It’s Never Too Late

Recycling In India

Photograph Credit: mackenzienicole

To be completely honest, helping the environment had rarely been a crucial concern of mine.  Actually, that’s an understatement: Helping the environment had rarely been a concern of mine at all.  Growing up, my parents tried to nudge me the right way.  For example, they always told me not to waste food – the theme of this year’s World Environment Day.  However, it didn’t actually sunk in.  At buffets I would take more food than I actually needed so I could try everything before it was gone. To me, this was well justified – we were paying the same amount regardless of what we took, right? I even scorned my parents’ initiative to use fluorescent light bulbs in the house; I didn’t see the benefit of using light bulbs that took a while to light up.

This past summer I decided to come to India and intern for Raxa Collective to experience something both culturally and professionally different.  From the moment I arrived I was amazed at the passion with which Amie, Crist, and the rest of the Raxa Collective staff operated.  Cardamom County already had numerous eco-friendly initiatives in place such as their natural farm, composting, and the use of glass water bottles in the restaurant, solar panels to heat the water in the kitchen, and compact fluorescent lighting (CFL).  However, it was evident that the Raxa Collective staff was not willing to settle.  Continue reading

Stubbing It Out

Cigarette ButtsI have seen countless cigarette butts littered on the street or on the beach, and it wouldn’t surprise me if many of the individuals who liter them are those who otherwise act in an environmentally responsible manner. So when I stumbled on this NYTimes article from a few years ago it made me wonder how people’s actions differ between perceived forms of trash.

“Littering is one of my pet peeves, and I always told my kids they’d be in big trouble if I catch them doing it,” said Ms. Scott, a 43-year-old financial executive, as she sat outside an office tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on a recent sunny afternoon. “I see people throw stuff out their car windows, and I cringe.”

Yet she confesses that she routinely discards cigarette butts on the sidewalk. For her and countless other American smokers, cigarette butts are an exception to the no-littering rule. “Aren’t cigarettes biodegradable?” Continue reading

A Wonder of the World

A view of the Taj Mahal beneath the cloudy skies

A view of the Taj Mahal beneath the cloudy skies

Throughout my life I have had the privilege of frequently traveling and visiting new countries. However, I had not yet had the pleasure of seeing any of the deemed “Seven Wonders of the World.” A week ago, I was finally able to change that when I took a trip to Agra and visited the Taj Mahal with my father. Continue reading

Reducing Waste While Contributing to Communities

When “first world” travelers are planning a trip to the “third world”, their doctors often require them to take a handful of vaccinations, and a few prescriptions. This summer, about 40 students from a graduate program at the University of Western Ontario interned in Kerala, hosted by Raxa Collective; many of them, to err on the side of caution brought medicines for tropical diseases, including malaria. However, most of those medications are not needed in Kerala, whose health profile is comparable to Costa Rica, and which happens to be malaria-free.

As weeks progressed, many of the interns stopped taking their pills and consequently they were left with an excess, which are worth much more to those in need than in the garbage can back home. Continue reading

Into the Periyar Tiger Reserve

Tree in the Periyar Tiger Reserve

A couple of days ago, I had my first trekking experience in the Periyar Tiger Reserve and because of its name, I had a flawed perception of what was to come.  I expected to see many animals, perhaps even a tiger. However, I did not. In fact, during the few hours I was there, I only saw a couple sambar (a species of Indian deer), an Indian Gaur (the largest living bovine), and a handful of birds. My experience in the Periyar Tiger Reserve was the antithesis of going to a zoo, and this actually made it much more enjoyable. Continue reading

My Houseboat Experience

View of the Kerala backwaters

View of the Kerala backwaters

A few days ago, I had the privilege of going on one of the Raxa Collective River Escapes houseboats to tour the backwaters of Kerala and although it was quite rainy, it was still very beautiful.  First off, the houseboat itself was fantastically designed for traveling the backwaters. While it contained all of the first class amenities that anybody could ask for, it did not go overboard (pun intended); instead of an abundance of glass and feeling as if you were in a bubble, other than the bedrooms the boat is open air, and as the cool breeze danced across your face, it really felt like you were out on the backwaters.

