Author Archives: Jamnya Project

Watch our video about the housing project

The CERES Global team are proud of the work we are doing with the community at Jamnya, Maharashtra, India.

Watch this video to find out a bit more about the housing project.

CERES’ Jamnya Sustainable Housing Project aims to explore alternatives to the carbon intense coal-fired brick, cement and reinforced steel houses that are currently overtaking cities and rural areas in India. This is the first phase of an ambitious master plan to revamp the primary school with sustainable built classrooms, accommodation, fourteen teacher units, and kitchen and toilet facilities for 400 students.

With thanks from  the CEREs Global Jamnya Project Team!!


Bumpy road! Through beautiful teak forests.

Bumpy road! Through beautiful teak forests. Arrived to a warm welcome and immediately saw the brick making machine. It was a focal point with lots of willing helpers, on-lookers and diligent workers. It seemed like had work and I thought I would investigate the machine’s lubrication points and make sure it was working smoothly. Helped to get a production line of bricks going to the Swinburne tradie team with the enthusiastic tribal people. It was great to see the walls rising up from the foundations and form of the new teachers accommodation taking shape.

Was invited to several houses of the village – looked quite good, although I saw that most use wood heating and cooking – this was a big twofold problem; the wood comes from a precious and threatened nature reserve and burning wood inside is really bad for the respiratory system of the family.

Some villages had gas bottles, but I learnt later that they are difficult to get and there is a small annual quota to how many one family can use.

After a wonderful lunch with the group, looked at the existing teacher accommodation. This was really of a miserable standard. Not weather proof at all. I would have a very low expectation of being shielded from the elements if I lived in it. Imagining these conditions really made me think how significant this project is to the tribal people of Jamnya and how important it is help them and how much we can learn along the way.


By John Burne.

Visit to Jamnya (12 Jan 2015)

The Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest

The Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest; from little things, big things grow for Swinburne’s IT for Social Impact India Project

In a long-sweeping bend, the Suki River cradles the village of Pal in the remote Satpuda Ranges of Maharashtra State, India. Once a hill station for the Maharajas travelling in elephant convoys between Delhi and Mumbai, Pal is now a thriving market village of 6000 residents. The Satpuda Ranges in which Pal is located were once a dense forest with monkeys, deer, tigers and panthers. However, today only scattered trees remain in parts and though sometimes you will see monkeys and very rarely a panther, most animal life has largely disappeared.

December and January are the best times of the year to visit Pal with warm days and cool nights. If you are visiting during these months you are likely to notice a group of patently western-looking ‘locals’, confidently navigating the streets and alleyways of the village, either on their way to tasks in the primary school, secondary college, tribal school, popping in and out of Krishi Vigyan Kendra (the Farm Science Centre) or returning from a visit to the Hindu temple. It is the black and red corporate polo shirts, the long-sleeved black or red t-shirts with words like ‘business’ printed on the sleeves or white t-shirts with words like ‘Swinburne University’, ‘IT for Social Impact’ and ‘WICT – Women in ICT’ which give a clue to the origins of these strange looking ‘locals’. You see, since 2014, at the end of one academic year and the start of the next, Pal becomes a ‘home away from home’ for the Swinburne IT for Social Impact India Project. If you continue your stroll through Pal and enter the gates of the primary school — managing to make your way across the playground to the steep banks of the Suki without being mobbed by beaming students — you will enjoy one of the best panoramic river views in Pal, with banana and guava plantations growing along its fertile banks. And if you look close enough, directly across the river you will also see a new plantation, which is the Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest.

In August, 2015, in collaboration with CERES Global, the IT for Social Impact India Project was successful in gaining funding through the Australian Federal Government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP) to enable Swinburne students to continue to travel to Pal for a further three years: 2016-2018. Everyone involved in the previous projects knew how wonderful they were, how much it meant personally to each participant and now it seemed that NCP was acknowledging the worth to Swinburne students and to our host organisation and communities in India. To mark the achievement of NCP funds being awarded, Ben, Noel and I discussed ways to commemorate the strengthening relationship between Swinburne, CERES Global, SVM and the community of Pal in a way that would also point towards a shared future. With CERES founded on building awareness of current local and global issues, and being a movement for economic, social and environmental sustainability, it seemed a simple idea to plant a tree for each Swinburne student and academic who has visited Pal and to put in place a process of doing this on each return visit. The idea of a Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest literally took root and was quickly embraced by SVM and KVK and plans drafted to conduct a planting ceremony once the IT for Social Impact India Project reached Pal for the December 2015 visit. In his forest planting inauguration speech, Mr Sanjay Mahajan from KVK explained the motive behind the friendship forest:
“The plants we are planting here, the motive is friendship, friendship between you and the friendship between us. The plant is our friend and a friend of you and me. You and one of our students will plant your tree and after that you will go to your country and that plant will be taken care of by the student. Every week they will come here and they will tend the area; they will water it and take care of it. You must come next time and you will see these plants are here. This is the motive behind this friendship forest.”


