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All aboard the red boat

Dona Paula-based designer Vishal Rawlley started the red boat project to teach children to love and protect water bodies. He uses the red boat to give children joyrides and also to make floating gardens and floating Narkasuras, finds NT KURIOCITY


Vishal Rawlley’s fascination with boat making began during his childhood days. Growing up in Odisha, Rawlley used to spend a lot of time outdoors climbing trees and swimming in lakes, rivers and streams.

“I became an expert at rowing the tribal dugout canoes as a teenager. But, when I went to joined college in Mumbai I became an urban creature,” he recalls.

When he moved to Goa however, he became fascinated with the tranquil backwaters – the creeks and estuaries lined with mangroves and the ‘khazan’ system of ponds and sluice gates. He thus designed a pontoon boat to access these gentle backwaters.  It was around this time that he was invited to do a workshop with students of architecture and Tallulah D’Silva, the adjunct professor at the time, pushed him into doing a boat making workshop with the students.

“That started a series of experiments with making flotation devices from scrap material like barrels, tubes, drums tied together with bamboo and wood. However, I was looking for a more elegant solution and came upon the idea for the red boat,” says Rawlley.

The red boat is made out of a thin metal sheet commonly available in red colour. The boat is shaped simply by folding the metal sheet much like one folds paper in origami and then reinforced by light aluminium bracing. This has resulted in a boat one can make at home with simple tools and cost just around `2000. It is very light, portable, sturdy, durable and affordable.

Soon after, Rawlley designed the red boat, he got an opportunity to work on the rejuvenation of the St Inez Creek. He won a public art grant to work with the local community for the upkeep of the creek. And Rawlley decided to use the red boat as part of this.

“I worked with the children at Camrabhat and we used the red boat extensively to pick up floating litter, make a floating garden and narkasuras, install trap nets and also for joy rides. By helping in this way, children have learned about the fish, otters and crocodile that inhabit the creek and also about the sources of pollution affecting the water like plastic waste and sewage,” he says.

Rawlley adds that the red boat is so safe and simple to use that children have become very comfortable using it. “It is great to see them row the boat themselves and have fun. This has made water bodies a very friendly place for them,” he says.

Since the inception of this project, these activities have grown into an outdoor learning program which he calls the Travelling Dome. The Travelling Dome is a roving campsite that sets up base at different ecological areas such as mangroves, forests, lake sides etc. He says: “Our activities include biodiversity walks, outdoor games, fun and adventure. Our last project was an environment film-making workshop on the Khazan’s of Goa. The film has been made with the participation of children. It has been hugely popular on YouTube and has received great reviews.”

These activities are held in different parts of Goa – In Camrabhat in Panaji, the Mansher in Santa Cruz, the backwaters of Karmali, river islands of Chorao and Divar, the Kushawati and Sal rivers, the backwaters of Selaulim Dam etc.

Currently Rawlley does the Travelling Dome activities and also continues with work at Camrabhat – cleaning the creek and educating the children. And he has also had the help of many other people scientists, environmentalists, agriculturists, artists, etc who have given crucial advice, done workshops with children and provided hands-on support for the activities. “Since then Arnaldo Do Carmo Lobo and Tallulah D’Silva have become permanent allies,” he says.

Arnaldo, a retired geologist who has passion for phycology (scientific study of algae) has taken the lead in helping the children with their learning requirements.

He runs a ‘Talent in You’, a charitable trust where he passes the message that talent is inborn; it is God’s gift. But he says that the strength of the child of every child is different and that is what makes them unique. “We are trying to help children use their talent and help them learn what they want to learn. Schools do not provide talent, they provide knowledge. Children who do not go to schools develop skills by looking at their parents and they try to do the same. Thus, these children get knowledge from experience,” he says. To teach children, he uses Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory.

Tallulah is an architect, educator and environmentalist and she leads the environment education initiatives including the Travelling Dome. While these are done during the summer holidays, Christmas holidays and Diwali holidays, Tallulah says that they are also planning to do regular ones during the academic year.

She further says that they also include a small number of underprivileged children for every workshop. “We have also done workshops exclusively for underprivileged children by spending our own money,” she adds.

Rawlley says that he would love to provide boats for communities that live around water bodies. He adds: “They could then take boat rides to enjoy the tranquil waters and also help in the upkeep and monitoring of this precious ecosystem. This red boat community could then provide recreational and educational activities that will create awareness and prevent the pollution of our water bodies.”

He also hopes to set up a floating lab in future to learn about coastal ecology. He says that this lab could travel along the inland waterways to different parts of Goa and interact with school children. “The lab will experiment in growing food, managing waste, generating clean energy, monitoring climate change and coastal ecology. This will help the new generation to connect with the rich ecology of Goa and become participants in its preservation and conservation,” adds Rawlley.

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