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In early January, nine Plymouth State University students said goodbye to their friends, families, and the comforts of life as they knew it to learn how to live simply and reduce their impact on the earth and the environment. Their destination was Sadhana Forest in Auroville, India, the field study location for Sustainability in India, an advanced sustainability course taught by PSU geography instructor Steve Whitman.
“The course was designed to provide each student with the opportunity to leave their resource-consumptive lifestyle behind and live in a place that has a very small ecological footprint,” Whitman explained.
Before making the long journey to India, Whitman and his class traveled just a few miles from campus to D Acres, a nonprofit organic farm and educational homestead in Rumney. During their two-day retreat at the farm, “the students had an opportunity to learn more about the mission, ecological design, and operation of the farm, and also to get to know each other and me a little better,” said Whitman. “This is also when they started to deeply contemplate why they were headed to India and what they hoped to learn.”
On the afternoon of January 4, Whitman and his students began the long trip to Chennai, India, arriving at 1:30 a.m. on January 6. After a three-hour bus ride, the group finally arrived in Auroville.
Auroville is an experimental, self-governed township in southeast India that emphasizes living in harmony with humankind, nature, and the environment—goals that echo those of sustainability. Since its founding in 1968, it has become a popular destination for volunteers from all over the world who are interested in experiencing sustainable living firsthand. Currently, 1,700 people from all walks of life call Auroville home; one-third of them are Indian, and the remaining two-thirds hail from 35 nations.
Within Auroville lies Sadhana Forest, a reforestation project that aims to replenish 70 acres of severely eroded land with native trees and plantlife. The project is managed by Aviram Rozin and his wife Yorit, who live onsite with their seven-year-old daughter Osher. The Rozins served as hosts, tour guides, and mentors to Whitman and his class throughout their stay.
The group spent their first day in India settling in and learning more about life in Sadhana Forest, which embraces ecologically-friendly practices including veganism, “green” building, solar energy, water resource management, and composting toilets. Despite the adjustment to a warmer climate, a new—and very restricted—diet, and virtually none of the comforts of home, it wasn’t long before the group established a daily routine. Days began early, at 5:45 a.m., followed by chanting and meditation at 6 a.m. Work in the forest began at 6:30 a.m., and breakfast, usually comprising ragi—a staple food in India that is often compared to porridge—and fresh fruit including pineapples, bananas, and pomegranates, was served at 8:30 a.m. Then it was back to the forest for a few more hours of work. After lunch, the largest meal of the day, comprising salad, soup, and fruit, the group took side trips into other areas of Auroville, as well as to the Bay of Bengal beach and the nearby city of Pondicherry. Dinner, which typically consisted of a salad or soup, was served at 5:30 p.m. and by 8 p.m., most of the students were asleep.
Two weeks living and working in Auroville taught Whitman’s students important lessons in sustainability and reducing their ecological footprint, but they came away from the experience with much more. Throughout their stay, the students kept journals, committing their thoughts, ideas, impressions, and experiences to paper. Following are excerpts from the journals that the students have generously shared with Plymouth Magazine.
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