Left: Mr. Sanjay Mahajan inaugurates the Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest. Right: Local high school student, Indica, helps Dr. Jason Sargent plant their friendship tree. December 2015.

As you read this, my friendship tree grows on the banks of a river in a remote part of India, 6000 miles from my office on the Hawthorn campus of Swinburne University of Technology. My new friend Indica has taken on the task of caretaker for ‘our’ tree until I return to Pal each December with another student project team to renew and grow our friendship. On our way to Jamnya, as we cross the Suki River bridge, I will now be able to point out the Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest to my students and tell them “A part of you will forever belong to Pal, to be remembered until you return once more”.


The Pal-Swinburne Friendship Forest – testament to the strong and ongoing relationship between the tribal village community of Pal, our host NGO SVM and Swinburne University of Technology.

Dr. Jason Sargent is a lecturer in Information Systems and co-founder of the DigiDoGood Mob at Swinburne University of Technology. His Doctoral research fieldwork was carried out on the Thai-Burma Border and he continues to work and research in the domain of social impact. Jason has lead the IT for Social Impact India Project since December 2014 and is working on a sustainable model of social impact through the use of technologies in collaboration with SVM, particularly in Pal, Mohamandali and Jamnya. Jason can be contacted via email

A connected Jamnya

So how did this initiative come about and more significantly, how has the community of Pal become such a valued and respected member of the Swinburne University of Technology family, 6,000 miles away from Swinburne’s home of Hawthorn, Melbourne?

In late 2013, Louise Kellerman, previously Manager of Professional Placements Internships for Swinburne’s Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology, and Sophie Edwards from CERES Global, a project of the not-for-profit CERES Community Environment Park in Brunswick East, Melbourne, explored potential opportunities for Swinburne students to work on short-term social impact projects in and around Pal. These projects would enable students to work in collaboration with CERES Global and Satpuda Vikas Mandal (SVM), an Indian NGO based in the region of Khiroda and Pal whose main focus is on agriculture and education – but who also work on broad community development initiatives, with women’s groups, on health issues, and environmental projects. Through links with SVM, CERES have been taking visitors to Pal and building relationships with the community for more than 20 years.

In January 2014, Louise Kellerman and Swinburne information systems academic, Chris Felstead, embarked on a 2-week journey to India with 4 IT students where they conducted technology audits of the village schools, fixed and installed computers and weather stations and began the process of outreach and engagement between Swinburne, CERES Global and SVM. While in Pal and Jamnya, Louise, Chris and the IT for Social Impact students crossed paths with Jon Wallace from Swinburne’s TAFE Croydon campus and his students from the Global Tradies Program. Started in 2013 with assistance from Swinburne International, the Swinburne Global Tradies Program has taken trades students to India, Cambodia and Nepal.

What was quick to emerge from this unexpected fateful meeting in remote India was an understanding of the significance of how Swinburne now had an amazing exemplar of multi-facetted collaboration; separate, yet complementary projects by higher education and TAFE, with local and global partners, combining to work towards improving the education and living standards of students and teachers in tribal India and a shared vision of the academic tour leaders in providing their students with the opportunity to see the ‘bigger picture’. In the case of the IT for Social Impact project students, to initiate positive change one ‘byte’ at a time.

My involvement with the IT for Social Impact India Project began in December 2014 when I travelled to Pal with a further 7 IT and business/information systems students to continue the technology audit (repair/install) process set in place by the previous student team, to conduct additional activities such as trialing ‘proof-of-concepts’ of two particular technologies (Kano and LibraryBox) to assist curriculum delivery for school teachers in villages with no or limited Internet and computing facilities, to running hands-on workshops with village students at schools in Pal, Khiroda, Mohamandli, Jamnya and Lohara and conducting a social/IT audit of Pal and surrounding village schools.


