An update for RIC, June 2019
by Leela from The Forest Way
The Forest Way Trust has been working in and around Thiruvannamalai since 2008, formalising work that began on restoring the ecology of the Arunachala hill in 2003. We work primarily in the areas of ecological regeneration, holistic education, organic farming and the reclaiming and creation of public space. You can read more about our background, approach and philosophy on our website www.theforestway.org and the website of our school marudamfarmschool.org.
Both of these sites are somewhat out of date, but do give a sense of our history and approach. For a shorter overview of the current range of work that we are engaged in, and the areas where we will be focussing or expanding into in the coming years, please see below.
At the foot of Arunachala hill we have a nursery of trees, shrubs, bushes and lianas, growing more than 100 species native to this bio-region. Each year up to twenty thousand plants from our nursery are planted by our team on the slopes of the hill. Follow up care is then taken to increase survival rates, and later in the year, nearly 20km of fire breaks are cut and maintained on the slopes to control forest fire.
The reforestation work on Arunachala hill is an unfolding success story, with a tremendous amount of returning wildlife coming with the increased protection and green cover. We are in discussions with the local Forest Department about replicating the model in other local forest ranges, particularly those where we already have relationships with the village stakeholders. We are hoping to begin new areas of planting and regeneration with this coming monsoon.
We run a small school of around 130 students, based on an organic farm. The students come from all backgrounds, but the majority are from poorer households and their schooling with us is sponsored. We have a curriculum that focusses heavily on building healthy relationships with each other, with the land and with the communities surrounding us, with the non-human, living world and with ourselves. This means that beside conventional academics we give substantial amount of time and importance to subjects such as gardening, theatre, arts, physical education and spending time in the natural world.
Reclaiming and Creating Public Space:
At the foot of mount Arunachal, we take care of almost 30 acres of government revenue land. Formerly almost totally degraded, with large areas used as dumping grounds, the place is now a thriving and ecologically diverse public space. Around four acres are given over to a children’s playground that we maintain free to the public. This is the only such space in Thiruvannamalai town and is greatly appreciated and used by all ages.
Closer to the hill, we have been regenerating the land and providing trails, interpretive material and other infrastructure to provide access to the outdoors and high quality environmental education to local school groups. As part of this we recently opened our nature interpretation centre and continue to develop facilities it with the aim of helping people to make friends with the forest.
Our newest public space venture is the restoration of the largest water body within the confines of the town, Tamarai Kolam. This 20 acre lake was once fed from mountain streams, but is now kept full by the grey-water of surrounding housing blocks. The water is thus heavily polluted. Nevertheless, it supports fish and other aquatic life, and numerous water birds, and is a haven of open land in a town that is developing fast and without planning.
The Municipality have asked us to take up the restoration of this historic water body and to create a park surrounding it. Work began just over a year back and is continuing apace, but the complete transformation of the lake will take some years and large funding. We envision a lake with clean water that supports even greater aquatic and other life, with a surrounding path for walks, contemplation, exercise and play. There will be theatre spaces, ecological engagement and education, and a lot of public art.
Weaving and Craft Centre:
Over the years we begun to recognise the power of traditional craft as a medium of growth for children and adults, as well as consider the many challenges facing traditional craftspeople in today’s world of mass production.
We’ve recently opened a weaving and craft centre which will aim to provide livelihood for local craftspeople, training and empowerment for local women and disadvantage groups, and a space where people can explore using their hands. We will also be growing cotton organically, working through all the processes from seed to cloth.
Our work is funded by generous individuals and is benefiting scores of people and the natural world. Our sincere advance gratefulness for helping us to continue the same!