How Aadi,* and Australian Children, Internationalized Mud

By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Program Writer and Consultant 

*Boy’s name meaning “first, most important” in Hindi.

Mud Day 4The young boy looked up to the magnificent open sky, abundant with billowing clouds retreating from last night’s rainstorm. He looked
before him to a large flat field on which he and his friends from the orphanage were expected to play.  Although he had been told the day before that he could begin to play on the field at the sound of the whistle (not yet blown), he and his friends were hesitant to step forward.

For one thing, they only had two sets of clothing apiece. And the field was covered with mud—mud richly augmented by last night’s storm. Before concerned Australian children had funded an extra set of clothing for Aadi and his friends, especially for this day, each had owned only one shirt and one pair of pants. With only one set of clothing, getting dirty while playing was a luxury Aadi and his friends could not afford. Now, the boys were wearing their new sport clothing of red or black, while the girls wore white and blue.

Aadi looked to the man holding the whistle, then back at the large mud-field. A sharp tweet shot through his ears, yet he didn’t move.

Ever since he had arrived at the orphanage Aadi had been cautioned against getting his clothes dirty. Yet, he now had two sets of clothing, which was unthinkable only a few weeks ago. But the voices from all those years rang through his ears after the whistle’s blast. “Keep your clothes clean. Don’t get dirty,” they said.

“You can go now,” said the man with the whistle, as he scurried over to the line of children. “Go ahead. Play. Play in the mud.”

Eight years of conditioning collided with weeks of build-up for this day. The conditioning won. Aadi, and all his friends, remained in place.

Aadi looked at the man, who was now making pushing motions in the air with wild arms and a smile. “OK, then. I’ll go.”

With that, the man jumped into the mud, reached down to collect a handful, and rubbed it all over his nice clean white shirt. The children laughed. He laughed.

Aadi laughed. Then he put one foot into the mud. If felt good. So he put his other foot in. The man, further into the large mud field, Mud Day 1beckoned him. Aadi waded into the field, then slowly bent down and flopped into the dark water, belly first. The other children laughed with Aadi. Not to be outdone, other boys slowly followed in his footsteps. Then came the girls. Within minutes, mud covered children were dashing around, playing games, delighting in visceral engagement with mud, nature and friends. The man with the whistle beamed.

The year was 2009. In a town we had never heard of, in a country that has been ravaged by devastating earthquakes in 2015, Aadi had just given birth to the first International Mud Day.

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This story is a fictionalized account, based on true events. The event happened as depicted. Aadi is a Hindi name meaning “first, or most important.” I imagined what the child could have been thinking, knowing that he only recently received the change of clothing that allowed for this day.

And that change of clothing is what made the first “Mud Day” at the Samajha Kalyan Orphanage truly an International Mud Day—a day now celebrated by children and adults worldwide.

Earlier that year, at the World Forum for the Care and Education of Young Children, in Belfast, North Ireland, Bishnu Bhatta spoke with Gillian McAuliffe about his desire to connect Nepalese children more deeply with nature, through the vehicle of mud. Lack of clothing for play was a barrier to holding this event.  Gillian, founder of the Bold Park Community School in Perth, Western Australia, returned home thinking of Bishnu’s dream.

Since its founding in 1988, Bold Park has incorporated nature play as an integral part of its curriculum. When Gillian returned to the school, six and seven year old children were embarking on a project to design a miniature mud house. Gillian spoke with her students about the orphanage in Nepal. Her students were horrified to hear that other children couldn’t play with mud because they had only one change of clothing.

Now children of this age have a strong sense of what is and is not fair in this world. That children should be prevented from mud play for lack of clothing was clearly unfair. So the Bold Park students started a drive to fund clothing for their unmet Nepalese friends. They raised 1,000 Australian dollars, sent it to the orphanage, clothes and food were purchased, and Mud Day happened.  And that’s why the first Mud Day was truly an International Mud Day.

Since 2009, International Mud Day has become an institution in Nepal, and is celebrated by children and adults worldwide on June 29.  In our next blog we’ll explore how you can celebrate International Mud Day with the children in your life—whether you have a huge field of mud, or just a few buckets.


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