One of the aims of the school is for students to become fluent in English as well as in Tamil. To achieve this, the school welcomes volunteers, who are either native English speakers, or speak and write English fluently as a second language. The volunteers work closely with the permanent Tamil-speaking teachers, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Some come to do an internship as part of their own study program, some come to teach a particular subject such as science, math, creative writing, theatre or art. Some are already trained teachers. We also welcome experienced teacher trainers, who can help our teachers enhance their skills. Every year we have one or two young people from the German Weltwaerts* program.
If you wish to know more about or participate in our volunteer program, please email the school administrator.
*Weltwaerts is a project overseen by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development((BMZ) to enable young Germans, who are at least 18 years old, to go out into the world and experience inter-cultural communication, socio-cultural cooperation and social responsibility in an increasingly globalized learning and working environment.
What the Volunteers say
Kate Strassman, USA
My name is Kate Strassman, and I am a third grade teacher in the USA. I came to Aikiyam School for three weeks in July to do a writing project called "Real and imagined Ancestors" with the 6th, 7th, and 8th standard classes.
The basic steps taken to realize this project were for students to pick a person in their family from long ago, ask their family questions about this person, and then combine these facts with what they imagine about that person. The result was a vivid paragraph about an ancestor who becomes very meaningful for the student because the project connects them with their own family history. We made the past come alive through writing. The method of teaching I used for the writing project is called the writing process.
Sandra Ellis, England
I feel very fortunate to be a volunteer here at Aikiyam School, a school that believes in inner growth and unity. I first began working with the teachers in June 2008, teaching English during their school holiday, and I have been invited back each year since then to work in the school from January to April. I also assist Navarathinam, the 1st grade teacher, teaching songs and stories in English to her delightful class children.
Some of the teachers have become good friends and we socialise often, sharing meals and days out. Becoming part of their family and watching their children grow up is a great joy and I feel very privileged to share their life experiences. My time here makes me come alive in a different way and I am very grateful to all the wonderful staff and children for enriching my life.
Julie Cunningham, Australia
I loved Aikiyam School from the very first drive in! Turning off the road from Kuilapalayam village towards Auroville, you pass old trees and banyans that shade cows resting, goats and the local motorbike rental shop.From the gates of the community of "New Creation", the school features the distinctive modern architecture of Auroville. In the school too, the architecture is distinct. Many classrooms are reminiscent of settled space saucers and in size and design, they express something of the nature of the school's culture; creative, unusual, playful, fully child-centered. Being a part of this interesting and fun educational community, where much effort is spent on making the children's learning experience creative, particularly in the early years, has been a delight.
Barbara Britton, Canada
This is the 4th year that I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering for a month or two at Aikiyam School, helping to teach a variety of subjects to grades 6, 7 and 8 including democracy, the Constitution, geography and emergency preparedness.
Working with the students and teachers is a wonderful way to connect with the local community,and learn about their lives and culture while sharing my own knowledge and experiences.I get to see the world through the students’ eyes, which often takes everything I know from my life in Canada and turns it upside-down. This can be both exciting and challenging.
Luise Pape, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
The last ten months in Auroville's Aikiyam School have been a wonderful experience. I enjoy working with the children, first in second and now in third grade. I spend the entire school day with them, assisting with all of the subjects except for Tamil. Five weeks ago I started giving English lessons to fifth grade completely on my own; a big challenge, but a lot of fun! In the beginning it was challenging to teach children with a completely different cultural background, speaking an unfamiliar language. But with time, and help from all of the great staff, I learned, and now I feel I am part of the school.
Marie Girardeau, France
My name is Marie, and I was a volunteer, assisting Tia in the Art Therapy classes for five weeks in March-April 2014. I really enjoyed being in the school, which was not too big, with its nice playground and original classroom shapes. The Principal, Shankar, and the other teachers were really nice and friendly. It was really interesting for me to share my experience with them and with the other volunteers who were there for a longer time. The Art Therapy classes were really fun, and the projects were just lovely. I enjoyed the kids here because they were really motivated to learn, had good cooperation and respect amongst themselves, and were really creative. They also respected the teachers. I also had also the opportunity to go to the Special Needs class several times to see what they were doing and to help the teacher. As a primary school teacher in my home country, France, I really liked my experience in Aikiyam. I learned a lot, and now have new ideas for my class. Thank you so much !
Caroline, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
I am very grateful for my one year experience volunteering at Aikiyam School. I have a whole new understanding of what a school is about, how much work it takes to be well-run, and how important it is to create an atmosphere that makes the school the children’s favourite place in the world. Working in the classroom has helped me to understand the Tamil culture better. I observed that the children match the energy of the teacher: if the teacher talks in a calm voice, the students are more likely to be quiet and behave in the same manner; if a loud voice is used, the class will probably respond in shouting. This phenomenon I observed especially in the lower grades. This year has shown me that a teacher is a learner and that I never want to stop learning.
