Majority of the world population has lived self-reliantly in villages for centuries. Communities like the Native Americans, the Bishnois of India and numerous others were always able to live and let live, balancing production and consumption in a sustainable lifestyle. Rather than taking lessons from them, our modern systems including our education system are designed for an urban environment which is mostly consumerist in nature and hence not sustainable. Hence, arises the need for an alternative education system.
Sarang’s activities can be summed up in one word, education, as the practice of life of a modern species that can live and let live. Education happens everywhere, 24 hours X 365 days. Anything that we hear, see, touch, taste, or smell, making a change within us, is part of our education. Movies, ads, news, speeches, performances, people; all that interacts with us is part of our education. In today’s fast-changing world a static system is not the way to real education.
Currently we have two campuses. While the first generation is training a batch of students at the satellite campus to become teachers , the second generation is trying to prepare the main campus on the hills for their return.
Sarang’s curriculum expands according to each child’s need. The curriculum includes ethics & culture, watershed management, natural farming, forest fire prevention, soil conservation & land development, biodiversity conservation, rural engineering & architecture, technology, art, martial arts, languages & dialects, clean energy, human physiology, sexuality & teenage, primary medicine, cooking & housekeeping, sustainable use of resources, politics, basic economics, & currencies, teaching. Sarang’s campus at Attappady has been developed into a ‘textbook’ keeping this curriculum in mind.
The list is quiet long. But in short, Sarang looks at life as the basis for its curriculum. Kalarippayattu (traditional martial art of Kerala), dance, yoga, and music are essential elements in Sarang’s curriculum for boosting self confidence, creativity and a positive vision. A student at Sarang may learn how to extinguish a forest fire, the dynamics of wind energy, potential of natural farming, development of open source programmes or how to become a leader in a democracy. But great importance is given to ethics, for knowledge without ethics is always dangerous. They may reach out to the ends of the universe, but only with strong roots in the earth of ethics.
Sarang believes that to build a world where truthfulness, humanity beyond all prejudices and optimal use of resources are upheld, these values must be inspired in children at a very early age. Emphasis is given to age since the character of an individual is formed within the age of 7. Any guidance in character formation has to be done at a younger age when the child is not yet biased by various man made differences of race, religion, country, gender, language etc.
This training is possible only at a young age within the family. Ideally, parents are the first teachers. Unfortunately, men and women are not trained, for being good partners or for bringing up children. This is typical in the present education system, where many essential lessons are left out, and many that are included are never used in real life. Sarang is modeled as a democratic family, with the Sarang couple as parents and the students as their children.
At Sarang, children travel far and wide to explore simple solutions which have been kept alive by good men and women. They live and learn with ‘Sarang’ families wherever they go. Since, Sarang’s curriculum aims at preparing a child for adapting to any kind of environment without loosing his/her individuality, the children absorb the good from all the different ideas they are exposed to.
Sarang is a rural university in its early infancy which dreams of a society of self reliant individuals. Sarang’s goal is to prepare the next generation to live fulfilling lives using minimal resources. We dream of a rural university, proposing no degrees or certificates, but offering a space to learn to cope with life and all its myriad hues and tones.
Our students are free to decide their path in life. As they grow at Sarang they are prepared for self-study. So, they can also choose to acquire academic qualifications and go into any profession. A few of them may also choose to stay back at Sarang to share their experience with younger children or they may journey on to spread the Sarang way elsewhere in world.
Let all of us who feel our children ought to grow up sensitive and empathetic to their surroundings and not lulled into a sense of false security in their childhood leaving them incapable of facing the realities of life join together. Let us work together to provide our children platforms to flourish in their boundless creativity and energy.
“The school’s not a factory
Nor the teacher a labourer!
The student’s not a commodity
Nor the parent a manufacturer!”
When Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi started their experiments in natural farming at Sarang, they didn’t have any book knowledge of alternative farming and had no guidance. But their experiences of living and working with their agricultural families were deeply rooted in them. Once they started working on the land all their instincts came alive. They also walked all over Attappady and traveled afar, learning farming practices, suitable for their land, from old farmers. Slowly their experiences metamorphised into innovative work on the Sarang land.
In 1983, when the Sarang family bought it, the land was poor due to the ploughed soil being continuously exposed to rain year after year. Through their work in the field Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi understood that tilling or ploughing, a soil preparation method widely used, was unsuitable for steep sloped areas since it helped soil erosion.
By experimentation they found that mulching with biomass had great effect on the soil condition. Mulching helped to retain moisture, controlled soil erosion and facilitated growth of microorganisms. When after mulching the soil with available local material a variety of gram and grain were sowed without ploughing only the gram sprouted but not the grain.
The family used small pit latrines which were covered up with soil after use. This significantly added to the enriching of the soil. Green gram, a legume, was grown to enrich the soil. Percolation pits were dug to retain rain water in the ground. On continuing to mulch along with these activities, in 2-3 years the surface soil became loose and rich. Eventually grains which were sown started emerging.
The initial 5 years were spent in cultivating soil and nourishing it using these techniques. Eventually, the top soil became black, fertile. From then onwards, pulses and grains needed for the family were produced on the farm itself.
Now the once barren land has rich top soil with the depth of half a foot and is even ready for the rain-fed cultivation of paddy.
