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The World Is Our Classroom

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Mumbai, India
Deepak Ramola, the founder and artistic director at project FUEL, recently launched the World Wisdom Map which is an interactive digital map that documents life lessons from individuals across the world

I have been collecting life lessons of people since I was 14 years old; inspired, to start this monumental task to harvest and teach human wisdom, by my mother’s story. She was pulled out of school in grade five and never allowed to study again. At 14, I asked her how she knew so much when she did not go to school. She explained, “Life was her classroom.” Her answer encouraged me to explore that if she is learning simply by living that means everyone who is living is learning something. My works at Project FUEL derives its strength from giving a chance to people like my mother to create impact and for world curriculums to reflect stories of everyday people.

Over the years, as I have interacted with over thousands of people from diverse geographies, I have come to understand that the potential of human wisdom is supremely under explored. Will be able in a single lifetime document all seven billion learnings as a tool for the next seven billion generation? This is a question I ask myself often.

It was only when the world unified in the wake of the Covid-19 that we realised how imperative and urgent it was to investigate this question. We wanted to feel more hopeful ourselves despite the odds and share that resource with the world. Around the same time, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) made an open-call for Arts for Good Projects, seeking to support art-based projects that uplift world communities during this period. Thus, in partnership with SIF, the World Wisdom Map was born. A unique breathing repository of life lessons from 195 countries of the world.

The map launched on 25th December, 2020 as a Christmas and New Year’s present to the world. This consciousness project combines visual, and wisdom anthropology that exists in the world and further sparks awareness about the diversity of lifestyles, as well as the coping mechanism that people employ to create a meaningful life.

Curating the wisdom of the world is no menial task. It requires your constant commitment, curation, enthusiasm and utmost attention with every person you are talking to. For us at FUEL, each story mattered—whether you were a Bollywood celebrity, a Latvian musician, a school teacher in Zambia or a boatman in Myanmar. We took the difficulty bar a notch higher, deciding to bring more depth to the exercise, by designing 20 life lessons from different countries into a 150-page module that educators anywhere can use. We then worked with over 10 South-East Asian artists to design original artworks.

It was the sheer wisdom of people that kept us motivated. Serendipitously, we could receive a life lesson from someone we had been waiting for months and it would be just the exact thing we needed to hear personally or in the realm of the project. Most hope though came through the data insights. Once, Ruchika Singh, our data scientist studied these stories she unravelled fascinating insights like — there is more hope and realisation in the world than there is anger and frustration. Or that if we have a core value it becomes much easier to accept change. She also highlighted patterns about emotions that influence wisdom and the role age plays in it. It was like being in the candy store of discoveries; each day revealed something new.

The World Wisdom Map, for me personally, is a testament that everybody, if given the opportunity, has something of value to offer to the world from their experience. When we talk about solutions to human problems, we need to shift gears from looking at them as formulas to seeking more perspectives. Most importantly, it validated for me that there are over seven billion people on earth and there will be no sustainable development if we are not willing to learn from each other. Solutions do exist if only, we are willing to reach out and look for them. 

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