It was while on a visit to the village of Jamnya that the potential of Swinburne’s social impact for the community through the collaboration with the IT for Social Impact India Project and the Global Tradies Program became clear. Jamnya is a village located approximately 20 miles west of Pal on a dusty, bumpy road, best travelled in daylight by 4 wheel drive jeeps. The village has a primary and secondary school for 400 students and 14 teachers. The majority of students board at school, using classrooms as sleeping dormitories, while the teacher’s accommodation consists of small, dilapidated bamboo thatched structures. CERES, together with partners Environ Global, MODUS Architects and Norditech, have a vision of Jamnya of a safe, durable and comfortable living and learning environment for children and teachers, with a clean water supply and hygienic sanitation facilities for all students; and a school environment that is designed to provide an engaging and stimulating learning environment for all.

As I surveyed the infrastructure being built by Jon and the Global Tradies, I imagined a ‘connected’ Jamnya, with a computer lab, Internet access for the whole community. In mentioning this to Ben Walta and Noel Blencowe (CERES Global) we also imagined a not-so-distant future where primary school children from suburban Melbourne on an incursion to CERES in Brunswick East could be Skyping with students in tribal Jamnya. What I was seeing in Jamnya was a ‘greenfield’ IT project for digital inclusion and narrowing the digital divide; a project of amazing potential in making a lasting, positive social impact.


I continued to reflect on Jamnya when I returned home and upon the overall experiences I had shared with my student team while in India. What came through, apart from my unforgettable time in Jamnya, was the overwhelming level of hospitality shown to myself and particularly my students by SVM and the communities of Pal, Khiroda, Mohamandli, Jamnya and Lohara. From the time we were welcomed on arrival in Pal with a traditional greeting ceremony, to the time we made our sad goodbyes and headed towards Agra and New Delhi and back to Melbourne, we were taken care of, invited into homes, walked the streets side by side with villagers and were made to feel at ease in a setting so different to that which most of my students had experienced before. As I began planning for the next project visit to Pal, I began to consider how to make these visits financially sustainable and ongoing so that the ‘connect Jamnya’ vision could be realised.

Dr. Jason Sargent is a lecturer in Information Systems and co-founder of the DigiDoGood Mob at Swinburne University of Technology. His Doctoral research fieldwork was carried out on the Thai-Burma Border and he continues to work and research in the domain of social impact. Jason has lead the IT for Social Impact India Project since December 2014 and is working on a sustainable model of social impact through the use of technologies in collaboration with SVM, particularly in Pal, Mohamandali and Jamnya. Jason can be contacted via email

An Indian Tribal Village

Standfirst: Gazing into the spreadsheet, it feels like there isn’t enough time. But for what?

My gaze diverts from the spreadsheet filled with numbers and diagrams, and I stare out my office window, searching. For what is not clear. Tears well up. I am fragile in this moment, but contain my tears, breathe in, sigh, and divert my gaze back to the all-important spreadsheet.

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In January this year I landed in Chennai where I met what would be my project team for the next three weeks. We were eight: a lead architect, a trade teacher, four carpentry students, one plumbing student and me, an environmental engineer. On previous trips the local Indian NGO, Satpuda Vikas Mundul (SVM), had requested assistance from their community partner CERES in Brunswick. SVM wanted to improve the poor state of the teachers’ quarters at the local primary school, an important task it the school was to attract and retain good teachers, particularly women teachers, of which there was currently only one.

The aim of this trip, then, was to design and build a pilot teachers’ quarters based on sustainable principles, integrating environmental, social and economic concerns. We were exploring alternatives to the coal-fired brick, cement and reinforced steel houses that are currently overtaking both the city and the countryside. This was the first phase of an ambitious master plan to revamp the primary school with sustainable built classrooms, accommodation, fourteen teacher units, and kitchen and toilet facilities for 400 students in a remote tribal school in Jamnya, Central India.


