Communal Living and Reforestation in Sadhana Forest

The biggest dorm at Sadhana Forest
The biggest dorm at Sadhana Forest

Everything at Sadhana Forest is geared around the community. All meals are eaten together, sleeping is dorm style in thatch huts, volunteers put on workshops to share their knowledge, Wednesday is hummus night and everyone says something about their week during the Sunday meeting. Even the work is community based, both in that it is always done with someone else and that so many of the first and second work tasks are simply upkeep of the living area.

So, if Sadhana Forest is all communal then where do tasks come from and who leads them? Good question. Key jobs, such as bunding and reforestation, are decided upon by Aviram and Yorit. As the founders and the only people who call it home permanently, they have the best idea of what is needed for the actual project and for the long term needs of the forest and community. However, that is where there roles end, as natural leaders within the volunteers always come forth from the crowd.

The main hut during a meal
The main hut during a meal

Sometimes the leader of a task can be someone who has an expertise in that area, either through previous experience or lots of time at Sadhana. Other times it is someone who just wants a new experience or just senses a need. Regardless, everyone has their time to shine and their time to take a backseat. It was very interesting to watch as the process sorted itself out with little to no supervision.

Other tasks need dedicated attention everyday, regardless of first or second work assignments, and are volunteered for every Sunday during the weekly community meeting. These include head chef, hygiene inspector (responsible for toilets, hand washing stations and more), solar panel rotator, wake up crew, work coordinator and anything else needed to keep Sadhana running smoothly. While some tasks are time-intensive, others only need to be done once or twice a week. These were the ones that I volunteered for.

The kitchen at Sadhana Forest. At least 5 people made every meal
The kitchen at Sadhana Forest. At least 5 people made every meal

While most things at Sadhana ran smoothly, we did notice a few byproducts of the way leaders are formed and jobs are chosen. While a task leader may have a week of experience, they are often not experts. Case in point: one of my second work assignments were to poke holes in more than 100 water bottles and caps to use them for irrigation. However, after all our work we later learned that the leader had no idea what we were supposed to do and we poked way too many holes rendering the bottles useless.

Another place where lines of communication often broke down was in the kitchen. Head chefs were chosen weekly at the Sunday meeting, but every day they had a different staff of cutters and preparers. Also, chefs often had no idea what they were doing going in, but wanted to give vegan cooking a shot. So, when creating on the fly it is tough to keep your staff apprised of the plans…especially when they change mid-preparation. This, at times, leads to much frustration between everyone in the kitchen.

Filling up trays of mud to help reforestation...in a group, of course
Filling up trays of mud to help reforestation…in a group, of course

Bonds within the community are often a direct result of work being done together and through shared experiences. With anywhere from 30 – 80 volunteers at a time while we were there, Carrie and I witnessed both the highs and lows of communal living. When we arrived, nearly half of the 80 volunteers had been at Sadhana for nearly five weeks completing some coursework. As a result, while they were welcoming and helpful, they had one foot out the door and very few had room for new friends. All of us newer members felt this and formed our own bond, which led to a cliquish feeling in the community.

Once the volunteers taking the course left, life at Sadhana Forest completely shifted. We went out of our way to make all newcomers feel welcome and included, though I’m sure through their eyes the cliques we tried hard to eliminate still existed. I suppose when bringing so many different people together and asking them to live in harmony, it’s a bit unavoidable.

In addition to cliques, another issue that arises in communal living is a lack of privacy. All rooms were dorm style with some huts having dozens of beds. Most of your time awake is spent surrounded by people and volunteers often have to leave the boundaries of Sadhana Forest to get a little peace and quiet.