Sadhana Forest is an ongoing reforestation project situated in Southern India which aims to reintroduce native plant species to an area that was previously Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest but became worryingly barren. Initial attempts to encourage forest failed due to a severe lack of water retention, hence why the project now encompasses water conservation alongside reforestation. Following this change the forest now boasts a 90% success rate and around 1800 new trees planted per year.
Alongside the project itself, Sadhana Forest is a small eco-village which welcomes around 1000 volunteers annually. The ethos is to demonstrate the potential for completely sustainable living whilst staying in a co-operative community which practices circular economy. Volunteers stay in huts made from biodegradable material, all food is composted, the ash from the firewood used for cooking then provides the scrubbing material for dishes – the list of sustainably engineered initiatives continues. The lifestyle that Sadhana Forest encourages is one of co-operation and environmental awareness, which is also reflected in the seven philosophies they embody; unity, non-violence, gift economy, unschooling for children, non-competition, substance free living and sustainable life.
Evidently, I could talk in great detail about the many moral and philosophical aspects of the community which makes it much more than a reforestation attempt as such a utopia for ethically aware individuals. However, my own experience of the forest was one of mixed emotion and conflict. Upon arrival I was unsure of whether I would leave with a sense of accomplishment – there is only so much you can achieve in two weeks. My knowledge of plant species native to Southern India is lacking and I was fairly dubious of the spiritual aspect of the project which claimed that through the ‘yoga of work’ a person could feel ‘at one’ with their environment. Despite this, I surprised myself at how thoroughly I engaged with both the forest itself and the long term volunteers who have invested years into the project. As I took on my community roles as wake up caller, compost maker and toilet manager I couldn’t help but feel valued and purposeful and that perhaps my small contribution to the running of such a worthwhile project was in fact needed.
My time at the Sadhana Forest neither confirmed or denied my belief that in a world of animal cruelty, social insecurity and environmental crisis, complete sustainable and ethical living is both possible and highly contextual. Whilst I was using a compost toilet daily and restricted to purely biodegradable forms of self-cleaning, I was simultaneously aware of the difficulty in continuing this seemingly effortless existence back home. It is much easier to live off a purely organic, vegetable based diet when the country in which the food is grown doesn’t rely on mass production and has religious beliefs which restricts the use of animals as a food source (the project is also completely vegan). What I did take from my experience was an opportunity to live a vision for the future with the hope that one day it could be a reality for all.