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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Sadhana Forest

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You’ll never find a warmer welcome (and I’m not just talking about the signage).

Why India? Why not? I learned and grew so much through my time in Vermont last summer that I wanted to volunteer farther afield. I was perusing the WWOOF* India boards, read glowing reports about a reforestation project-slash-eco-community in southern India called Sadhana Forest, filled out the volunteer form, got a wonderfully friendly reply from Sadhana founders Aviram and Yorit, and suddenly I was all set.

(*WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a program through which you trade your labor for room and board. I’ve heard some people have had less positive experiences, but my time at Harmony Homestead Farm was truly life-changing. Also, I should note that Sadhana Forest isn’t actually affiliated with WWOOF–accommodation is always free, but since they have no income they aren’t able to pay for volunteers’ food, so you contribute about $4 a day for your upkeep.)

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Baby forest.

Short-term volunteers are coming and going on a daily basis, but Sadhana Forest is a happy and loving place at any given time, the kind of place that will change you if you want it to–and I did. Through several conversations with my new friend Jamey (who is also from Jersey–funny how you travel so far to meet people who only live an hour away) and reading The China Study, I decided to cut all animal products from my diet. Sadhana Forest is 100% vegan, so the transition couldn’t have been easier (even when I left the Forest, I didn’t have any trouble finding ghee-free meals. Yay for Hindu cooking!) So yeah, that’s the biggest change, and I’m hoping to blog regularly about veganism from now on (yummy recipes, clearing up misconceptions, all that sor of thing). I’ve also given up my morning coffee–having to get up at 5:30 every weekday morning and be productive without any caffeine whatsoever, well, that’ll do it!

(As for the work schedule, they do two two-hour shifts in the morning, with breakfast in between, and then you typically pick up a couple more shifts during the afternoons and weekends. Somebody’s got to work during down time–otherwise nobody eats! I arrived during the dry season, which means there was no tree-planting going on, but I did get to do plenty of watering.)

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Tobias, my swale-watering and kitchen buddy, zonked after first work.

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Jamey giving an introductory talk about the history and mission of Sadhana Forest to visitors before Eco Film Club and free vegan dinner for all.

On our excursions through nearby villages I saw plenty of scenes of everyday life. It isn’t really possible to snap photos when you’re riding your bike down a concrete lane all a-buzz with children playing (and jubilantly shouting hello, and wanting to shake your hand), women pumping water or hanging up laundry, chickens and dogs and cattle and lambs wandering about, so I can’t show you all that I would typically see on a bike ride. I can tell you, though, that much of what I saw you would have categorized as abject poverty–and yet everyone I passed seemed perfectly content. So strange, at first, to see women looking like queens in exquisite saris passing in and out of mud-floor huts. Goes to show you how little a person actually needs to be well and happy, right? Turns out all I needed was a good cup of tea and a new dear friend; some of my very favorite Sadhana memories are going with Diva to the nearest chai shop, where the hard-working owner bears an uncanny resemblance to Clark Gable (it’s just the moustache, but it still makes me giggle). We sat on wooden boxes behind a blue tarp, with a view of the local temple if we pulled back the plastic, savoring our chai (mine sans milk) and talking about wanting to be better people and how we proposed to go about it.

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We always leave our shoes at the door.

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The view from my pillow.

More photos and stories in my next post. (Please feel free to ask me questions too–sometimes I’m not sure which aspects of life at Sadhana Forest are most interesting to people who haven’t been there yet.)

6 Comments to Sadhana Forest

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 24, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised at how many volunteers are at Sadhana–I had pictured it as a much smaller group.
    I love the show picture. You should enter it into the Washington Post travel photo contest!

  2. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 24, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    *shoe, not show

  3. Diva's Gravatar Diva
    May 25, 2011 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    Dude epic blog and I’m not just saying that because you mention the Chai Shack and moi. Seriously its a beautifully scripted blog that does our beloved Sadhana Forest and your time there epic justice 🙂

  4. May 25, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Diva, I miss you so much. ♥

  5. August 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Dear Camille-
    My name is Jay Marciano and we (Wife and Daughter) live in Maryland. Our daughter is very interetsed in Sadhana- she is 18 recently graduated form high school. I have emailed teh folks at Sadhana and am awaitng their reply… the concern my wife and I have is safety- and the fact our daughter would not be going with a group- (if she goes it woudl be in beginning of Oct.. maybe for 2-3 months- it seems like a train station with folks coming and going??? Also, traveling around the town and south India alone? OUr daughter is interested in sustainability and has been interested in India for a while (I know many people have a romantic view of India– I grew up in the 1960s and certainly did). Anyway, she is very excited my wife and I are wondering if she should choose a place closer to home? I have looked not programs through IFRE. Any feedback on an 18 yeqr old heading over there alone? Thank you- I appreciate you posting- I have not found many reviews on Sadhana written by folks not affiliated… I also email them to see if there was a Sadhana ambassador locally we could all talk to. THank you. Jay Marciano Silver Spring MD 20901 marciano.jay@gamail.com

  6. Krystin's Gravatar Krystin
    March 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi Camille!
    Thanks so much for all of your information! I’m writing because I’m considering volunteering for the Sadhana Forest Project and I was wondering if you could fill me in on what it’s like to actually be involved. How long were you been there for? Did you really enjoy it? What is the daily life like? Did you have opportunities to travel outside of the immediate area? How structured were your days and weeks? What kind of financial buffer do you think you need to make it work for a few months? How does the housing and food situation work? How are the people you meet? Would you recommend it to others?
    Thanks so much for any info you can offer and I hope all is well!
    Best,
    Krystin

  1. By on August 18, 2014 at 6:29 am

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.