What is so astonishing about the Kerala backwaters, and consequently what I, a student from the United States, have to often remind myself of, is that these backwaters define the lifestyle of so many individuals. Continue reading

St. Francis Church

St. Francis Church- The original burial site of Vasco da Gama

St. Francis Church- The original burial site of Vasco da Gama

Today, for the first time in my life, I visited Fort Kochi. One of the first places I stopped at was the St. Francis Church, which is the oldest European church in India, and the original burial site of the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama.  In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail from Europe to India. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish were in search of an ocean alternative to the Arab monopoly on the lucrative spice trade, and the Portuguese had the good fortune to sail east vs. west. He and a few other Portuguese men who followed were allowed by the Raja of Cochin to build a fort in Kochi, and subsequently, in 1506, Francisco de Almeida, the Portuguese viceroy, was allowed to build a Christian church.  Ten years later, the church was completed and was dedicated to Saint Anthony. Continue reading

State to State

Kerala vs. Tamil NaduI live in New Jersey and go to school in New York, and consequently, I have crossed the border into New York on many occasions.  During my drives, I often don’t even realize when I cross the border; the only thing that lets me know is a small sign that welcomes me to the state of New York.  Almost a product of its name- the United States of America- this holds true for many states across the United States.  When you travel between neighboring states, the principal language is the same (English), and apart from a few exceptions, people usually both look and sound similar.

As part of my summer interning at Raxa Collective, I am currently staying in Thekkady, which is located in the Indian state of Kerala.  A couple days ago, a few colleagues and I decided to go for a ride to one of the neighboring states, Tamil Nadu.  Because of my experiences in the United States, I expected both Kerala and Tamil Nadu to be very similar.  Boy, was I wrong.  While the only indicator that signaled my entrance into Tamil Nadu was a gate manually operated by a few workers, it was clearly evident that I was somewhere different. Continue reading

WED 2013: “Namaskaram”



Join the palms of your two hands and point your fingers towards the sky.  In India, this simple gesture, “namaskaram”, is more than just a greeting; it is a sign of respect.  Yesterday, as part of World Environment Day and Raxa Collective’s food crisis initiative, I returned to the local homeless shelter to donate additional meals to the residents, and although I am separated from these individuals by a language barrier, I am able to communicate with them through a simple gesture of namaskaram.

WED 2013: Food for Thought

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on the theme Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your ideas and tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

From left: Allegra Marzarte, Lu Li, Martin Bawden,  Raphaëlle De Gagné, Ashley Ostridge

From left: Allegra Marzarte, Lu Li, Martin Bawden, Raphaëlle De Gagné, Ashley Ostridge

Tomorrow is World Environment Day. A United Nations Environmental Programme initiative, WED is annually celebrated on June 5th in an effort to increase environmental awareness and positive environmental action. This year the theme is food wastage, with the motto: Think, Eat, Save. A recent report by the UNEP  concluded that every year, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — never makes it to from farm to table.

While one may imagine that most food wasted is a result of the actions of individuals in developed countries, this is not the case. Many developing countries, including India, also have an enormous food waste crisis. Specifically, while India is 2nd in the world in food production, as much as 20 to 40 percent of the food grown spoils before reaching consumers.

Here at Raxa Collective we have several initiatives to both alleviate food wastage and help both the local community and the environment. Continue reading

Arrival at Cardamom County

30 hours after leaving JFK International Airport in New York, I have finally arrived at Cardamom County.  Here are a few first impressions of Kerala:

1. Scanning the other passengers arriving into Cochin, because of my white-ish skin, it was evident that I was the minority. Moreover, for the first time in my life, people stared at me as if I was different.  They looked at my U.S passport as if only a few existed in the world, and tried to engage in conversation with me, eager to try out their English.  It is a very weird feeling going from a place where it is so easy to fit in, to a place where you can only stand out.  It will be interesting to see how this feeling progresses over the next 2 months.

2. Driving in India is different to say the least! Continue reading