Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose


As part of my backpack trail, I visited and stayed at Sadhana Forest (Tamil Nadu) early in June this year. The plan was to stay for a minimum of 2 weeks, but since I’d already over shot my schedule and budget, all I could afford was staying in for 4 days, at least getting a feel for the place, reassurance for the desire to go back for a longer duration.

Here I’m passing on the word!

Seen in the background are the kitchen & main huts

Photo of Sadhana Forest, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India by Zhen Paintal

The story behind this humble initiative goes such that: Sadhana used to be the great, ancient, coastal forest that once extended from northern Tamil Nadu down to Kanyakumari in the south. The whole span used to be a Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) found only in Southern India and Sri Lanka. This bio-environment provides a rare biological richness due to its high abundance of varied species with over 1000 species of trees, shrubbery and liana. The TDEF is now close to total extinction, with only 0.01% of the original forest surviving.

In December 2003, Yorit & Aviram Rozin founded Sadhana Forest and started this ecological revival and sustainable living project with an aim to transform 70 acres of severely eroded land back to a vibrant, indigenous Forest. Sadhana Forest is one the best resident volunteering learning environments in India, offering first hand experiences of eco living. Ever since inception there has always been at-least one volunteer with them and have had a safe 1000 volunteers annually ever since. As you read along, I wish for something to spark your visit soon!

Seva: Forestry -mulching & watering

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

FYI, Sadhana Forest won the third place in the Humanitarian Water and Food Award(WAF) 2010, which goes to show the effects of their modest efforts.

On the infrastructure/ setting:

Zero Waste Sadhana is very integrated with raw & natural living, all structures are built from local natural materials. The community area is packed with a solar system, 16 dry composting toilets, and a grey water system. Sadhana Forest India is not connected to the electrical grid, instead depending on solar & human powered energy. On cloudy days they supplement energy needs from a human powered generator, a set of four “exercise” bicycles, which charge the batteries. They also have a good WiFi connection available 24hrs, although plug points are active only couple of hours a day depending on the light the panels received.

Adjoining the main hut

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

The kitchen is installed with wood-burning rocket stoves & a transformed electric to human blender (by converting an unused bicycle into a stationary bicycle blender). For washing, coconut fibers are used as scrubs, wood ash as dish detergent and vinegar as a natural and biodegradable disinfectant. The dry composting toilets help in creating fertilizers from the collected human waste that is later used in the forest for planting and fertilizing trees. Ammonia is created from the urine which serves as a powerful natural and free cleaning agent for the toilets.

Primary source of energy: solar panels in the forest

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

There’s a free store/ open library where you can find some real good books, spare clothes, tools, etc. The space can also be used to work on any personal hobby or skill, another area where you can use your creativity is the on-site recycling center. A group volunteers also dug out a very chill natural mud pool in the forest (you have to find it) where you can get some forest style pampering or give some pampering to the rescued cattle at the Goshala. On another end of the layout is also a yoga hut, with regular exercise circles. There are workshops offered free of charge by community members, which vary each week. They also have community activities scheduled weekly, like Wednesday Night Non-Talent Show and the Friday Night Eco Film Club. When it comes to volunteering in India, Sadhana Forest has a lot to offer and more to come!

At the mud pool, since it's during summer the water level was quite low

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

Volunteering & guidelines:

They also have certain guidelines/ rules to help optimize the community energy & harmony;

Being a part of the program requires you to sign an understanding that it is a drugs, alcohol and tobacco free environment, whether inside or outside the campus during their entire stay. It also entails the community is a competition, abuse & violence free environment. Accepting eco living by going on to a strict vegan diet and no processed foods or drinks allowed, following the hygiene protocols & using only natural biodegradable personal products/toiletries (provided by the community). When you’re a resident also be courteous and respect the code of conduct around the main community building, the technology free zones, etc.

An up-cycled toy car in the children's land

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

And a fixed daily schedule;

• 5:30 am Wakeup call

• 6:00 am Morning circle (dividing first session of volunteer work)

• 6:15 am-8:30 am First seva (first session of volunteer work)

• 8:30 am-9:30 am Breakfast

• 9:30 am-12:15 pm Second seva (second session of volunteer work)

• 12:30 pm Lunch

• 6:00 pm Dinner

*After lunch everyone is free for their own personal activities as long as they are responsible for their weekly shift such as cooking, turning the solar panels, etc.

Fixing the community huts & ladders

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

As a volunteer you engage in seva for about 25-35 hours a week. During the morning circle you can opt to join a particular seva or get tasked one based on requirement. Their seva primarily consists of reforestation and water conservation, as well as general tasks that sustain the project as a whole. There are plenty of things to help with, and I would suggest staying open to all kinds of work to make the most of your learning experience too. Some key areas are;

Reforestation - planting trees, watering and mulching young trees, inspecting trees for fungal, bacterial, or other attacks, etc.

Water Conservation - building and repairing bunds, swales, trenches, and gabions.

General Community Work - kitchen, composting, Goshala (rescued cattle), firewood, solar panels, children’s land, toilets, repair & maintenance.

Rebuilding a jute cot with fresh wood

Photo of Volunteering at Sadhana Forest - Travel with Purpose by Zhen Paintal

Some deets if you plan on visiting:

Everyone and anyone willing to get involved is welcome, anytime of year. They never stop emphasizing on the plenty of space and work they have for you. You do not need to have a background in forestry or water conservation in order to enjoy and participate in their seva.

Location: Sadhana Forest is part of Auroville in Tamil Nadu, India

Accommodation: Non-Chargeable: Community dorm for short term single volunteers or private huts for families, elders & long term volunteers (Bed & mosquito net provided)

Food: Chargeable: 100% Vegan & drinkable water

Thing to carry (Must)

Head torch/ reg torch

Natural mosquito repellent

Refillable water bottle (metal or high-grade plastic)

Emergency Tools & Medical

Learn more on this project on their official website or click here to get straight to the volunteering application.

Direct Contact:

Email: sadhanaforest@gmail.com

Phone: 00-91-413-2677682/3

Social Links: Facebook | Twitter

“May the Forest be with you!”