In October 2011 I came to the school to work on a Shakespeare project, “The Tempest”, with the students and the teacher of standard 6. I was impressed with how well the teacher had prepared the students. They understood the plot of the play and had a good sense of who the characters were. Given that English is a very difficult language I had already created an adapted script. Early on my instinct was to discard the script and get them to improvise the situations and this proved the most successful in providing spontaneous performances. All I can say about our cast is that they rose to the challenge magnificently. I can honestly say that I learned as much from them as they (hopefully) learned from me.
Pips Rudd, Zimbabwe/England
In hindsight it is clear that I was always going to come to the land of Saris , henna and bright colours.
Born in Zimbabwe , but schooled in South Africa , while travelling during my holidays to visit my parents in East Africa I thrived off the contrast offered by different places. Being African, the sun, bright colour and warm people, have always been an appreciated feature of life.
Impatient to see more of the world, I travelled with one of my closest friends for a year in between school and university, acquiring a TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate before our departure.
I started at Aikiyam in December 2011. I was asked to help the Science teacher liven up lectures for the seventh and eight grade. The teacher was open to new methods, implemented many of my suggestions, and encouraged me to interact directly with the students. Working with children on a daily basis is not always easy, but the environment at Aikiyam is positive, inspiring, non-threatening, and conducive to the nurturing of the best human qualities. Looking for avenues for improvement, I would suggest that more use should be made of volunteers, to increase both students' and teachers' English proficiency. Teachers should be made more aware of how crucial the level of English comprehension is for the students' progress and education.
Dominick Bachstein, Germany
I worked in the Aikiyam school for 3 ½ Months. From 17th August 2009 till 30th of November 2009. I spent the whole time in the Kindergarten of the school. For the first 7 weeks I worked in the LKG with Vijaja and Kalai.
I introduced the idea of running Free Play once a week with the whole Kindergarten. Free Play is a method, which offers the children different activities, such as painting, dancing, ball games, playing in the sandpit, cutting and pasting, etc. The task of the teachers in this case is to open a space where the child can choose one of the offered activities by themselves. Because of the openness of the teacher and their interest in new activities the Free Play project was very quickly established and an improvement process could start. The installation of the Free Play technique was a pleasure for me; now the teachers are able to organize and implement Free Play on their own.
2014 - 2015
2013 - 2014
2011 - 2012
My experience volunteering as a teacher at Aikiyam School was one of tremendous heart-opening and growth. I will always look back upon this time I spent as part of such an exceptional community of learning with tremendous gratitude and affection. I absolutely loved collaborating with the staff (who made me feel welcomed and like a valued member of the team from day one!) and working with the students, who were so open-hearted, full of great ideas, and eager to learn. I learned so much about Tamil culture from my students and fellow teachers and had so much fun each day! I hope to return to spend more time at Aikiyam in the future, and in the mean time think of it often and with great warmth.
How amazing and motivating it is to see a community empowering its future leaders from within. I was really impressed to learn how many teachers at Aikiyam School actually attended there as students. I just finished a 2 month volunteer-teaching and mid-way through I realized the students' need for more reading, FUN reading; not required or assigned. So I set-up “Reading Buddies”. I worked with a small group of students each morning before school just reading, getting used to books, and developing vocabulary. We played games and talked about how silly some words sound! Upon leaving, I saw HUGE improvements and the program was even expanded. Thank you Aikiyam School, for sharing your light with me and allowing me to learn along side you!
2009 - 2010
Megan Keil, USA
I have been primarily working in the 4 th grade, although I also assist in other classrooms throughout the Aikiyam school. Coming from teaching in NYC which is a completely different culture, I found immediately that the children were so open to me, new ideas, and enthusiastic about learning! The children along with Murugan have made me feel that the classroom is my home. Murugan and Mala also welcomed my ideas and suggestions and together we have created a dynamic curriculum. The children have studied all aspects of food, gone on field trips, are caring for their own plants in the herb garden, graphed data about vehicles on the road, put on the play of Alice in Wonderland, written their own stories and poetry- to name just a few things! As much as the children and staff may learn from me, I am also certainly learning equally from them and being a part of Aikiyam. Being in a new school and a new culture brings a fresh perspective to my view of the world and of teaching.
Lisa Marx, Germany
I am 22 years old. At the moment I enjoy my last month of my internship at the Aikiyam School. I study Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Mannheim. One part of my studies is a practical semester, where I have to gain practical experiences for a job in the future. I feel very happy that it was possible to spend my time at the Aikiyam School. The work with the children is fun, especially because of the openness and the interest of the teachers for new ideas. They welcomed me very warmly and made it easy for me to get into the Indian lifestyle.
