Published: 10th March 2021
How Deepak Ramola's Project FUEL is curating a repository of life lessons from around the world to learn from human wisdom
Deepak Ramola shares his life story and tells us how Project FUEL is collecting life lessons to share human wisdom around the world
An oak tree doesn't have to tell you it's an oak tree — whatever is your strongest value, whatever makes you grand, you don't have to boast about it and stand in street corners with placards to flash it. People should feel the magnanimity of your values irrespective of you saying it. Deepak Ramola, an actor, educator, lyricist and the founder of Project FUEL shares his favourite life lesson. As we go on to have an elaborate conversation with him, we find out that Deepak has been a life skill educator since he was just 17 years old. He started Project FUEL, headquartered in Dehradun, in 2009 to use human wisdom as a tool for education and there has been no looking back for him or his brainchild.
He goes on to share his life story with us, which enriched my perspective about life and its lessons. Hopefully, it will do the same for yours too.
What led to the setting up of Project FUEL? What inspired you to come up with such a unique initiative?
My mother was a significant inspiration, she was pulled out of school in Class 5 by her grandmother who didn't want her to study with boys in the same classroom. Growing up, however, I never felt that my mother was not literate. She always told me there's a difference between literacy and being educated, to be educated you don't have to really read just books. I was conflicted until a certain age as I found her very smart, well-spoken and an intellectual. My mother's answer to all my queries was that she has been learning from life. At the age of 14 years, I thought if she's learning only by living that means everyone who's living is learning something. I ventured out to see where I can find this information. I couldn't find it anywhere — I couldn't just Google someone's life lesson. I realised there's a huge gap in how we document human wisdom and how we access it for our own growth and development. That's where the journey really began. I started collecting life lessons from then. By the time I was 17, I thought there is merit in how these lessons are helping me gain new perspectives, new insights about my own life and my community. What if I pass them on, so I began sharing those lessons with friends, family, and when I was doing theatre I shared it through that. Gradually, this methodology became what the organisation Project FUEL is today. It documents life lessons from people and passes on human wisdom using the tool of education, art and media. Life lessons are continuously collected, documented, thought about deeply and then turned into performance activities. This ensures that you don't just hear someone's lesson in words but experience it tangibly, and apply it practically in your own life. Hence the name FUEL, which stands for Forward the Understanding of Every Life Lesson.
The life lessons are converted into different activities and then workshops are conducted with people at different institutions. The workshops end with collecting life lessons from the attendees. How does this work exactly?
Project FUEL works with five tools. We started with education, we have our own methodology that has been recognised. Our work has been recognised as one of the world's top 100 innovations in education by Finland based organisation HundrED and was adopted by the City Education Board of Antwerp, Belgium. We collect life lessons and then go on to design them into smaller exercises and experiential modules. For instance, I taught life lessons using sex workers on customer negotiation and brand management to MBA graduates and students across the world and life lessons of survivors of the Nepal earthquake to Syrian refugees who wanted to integrate into Europe post the Syrian refugee crisis. A lot of cross-pollination of knowledge from one community to another is what happens in education at Project FUEL.
As a part of the World Wisdom Map Project, several data scientists studied patterns in the life lessons and came up with wonderful findings. How hope was keeping things going in the world during these testing times, was one of them. We are still collecting life lessons. We had celebrities and influencers share their life lessons as a part of this. It's amazing to see how their lessons found resonance with regular people from around the world. For example, what Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha has learnt from her life is not very different from a 78-year-old woman in Nepal or a young girl in some part of India. It's amazing how to see that we are more alike than not alike
Ayushi Jaiswal, Programme Manager at Project FUEL and Project Manager of World Wisdom Map
The second tool is that of Art, we adopt and collaborate with rural communities across the globe and use art as a tool to paint the villages. Called the Wise Wall Project — done two here in Uttarakhand and the third edition took place in Tanzania last month with the Maasai tribe. The third tool is media and films, we do a lot of online work through Facebook, YouTube in films, documentaries about communities, knowledge from common corridors of life. The fourth tool is events, we hosted the World's first human wisdom festival in Dehradun every year, this time due to COVID we haven't been able to do it yet. The fifth tool is a new element, that of digital humanities, which the World Wisdom Map is a part of. It uses all the data in a digital humanities format and using it a creative manner to showcase it to the world.
Our task is to primarily take a life lesson and seeing how someone's entire life knowledge can be made more resonating, accessible to somebody who has no connection to that person at all. We use interactive and performance-based activities to do that. Countries like Belgium, cities like Pittsburgh are adopting the methodology. For example, a basic life lesson – Be patient, though you can teach patience through meditation. I don't focus on meditation in a class of four hours. It would be difficult to make them sit when they are bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm. So you turn it into a game.
