Published: 13th November 2017
These 5 life-altering experiences at Kerala's Sarang Alternative School will make you fall in love with nature again. What are you waiting for?
From growing your own food to helping you put a roof over your head, this school in the hills will help you rediscover your love for the great outdoors and respect Mother Nature again
Sarang Alternative School, located in the remote village of Attappady in Kerala, is quite popular among people who have had it with the modern way of living. The school, established by Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalakshmi in 1979, stemmed from their rising discontent with the outdated and rigid education system that was prevalent then and sadly, even now. Gautham Sarang, their first-born, grew up amongst their experiments in education and ecological restoration.
Across the years, many children, including Gautham's younger sisters, have lived and learnt the Sarang way. Now, 37-year-old Gautham and his family of four live with his parents, sisters and two senior students at their school.
Work your hands: Volunteers engaged in sustainable building techniques using bamboos
This alternative school welcomes learners of all ages to live and explore sustainable solutions at their campus. Set away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Sarang will surely offer you a unique glimpse into a life closer to nature, while educating you on the importance of preserving its resources. And what do you need to do to make sure you get the best out of this place? Plan well in advance and discuss your stay so that they can tailor-make your syllabus.
Most human-animal conflicts that we have witnessed in the recent past is due to our lack of awareness. And such problems are avoidable if we think beyond our own safety and well-being. What we need to do is draft policies looking at every aspect of nature. This is where knowing our flora and fauna becomes important
Gautham Sarang, Managing Head
Check out these five takeaways you can expect from your stay at the beautiful Sarang Hills:
#1 Grow your own food
‘Live and let live’ continues to remain the policy at Sarang. For that very reason, anything you do here should be done with utmost care. For cultivation, the main technique used is mulching, which prevents moisture evaporation from the soil and makes the soil porous, thus helping water to seep through. "The happiness we experience when a plant bears fruit or flowers bloom is common to us all. Out here, the visitors experience these latent joys and we exist to remind them of their relationship with the earth beneath their feet. At times, we invite volunteers to plant a species called agave — an evergreen plant that is not only a fire safe plant but is also a biomass source. What I often notice in these volunteers is pure joy and they tend to immerse themselves completely in their activities," says Gautham.
#2 Optimise water usage
Rule number one and the most important lesson that you will learn at Sarang is to use water judiciously. To help you understand this, they’ve devised an exercise where you are required to tabulate your water consumption rate as opposed to your daily water consumption in the city. "Normally, what happens is that people waste 60-70 percent of water daily while bathing or for other domestic chores. This exercise will help you understand the importance of water and the need to conserve it," says Gautham. Since Attappady is a rain shadow area, rainfall is scanty. "To conserve water, we prepare for rain during summer; fashioning ducts that will direct the run-off to percolation pits and removing silt from check dams so that enough water can be stored," he adds.
The school was set up 30 years ago. Gautham is the second generation of the Sarang family to take a step towards the dream rural university
#3 Be one with nature
Nature, in all its glory, is best left undisturbed and for that very reason, through the years, Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalakshmi left the growth to regenerate on its own at Sarang Hills, while playing the role of guardians. "To help in the process of regeneration, we planted bamboo as its strong roots help in protecting river banks and also prevent gully formation," explains Gautham. As the forest expanded under their watchful eyes, the flora and fauna diversified over the years. "Every new species of vegetation creates a habitat for new beings, like the Southern Bird Wing, a species of butterfly, laying its eggs on an Aristolochia indica creeper,” he adds.
Beat the heat: Gautham Sarang with his two children at Sarang Alternative School
#4 Build your own roof
Here at Sarang, what you will see is construction utilising naturally available resources like mud, timber and bamboo. And there is a precise reason why this has been adopted, says Gautham, explaining, "Our first consideration, while making any structure, is to ensure that in the future, the material used should return to the soil and whatever is left standing should be reusable. Another important aspect to be considered is knowing how much space is actually required."
As part of this project, Sarang has arranged for architectural students to come and help with the construction, planning and designing. "A couple of years ago we had a French couple volunteer with us, weaving bamboo for a wattle and daub structure; they left learning a new technique. In the same way, our local neighbours are curious about these structures and often come to check them out. This is precisely what we envisage a future rural university to be; to learn from live situations as much as possible," says Gautham.
#5 Reduce that carbon footprint
The term ‘carbon footprint’ refers to an individual's contribution to overall global warming in their lifetime. This can be in the form of vehicular dependence for our daily transport, excess use of a refrigerator, an AC, wastage of water and so on. Therefore, each choice you make decides the size of your footprint. As city dwellers, most of us take these facilities for granted without giving much thought to the consequences of our actions on the environment. At Sarang, that is exactly what you are made aware of - the consequences of your actions on the environment that we are a part too.
Through activities designed to direct your senses towards ecological sensitivity and having to survive on available resources, open-minded learners go through a life-altering experience, says Gautham, adding, "We need to ensure that our kids have access to clean water, air, and shelter and that they learn to live and let live as discerning human beings in a democratic society."