Sadhana Forest: A tribe that transformed barren land to a forest

India Travelogues
Sadhana Forest, Auroville

Sadhana Forest: A tribe that transformed barren land to a forest

The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.

-Jeff Bridges

We understood the meaning of this quote when we met the team at Sadhana Forest in Auroville. During our 2nd visit to Auroville we went for the weekly Eco Film club organized by Sadhana Forest. These are the guys who we read about in news and articles – individuals who have transformed arid, dry land to lush forests. Yet, they are as humble and down to earth as can be. Sadhana Forest is a 70 acre reforested land in the outskirts of Auroville. It is a vision of an Israeli couple Yorit and Aviram Rozin, who came to India in 2002 with their daughter who was a toddler at that time.

Rozin Family - Founders of Sadhana forest
Rozin Family: From left to right- Shalev, Yorit, Osher and Aviram Rozin

It’s difficult to describe our experience in words. The water conserving hand-washing station, bio-compost toilets, children’s play area, eco-friendly architecture of the room drew my attention when we entered the place. But as we got acquainted, I was impressed with the small things they do to conserve natural resources to achieve their goal.

Eco Film Club is organized by Sadhana Forest every Friday where they conduct a forest tour followed by screening of a film related to environment, social issues etc. The evening ends with vegan, organic dinner cooked by their volunteers. This is the time when you can interact with their team and other guests. The idea of the EcoFilm Club is to educate people about sustainable lifestyle choices and the importance of reforestation. They also have a free shuttle bus from Solar Kitchen in Auroville to Sadhana Forest. And the entire activity is free for anyone who wants to join them. You can read more about the Eco Film Club on their website https://sadhanaforest.org/india/eco-film-club/

This was our 2nd visit to Auroville and we landed in Pondicherry on Friday morning. You can read about our first experience in these posts: Auroville – Guide to first time visitors, How to visit Inner chamber of Matrimandir and Arka Guest House – detailed review with photos, pricing

We had loved our visit to Solitude farm last year and when we saw the EcoFilm Club notice in News and Notes weekly bulletin, we decided to go for it. Our main motivation was the forest tour, and we were thinking of taking our rental bike and come back after the tour. However, I strongly recommend anyone considering this activity to stay back for the movie and dinner because that is when you meet the awesome team and other like-minded guests.

Eco Film Club
Eco Film Club

We took the bus from Solar Kitchen and reached Sadhana Forest at around 4:30pm.The tour started with introduction on how to use the bio-compost toilets and the water conserving hand washing station. The simple yet effective use of canister with a hole at the bottom is something that we can all do at home.

Sadhan Forest tour
Sadhana Forest tour
Our tour volunteer Jazz with part of the group
Our tour volunteer Jazz with part of the group
Bio-compost toilet demo
Bio-compost toilet demo
Hand Washing station at Sadhana Forest, Auroville
Hand Washing station at Sadhana Forest

The commitment of the team towards saving water and other natural resources in general is seen in everything that they do. We saw their kitchen, which had a hand pump to draw water and a water purification system. The stove they use is called rocket stove, which uses 60-80% less fuel than the traditional wood stoves. The blender / mixer is run using bicycles powered by volunteers. The utensils are washed using wood ash and coconut fibers. They are then sanitised in vinegar. The volunteers use bicycles for their commute and they use a tricycle for most of their reforestation work. The bio-compost is used as fertilizers later. Sadhana Forest takes pride in being a Zero waste zone. Their philosophy, instead of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” 🙂

Food being prepared by volunteers
Food being prepared by volunteers
Rocket Stove
Rocket Stove
Bicycle Blender
Bicycle Blender
Dish washing with wood ash/vinegar
Dish washing with wood ash/vinegar

Sadhana Forest is a vegan community. This is also a very conscious choice, considering producing food for our omnivore diet requires 5 times more water than producing vegan diet produce (and 2.5 times more than vegetarian diet). They do not use any animal-based products in the meals – milk, butter, ghee, curd etc. They use organic produce, which is sourced locally from farms like Solitude farms and their likes. And having vegan food no way stops them from dishing out tasty dishes, including some Indian sweets which are made without milk, ghee or refined sugar. The thali we had was one of the best meals we have had.

