For one week Sadhana Forest turned into a vivid meeting place for those interested in indigenous forestry and a simple sustainable life. Over one hundred visitors from all over India took part in the Van Ustav festival, in addition to over thirty volunteers already working with the reforestation project.
Participants could chose between a variety of workshops on indigenous forestry, organic farming, the greenhouse effect, bird-watching or making handbags from old tyre tubes. Even more than the workshops, the every day life of the community was a demonstration of basic sustainable practices.
Sadhana Forest was started two years ago, with the objective of reforesting 70 acres of severely eroded land between Aurobrindhavan and Hermitage. Yorit and Aviram Rozin, founders of Sadhana Forest and hosts of the festival, managed to create a community where sustainable living ideas are being put into practice. They live in huts, plant Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest trees, practice veganism, use compost toilets, and recently started to grow their own organic food. In the near future they plan to turn the project into a zero waste zone, which simply means that everything that comes in stays in, and is used. Nothing's wasted nor thrown away.
“I have been inspired by what I have seen: how people here work, happily carrying buckets of water every morning…” says Dhruva. Dhruva is an engineering student from Vellore who would rather do something else in life once he is done with the college. He feels there is not enough respect for non-academic knowledge and too much glorification of technology. “When you are trying to do things a little bit differently, the question nags at you ‘Am I doing the right thing?' I have learned here that I am not alone. I will be not afraid to make my own choice.”
“Universities are not the only place to learn,” claims Allon, who has just completed his PhD in Psychology. “Most people believe that they need degrees, institutions and positions to pursue their goals. Forty years ago there was nothing in Auroville – now there is a vibrant community, and two million trees. Two years ago there was only eroded land in Sadhana Forest – now there are 10.300 trees. Most of this has been achieved by people without any formal education in forestry.”
Yorit and Aviram had exactly this kind of a learning process in mind when they invited people to come and exchange their experiences. “This is not a course or a conference,” emphasizes Aviram. “It is an informal gathering where everybody can offer something, whether they have formal qualifications or not. We want to be as inclusive as possible. Everybody can come: foresters, village kids, organic farmers, travelers, NGOs, ecology students. For us it's a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the amazing work going on in India .” “There surely is an organic movement across all Indian states,” confirms Dhruva.
“We are new here and have much more to learn than to teach,” admits Aviram. “There is all the knowledge about the indigenous plants and wildlife that village children have and we don't.”
Children proved to be the best teachers, eager to share and with much free time. When their parents join the folks from the forest, this is often their first encounter with solar panels and the concept of living in huts of thatch.
Besides the tacit knowledge that has been shared during the week-long festival, some concrete ideas have emerged for future cooperation. There is a plan to make a bicycle trip to tribal villages and exchange experiences with the local people. Plans for the next Van Utsav – Forest Festival, the third, are already developing. In the meantime, Sadhana Forest welcomes volunteers who want to help with the reforestation process, especially during the planting season between August and October. Accommodation in huts is free.