Lisa Kutzuer, Germany
(Far left on photo)
I am very happy that I worked here. The teachers in the kindergarten were very friendly and open to me from the beginning. If I have problems or a difficult situation they help me. The children have many options to learn in different ways. The project work in the classes is a big motivator for learning.
For me it was a great experience to have worked here !
Michael Frearson, England
I came east to change my life, and the work I'm doing with class 3 is a major part of that. The first thing that struck me was how enthusiastic the children are to engage and participate in class – though not always in the way I want them to. Their level of English is impressive and they almost always understand my instructions, and sometimes they even follow them. The children's energy is boundless; I feel like a juggler on a unicycle pushed to my physical limit just trying to keep up with them. I go home each day with the echoes of “Michael! Michael! Michael!” ringing in my ears.
As for me, it's that kind of sink-or-swim situation that comes from jumping into the deep end, so I'm trying to stay calm and keep my head above water. Whilst working hard to at least accept such an alien culture I'm learning a lot about classroom management, organization of people, creativity in education, and the wonderful capabilities of 9 year olds. I wouldn't swap my class for any other in all of India . We're not perfect, but we're working very hard to get better. Though the children will always pay more attention to their class teacher than to me, I won't let it stop me from trying to get somewhere – I'll just keep juggling and pedaling like our future depends on it.
Chris Witchman, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
For me Aikiyam means a chance - a chance for the children to learn something, to develop their skills, and to just be children; a chance for the staff to teach in many different ways what they consider to be important, and to change what they consider in need of change. And it is an incredible chance for me; a chance to learn from these children how they view life, to learn about Tamil culture and language, and to compare all this to what I know from where I grew up; therefore a great chance to learn about myself. Thank you for that!
Kaya Goettker Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
Aikiyam school is a wonderful place for me, a place for teaching and learning, a place for development and exchange, for progress and joy.
I worked one year as an assistant teacher in the 4th grade and really enjoyed each day being in Aikiyam school together with all the teachers and the students.
I still remember my first day, when I entered my classroom and 25 children were smiling at me and gave me immediately the feeling of being a part of the big „Aikiyam family“. I am so thankful about the students‘ lightheartedness and happiness every single day, which gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about Tamil culture and language. Being together with these children was a huge chance for me to understand more and more about a completely different culture.
Sarah Loeb, USA
I am coming from Brooklyn, New York. There I worked in a progressive middle school in Kindergarten to Third Grade classrooms. I recently received my masters degree in education and was enjoying my life in Brooklyn but was longing for a change. When I connected with an alumnus from my masters program about her experience in Auroville and at the Aikiyam School, I knew I had to come and be a part of this community. It is hard to believe that my time working in the Aikyam School is over. The teachers here have welcomed me whole-heartedly and the children have been so loving and engaged in all of the work I have done with them. It has been a joyful, active, and deeply gratifying experience to be a part of the staff at Aikiyam. I have supported teachers in the Kindergarten to third grade with lesson planning, curriculum development, and English literacy. I helped teachers think of creative ways of teaching and support them in any areas they need such as classroom management, accommodating students, and making sense of the CBSE requirements. I have also enjoyed working in the library with Vincent. There, I have organized the English books into categories so that teachers and students can find and use books more easily. Finally, I have done work on closely observing children using the Prospect Descriptive Review Process to better understand the needs of children. Sharing the review with the teachers was meant to encourage more close observations of children in the future.
Lea Gathen, Germany
Lea Gathen (25) was a volunteer for the Weltwaerts Programme 2009/2010 and returned to reconnect with Auroville and Aikiyam during the winter of 2016. During the months of January and February she conducted a project in the school called Wasteless Aikiyam. She writes:
Have you noticed the schools’ segregation barrels -freshly painted with clear writing and creative painting? Have you seen the lush green spots, lurking through the field in front of New Creation, which were heavily littered only four weeks ago?
These changes in the schools’ environment derive from students’ activities during “Wasteless Aikiyam” a small project scheme, which I conducted during the months of January and February this year with 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders. In my work I was supported by various and numerous wonderful people including Kaya from Wasteless Auroville, Alex from Eco-Service, Guillaume and Gillian from Kuilapalayam Clean-Up and Creative Arts Teacher Helgard from Kalabhumi.
I am going to tell you a little bit about what we did. When I started classes just after Pongal we would first focus on Upcycling: 5th and 6th graders turned matchboxes into colorful pieces of art by covering them with waste clothes; 8th graders did something similar with books and 7th graders created garlands with stars made from waste chocolate wrappers.