Tell us about some of the life lessons that have been etched in our heart, through which you have learnt a lot.
Lessons have to be internalised when you wish to share them with others. I get to read and experience all the lessons over the years and my favourite lessons change. One was particularly by this five-year-old girl, years ago, who said to me "When you are done using the jar, remember to close the lid", is my life lesson. There was another from this six-year-old boy from Belgium, who said: "Before you learn how to ride the bike, learn where the brakes are." I remember those because wisdom is always sort of attached to the age-experience terminology and in my experience with Project FUEL, wisdom has nothing to do with age. There's one we received during the World Wisdom Map Project, "If you don't heal from the wounds that cut you, you will bleed on people who didn't hurt you."
Project FUEL Masterpiece Tour
How do these life lessons have an impact on people?
Everybody, through their life lessons, gets to show that they have value, you may not have a luxurious car, house, fancy job or a million followers but just that life lesson to offer proves that you have value to offer to the world. The biggest impact is that your mother and my mother get to stand on the same pedestal as Elon Musk without being rich and famous, to create an impact in someone's life in Afghanistan or anywhere around the world. Life lessons are all about giving the world perspective in terms of solutions and not formulae. Before I started collecting life lessons, everybody offered solutions with formulas as to what made life good, no formula works the same for two people. Life lessons allow you to see solutions as perspectives, you then absorb it, access it, understand it and make the best out of it and make something out of it, without the guilt, regret or the pressure of having to prove that formula's success. I believe, there is more hope and good in the world than we give it credit for, the news is the exception of course.
FUEL Fellowship 2019
Project FUEL organises an exclusive programme every year. One such was The Masterpiece Tour. What was it and what are the others like it?
It was something we wanted to do out of our comfort zone, in our own familiar circle and be able to serve this methodology to people far and wide. Through this tour, we have worked with the victims of the Nepal earthquake, Syrian refugees, Afghani refugees, women from the Maasai tribe in Africa and Tanzania in 2018, educators in Finland in 2019. It is a programme to document and harvest learning consciously from a community outside our own and more of an internal programme, we can focus on a particular community. We do something called the FUEL Fellowship every year, where we get about 10 fellows from across the world. We pass onto them all the knowledge and the pedagogy developed over the years, for the benefit of another changemaker who can use it for their community.
Writer, Actor, Teacher and Lyricist — you wear so many hats, but which role is your favourite and why?
I juggle between all of them but if I have to pick one, the role of being an educator. I take it very seriously and I also employ all my other roles for it. When I step into a classroom I often start by singing a song, I am that lyricist who woos them into listening to me. As Maya Angelou used to say, 'the trouble is being a teacher is you can't say do as I say, you have to say do as I do and you have to lead by example'. It allows me to walk the talk.
World Wisdom Map, your latest initiative, is like a repository of life lessons. What are the stories or accounts like on the map?
It was started during the pandemic. We wanted to provide a counter-narrative to the emotion that had swept the world into depression during the pandemic. We wanted to ensure that if we look back to this time ten years from now, see what it taught us. The entire world has been unified during this time, we thought if we could get at least one life lesson from every country and create a repository of solutions and perspective. The World Wisdom Map was launched on December 25, 2020, which is a unique project that showcases life lessons and stories of people from 195 countries around the world. The stories are placed on an interactive digital world map where people can read all the life lessons and also check out the exclusive artwork inspired by these lessons. We collaborated with ten talented Southeast Asian artists and 30 original pieces have been created inspired by the life lessons on the World Wisdom Map.
Some of the artworks inspired by life lessons on the World Wisdom Map:
The artist and her artwork: Evelyn from Indonesia
The life lesson behind it was to be a friend always, but the story was a little poignant and painful. The person sharing the lesson wrote that his friend had committed suicide and he wasn't there for the person and the guilt still hangs on. His biggest learning is that when people tell you that they are lonely, not well, show up for them and be there. Evelyn depicted it in a sensitive yet in such meaningful manner, when you see the artwork you will see that there's a shadow of two friends who are holding hands and very happy but if you flip the artwork, you will see the same shadows morphed into a person sitting near a tombstone. It's very metaphoric to the lessons of the story.
Nori- An artist from India on a life lesson from Nepal
The story talks about a 70-year-old woman who picks up a book and begins reading for herself for the first time. Nori depicted it as stepping out of one's comfort zone and exploring something new. It shows that learning doesn't have an age, you want to achieve something you can do it at any time.