We had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Jamnya. Smiling, inquisitive children shyly congregated around us with their big fragile eyes and dirty faces. Teachers greeted us with warm handshakes and optimism. Nearby, subsistence farmers dressed in loincloth loitered curiously, together with their jewelry-wearing cattle. We were the first foreign group to stay in the Jamnya community. It was probably as strange for them as it was for us: seven burly men and one woman, ages ranging from twenty-one to forty-five, from a mix of English, Asian and European cultural backgrounds, plonked in the middle of a remote mountainous village.

During the trip, we were challenged on both a physical and professional level. On a physical level, we had to let go of our creature comforts. There was no beer and steak to help unwind in front of the telly after a hard day’s work. Our accommodation was basic─ squat toilets, bucket showers, no running water, beds with wafer thin mattresses and a poor excuse for a pillow, no internet, no phone reception, only sporadic electricity. Despite this, we were living in five-star accommodation compared to the actual living quarters of the teachers and the local homes. Our accommodation actually had four solid walls and a roof to keep us warm during the cold nights. Drinking water as brought in, as the village only had bore water. Water for our evening showers was heated each night on the wood fire. A gas cylinder and stove was sourced from the nearly town, as LPG is only provided to those fortunate enough to be registered and with enough money to pay for it. We even had a cook who prepared some of the most delicious vegetarian meals I have ever eaten, made with love and always served with a friendly head wobble and glowing smile.


On a professional level we were also challenged. We had to adapt our outcomes-orientated mindsets to the ebb and flow of village life. Food, water, shelter and family were the priority. Each day unfolded like a ‘choose you own adventure’ book. Our plans for the day might be deterred by an impromptu game of cricket with the school kids, or delayed by a missing or non-existent building tool. We had discussions with the teachers, local women’s group and local trades people. We investigated what materials were locally available and assessed the most appropriate building materials, including bamboo and earth.

We did whatever small jobs could be done with whatever material was available. Water tanks were installed alongside the girls and boys toilet block so the kids could wash their hands. The septic tank on the boys toilets was fixed so the effluent did not run straight into the nearby creek. Leaky taps and pipes were repaired, stopping valuable drinking water being wasted. The site for the teacher’s quarters was marked out and inaugurated with a coconut-cracking and incense-burning ceremony. Teachers, students and local trades people all helped to lay the stone foundations of the teacher’s quarters.

Despite the lack of machinery and electrical equipment, and what at times seemed difficult conditions, our human power and enthusiasm made up for it. There was still much to do, but as we said our goodbyes after three weeks, we left with our initial mission achieved─ the design for the teacher’s quarters finalized and building started. Tick. However, what really transpired in Jamnya was much more than building a teacher’s quarters or fixing leaky taps. For me, it was the human connection made─ both with the local community and the Australian project team.

Being the only female in the team, I was fortunate enough to stay with a local family in the school. I shared the house with the father, mother, their son and daughter-in-law. Sunrise and sunset were greeted with smiles, partly due to the language barrier, partly due to language being unnecessary. As the days unfolded, the son, who could speak English, became less shy and we would chat in the evening. I learnt that he was a high school teacher. He recently married his wife, who was twenty-one. He loved cricket. He missed his sister. She had recently passed away, in childbirth. She was only twenty-five. My heart broke. My humble host family had welcomed me into their home despite losing their daughter that Christmas.


From the women’s group meeting I learnt that few women had the opportunity to learn beyond primary school. After primary school, girls are needed to help in the home with cooking, chores, farming or looking after siblings. I thought about the only female teacher in the school. I wondered what she and the villagers thought of me. I wondered whether they were comfortable with me travelling with a group of blokes and digging trenches. While we built the foundations of the new teacher’s quarters, I noticed the female teacher mixing up a brown paste in a bowl. She pointed to the cow dung on the ground, her bowl and the holes in the bamboo thatched walls of her existing quarters. She smiled. I stopped digging and offered to help. Together, we mixed cow dung with water and rendered her wall. I let go of my uncomfortable consciousness of being a well-traveled and educated woman. I allowed myself to learn something new. It was a magical moment.

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Back in Melbourne I stare into the spreadsheet, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me. I am in a comfortable temperature-regulated building, sipping a strong black tea after a lunch break. I have food, water, shelter, health, loving friends and family. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is fulfilled, but something does not feel quite fulfilled. Time feels like it is escaping me; there isn’t enough time! But for what?

By Phuong Tang