After Republic’s Day followed classes on different waste materials and categories. We asked ourselves “What is the stuff that we don’t want to deal with?” And landed with answers such as “Plastic, Paper, Organic Matter, Metal and Glass”
Bill Vanaver and Livia Drapkin Vanaver, USA
They are from New York's Hudson Valley, where 43 years ago, they founded and continue to direct a company of dancers and musicians called, The Vanaver Caravan. With the Company of international dancers and musicians they have toured the world collecting, performing and teaching. They were so happy to have worked with the 3rd-8th grade students at the Aikiyam School. They did a special project creating a world dance and music festival that was presented in February. The children learned dances and songs from Nigeria, Italy, China, Brazil, South Africa and the USA. Aikiyam’s Bharat Natyam teacher, Usha was present at all the classes, translating into Tamil and team teaching with them.
Anbazhagan P. (known at Aikiyam as Anbu), India
I am from Azim Premji Foundation which is a not-for-profit organization, (which has been operating for more than a decade in several Indian states, including Puduchery, with the aim of making deep, large scale and institutionalised impact on the quality and equity of education in India). I hold a Master's in Chemistry from Pondicherry University and a Bachelor's in Education from Central University of Orissa. I am interested to teach hands-on Physical Science subjects in a constructive manner. My personal interest is to educate students to be healthy rather than making them to learn the concepts in the textbook, but it is a challenge in this money oriented world. I am teaching the Physical Science subjects for grades 6-8 .I have been working at Aikiyam School from September/15 till April/16.
Anejana (known at Aikiyam as Annie), India
I work with the first grade in Aikiyam, trying to understand the dynamics of a classroom.
My work includes classroom observation / teaching practice trying to gain a greater understanding of the teaching-learning process in an alternative school like Aikiyam. I can bring this learning to future placements in government schools, where the style of teaching is quite different. I am here as part of my work from Azim Premji Foundation an Indian NGO dedicated to improving the quality of education in India.
2015 - 2016
Jana Mengeu, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
I came to Aikiyam School in August 2015 through Weltwaerts. During my one year stay at the school I was mainly working together with Selvaraj in 4th grade, helping with teaching English, Science, Social Science, and Maths. I did some little projects in Integral Art as well.
I loved working with the children of Aikiyam. They are so utterly open and sincere that sometimes I couldn’t believe what was happening in that very moment. I really feel that the love I gave them was mirrored back with an even bigger power. Also, Selvaraj, the teacher with whom I was working, did really help me to get into teaching. But not only did I enjoy working with him, which meant planning, preparing and eventually teaching, I also found somebody, I could trust, to talk to. Whether it was topics related to India as a whole and its politics, or things like caste, poverty and arranged marriages, or the family situation of the children, I could speak frankly with him.
Thank you, Aikiyam for this valuable and unforgettable year.
2016 - 2017
Sophie Naurez, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
After finishing high school I decided to do a year as a volunteer because I wanted to have new experiences and to get to know new cultures and people. In Aikiyam School I helped out in Crèche, Upper Kindergarten, 2nd and 3rd grades. I also helped with teaching Science in the 7th Grade, and I spent some time in Art and Clay Classes. I found the work to be very diversified, interesting and a lot of fun.
Although I found it difficult in the beginning because of the different customs and language, I was very interested in learning about the Tamil culture
At Aikiyam I learned:
- the importance of dialogue with the students as well as with colleagues.
- to seek help whenever I needed it, and I found all the colleagues were willing to help me and assist me with advice.
- a lot about myself. By being dedicated and interested, and working hard I grew comfortable, and learned that I have a creative side, which I could express in shaping lessons. Small fun activities could make the class more interesting and easier to follow. I had lot of fun thinking outside the school book about different ways to present topics.”
Nele Schute, Germany (Weltwaerts Program)
I came to volunteer at Aikiyam through the Weltwaerts-program right after finishing high school. I assisted in the Lower Kindergarten and grade one. I worked a lot with children who had special needs and needed extra support to keep up with the class. I helped them with English, Science and Social Science. I also helped in art class, in the library, and with swimming classes.
Though there were many cultural differences, or even because of them, I developed my skills in communication. I learned that some things, which I took for granted are uncommon here, or even impolite. And the other way around it is the same. Things about or the behavior of teachers and children, which I didn’t understand in the beginning, began to make sense to me, after I asked questions and explained myself. I developed tolerance, respect, flexibility and understanding while working at Aikiyam.
I learned about classroom management from my colleagues, by observing their methods and asking them questions. I also tried out different things and learned from my mistakes. Before I learned the basics of the Tamil language, I learned to communicate and interact with the kindergarten children without language.