Statistics of average water use for 1 kg produce of some common food
Statistics of average water use for 1 kg produce of some common food
Vegan thali
Vegan thali

One very remarkable thing about Sadhana Forest is the fact that they are completely off-the-grid for their electricity usage. This is outstanding, given they have 1000+ volunteers staying with them every year. They have solar panels and on the days they do not have enough sun, they use exercise bicycles which charge the batteries. Being mindful of conserving electricity also means they use electricity only as much as required.

Solar Panels at Sadhana Forest
Solar Panels at Sadhana Forest
Power generation using exercise bikes
Power generation using exercise bikes

After introduction to their lifestyle; we were taken around the forest. The community focuses on reforesting 70 acres of severely degraded land with the indigenous trees (in this area Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest; TDEF in short). At one point of time not long back in history, the coastal belt from Vishakapatnam all the way south to Tamil Nadu was covered with thick forest. Over a period of time, the forests were cut and what remained was little more than degraded thorny thickets. This also led to the water table going down drastically over the years. Since the beginning of the project 15 years. back, over 27,000 trees have been planted. Majority of these have survived and are showing slow but steady growth. Since its inception Sadhana Forest has been replanted with TDEF species. To conserve the water flow in the area, they have created check dams, done bunding and created water holes or ponds. Their innovative use of wick irrigation also saves a lot of water and labour. As a result of their smart and hard work, the water table in the area has risen by more than 20 ft The wells in the neighboring areas that were dry for years are now providing water throughout the year.

Wick Irrigation bottle. 2 lts bottle lasts for a week for a single plant
Wick Irrigation bottle. 2 lts bottle lasts for a week for a single plant
Wick Irrigation bottle next to a plant.Every plant has a bottle like this
Wick Irrigation bottle next to a plant.Every plant has a bottle like this
Aerial view of Sadhana Forest
Aerial view of Sadhana Forest

We also saw the weekend classroom run by Sadhana Forest volunteers for the local kids from nearby villages. The kids that come here are not “taught”; they are left free to explore. Sadhana Forest believes in the “unschooling” philosophy; which encourages student-led learning. Students often choose to water the gardens, paint, draw, cook, build, play games and plant trees. They have a small kitchen so the children can enjoy preparing fruit salads or cooking chappatis, laddus etc. The open play area has tire swings, beam balance made of recycled tires, hurdle climb, drums made of tin boxes 🙂 And to our surprise, the shaded area they use as classroom was made of recycled Tetra Paks.

Weekend Classroom
Weekend Classroom
Kids playground
Kiddo could not resist the playground it even though it was raining 🙂
Children's Land
Children’s Land

After the tour, we were taken to the community hut where we saw a documentary on deforestation issues in various parts of the world. Quite a few kids are part of the weekly EcoFilm Club gathering and they are free to go to the indoor playground at any point of time, if they feel bored. However, even our 8 year old son sat through the documentary and loved the vegan dinner 🙂

The volunteers at Sadhana Forest are very self-driven lot and they are not forced to do anything. The definition of Sadhana for them is “seva” which is selfless service. They live a low impact life where they are very conscious of what they do on a daily basis to improve environment and reduce their carbon footprint. We got an opportunity to interact with some of the volunteers. They were highly qualified, very knowledgeable in diverse fields and yet humble to the core. We met a person who is a biologist by profession (who worked in corporates for 15 yrs before relocating to Pondicherry), teaches students at one of the schools in Auroville, conducts workshops for architects on sustainable architecture, takes groups for bird watching tours and is also writing a book on flora and fauna at Sadhana Forest!! The founder of Sadhana Forest, Aviram said one sentence that stuck with us – I will work as long as I can; and when I can’t, I will become a compost. Nothing is a waste 🙂

I am sure what we saw was just a tip of the iceberg. We definitely plan to go back to Sadhana Forest for volunteering and spend more time experiencing their work first hand.

If you are interested to know more about them and how you can contribute, you can follow the links below:

Sadhana Forest website (https://sadhanaforest.org/)

Volunteering opportunities at Sadhana Forest: https://sadhanaforest.org/india/get-involved-india/getting-involved/

Donations to Sadhana Forest: https://sadhanaforest.org/donate/

Eco-Film Club (happens every Friday@4pm): https://sadhanaforest.org/india/eco-film-club/

The Sadhana Forest Community: https://sadhanaforest.org/india/campus-india/the-community/

Sadhana Forest Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/sadhanaforest

Sadhana Forest Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/sadhanaforest

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