alice Project, founded in 1994 on the site of the Buddha’s first sermon after enlightenment. There are other two Alice schools in India: at Bodh Gaya in Bihar and at Bodhisatta Deban village in Arunachal Pradesh.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. “Alice in Wonderland tells the story of a girl who enters the world of his imagination. She is lucky because doesn’t get lost. We believe it is important to help our students not only to go through the world around them, but also to understand their inner world to not get lost in it.” (Creators of Alice Project)

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. During the roll call, Alice students are invited to choose a small ball, which can be white, yellow or black. Each of these colours represents a particular inner state: positive, medium, negative. In this way the students are daily asked to investigate their inner state and the teacher can deal with it.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. Schools of Alice were born to allow education to the poorest and encourage disadvantaged social classes. The costs of school enrollment are based on the census: the cost ranges of Rs 250 (about 4 euro) monthly to 1 euro; some students are free of cost. The excellent learning outcomes have recently pushed even some higher-class families to enroll their children in Alice schools.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. In a classroom, used exclusively for this purpose, there is the Yoga lesson. This practice of “body education” is part of the exercises on attention, perception and self-analysis that over the years have shown an increase in concentration and learning of the students.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. In October 1997 the tests carried out by professor Sharma from the University of Benares, showed a notable improvement in Alice students compared to those from other schools, mostly regarding attentiveness, memory, awareness, tolerance, discipline and socialization. Bullying is almost inexistent.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. Ayurvedic massage lesson. The curriculum combines traditional materials imposed by the Indian government as Mathematics, Science, Hindi, Sanskrit, English, History, Biology, Chemistry and Geography, with the ancient Indian disciplines of yoga, meditation and ayurvedic massage.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. The future plans of Alice concern the extension of the school up to class 12 (18-19 years), and for this it is necessary to build more classrooms; the opening of two new small schools in two villages near Sarnath (Singhpur and Paterman); equip schools with a science lab and a computer course. In addition, at Sarnath is scheduled to start organic farming through solar energy, biogas, natural fertilizers, obviously starting from the purchase of land.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. “In short, we decided to take in classroom two exploratory paths: one for the village outside (with its history, geography, etc.) and one for the inner village (with its inhabitants, its obstacles, dangers, its beauties , its emotions). Our goal was to integrate the curriculum with the knowledge of the inner world, making the students discover how they could change their inner village at will through the magic of consciousness. “(Valentino Giacomin)

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. The school in Sarnath currently teaches up to 800 pupils aged between 5 and 18 years. Many of them go there on foot or by bicycle and live in the nearby city of Varanasi, the oldest city in India.

SARNATH, UTTARPRADESH, INDIA – October 2014. The hostel within the school provides free residence for 42 students, most of them are Chakmas, an ethnicity expelled from Bangladesh because Buddhist and who has never received the Indian passport. For this reason the Chakmas in Sarnath are stateless, live in the school and return home every two years, with a trip that lasts four days.

Q&A with Maria Concetta Cardamone

Photography is…
For me photography means to accept and to be in contact with things as they are. At the same time it takes a responsibility: you have to give your own interpretation of the world. In few words photography for me is a “conscious act” and a way of life.

Photography and writing…
Photography and writing are as soul mates, they are often complementary each other. There are writings full of vivid images, when you read at the same time see the scenes, and there are photographs so clear that you can literrally “read” them. Both give the opportunity to express inner worlds and to know the ones outside.

Who left the biggest impression on you?
I received a great impression from meeting Tiffany Coates, a woman who lives in Cornwall and has toured all over the world on a motorcycle. Other important meetings among photographers are with Letizia Battaglia, Gianni Berengo Gardin, Fausto Podavini, Pentti Sammallahti.

Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Sicily, a  warm and beautiful place but with some contraddictions and problems that push young people to search their destiny and self realization far away. I did so. But a Sicilian, wherever goes, carries inside his homeland and probably will always talk to his children of the smell of orange blossom and jasmine on the seashore.

avatar-mcardamoneMaria Concetta Cardamone (www.treccenere.com), 1984, Palermo, IT.
I work in photography since 2008, following a training which included courses such as “History and technique of photography” with Angelo Pitrone at the University of Palermo, workshop of Ancient printing techniques at Palermophoto and course of Reportage with Fausto Podavini. I have exhibited both in solo and group exhibitions in Italy and abroad, with both reportage and artistic works.
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