According to the rain pattern, crops can be cultivated twice a year (May to September and September to October). A mixture of pulses and grains (black gram, green gram, cow pea etc and maize, millet, sorghum etc) are grown as per the needs of the household. Banana, elephant yam, pumpkin, and other vegetables are grown. Varieties of wild bitter gourd and tomato which were self seeding grow with zero attention.
Now since the family is away studying in different parts of Kerala, only vegetables and drought resistant banana are grown. The two families that look after the campus protect the land, harvest produce like gooseberry and lime, mulch the land and clear the fire boundaries. They are protecting and keeping the land well-tended for the time the whole big Sarang family returns home.
Even on their travels the children are learning the basics of natural farming by cultivating vegetable patches, experimenting with seeds, working on the land whenever possible and keeping their minds as fertile as the land.
We survive on funds created by resources ranging from the sales of gooseberry and lemon to digital designing skills.
From our farm: We get tubers, fruits, vegetables, millet and medicines. Selling of gooseberry, lemon and milk adds to our revenue. Books gives us royalty and Performances and Presentations provides an income now and then. In 2009 we are making some money out of our web designing skills. People who appreciate our work offer Donations too.
Our farm produces tubers, vegetables, grains and medicinal platns. This partially meets our basic needs. For money we sell lemon, gooseberry and sometimes banana. Since they are 100% natural/organic we have our returning customers. We sell the excess milk to the local milk collection center.
Gautham and Anuradha had been working in other organisations for a while. That too had provided a good income.
In 1982, Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi came to work as government teachers in Attappady region in Kerala, India. Attappady was once home to dense rain forests just like it’s neighbour, the evergreen Silent Valley, but it had been rendered arid by man’s over consuming activities. Seeing the man-made desert around them, they realized that watershed management, biodiversity conservation and natural farming were essential to the education system they envisaged. With this realization they searched high and low in Attappady for a suitable place where they could started their experiments on land. Their search was for a micro watershed area with degraded land without easy access from outside. They were also looking for potential to harness wind energy in the future.
The land that they finally settled on was situated at about 800 m height on the slopes of three hillocks. It had been abandoned because due to denudation and erosion agriculture was impossible. The only source of water was drying up.
Regeneration of the water source and ‘cultivation of soil’ became the prime priority. All the family’s energies were channeled towards this. Several percolation pits were dug throughout the land to retain the rain water in the ground. Check dams were built to restrain the run-off of rain water. Bamboo was planted to prevent gully formation. The land was mulched using available biomass. The neighbours were asked not to allow livestock to graze on their land, explaining to them the reason for such a request. The family guarded the land from poachers many of whom were caught red-handed and scared off. They had to face another problem, man-made forest fires. It was almost a custom in the region to put fires during festivals and during the summer. Many a times they had to run out in pitch dark to put out fires. The Sarang family went to all corners of Attappady with slide shows raising awareness about the harms of forest fires. They also planted a live fire boundary on the land, a boundary of agave plants.
All these efforts slowly bore fruit. Grass became more abundant in the beginning. Later the grass gave way to small shrubs and trees. Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi did not plant more than half a dozen trees on their farm and once there was no human or animal interference, forests started growing naturally. Birds and wind helped to spread the seeds. The seeds sprouted and grew under the protection of the shrubs and small trees.
The water table of the valley rose as a result of retention of rain water by percolation pits, check dams, mulching, bamboo plugging and afforestation. Six years later the dead spring was reborn!
Today, thick deciduous forest covers much of Sarang. Dry leaves form a thick forest floor and prevent erosion and enhance percolation. Below this mulch, soft fertile soil is being naturally rebuilt. Presence of weeds like lantana and eupatorium, still rampant in neighbouring farms, almost vanished.
Along the water channel, a riparian forest began to grow and even moss thrived in the valley. Many evergreen species put in their appearance. It was also noticed that species that had been long unseen were coming back to the area. This is true about Rhacophorus Malabaricus, an evergreen frog species and a particular fern plant growing in the valleys that had vanished from that area 13 years previously.
The rich biodiversity of the Sarang campus has not yet been fully documented and it would be a worthwhile effort to take up this work.
Sarang’s campus has been developed into a live textbook for Sarang’s dynamic curriculum. Here our children open their minds, eyes and hearts to nature’s wonders and live in tandem with it’s rhythm. The most important lesson they learn here is that man need not fight with nature in the name of development. Strengthened with these lessons let our children work towards cultivating sustainable energy from wind and water just as soil and water were cultivated.
Learn with us
Taking inspiration from a great cultural centre in southern Kerala which provided a wonderful platform for the exchange of global art & culture, we have decided to keep alive that concept in our own way.
Sarang invites individuals interested in Indian culture, art forms, natural farming and simple environmental solutions to stay, learn and if possible, share expertise and knowledge with us. Sarang is a small family, hence we accept only a minimum number of members into our family at a time.
What you can learn?
You can learn all the subjects that our children are learning from masters in the respective fields.
- Art forms such as : Kathakali, Kalarippayattu, Karnatic Music, Mridangam, Mural Painting, Tabla, Violin, Flute
- Other skills such as: Wood carving and Cooking
- Natural Farming
- Eco-friendly living practices
What you can share?
- Original culture
- Simple technology/solutions
- Farming techniques
- Art forms
- Fine arts and
- Traditional remedies
Who are invited?
Anyone with a genuine interest in any of the following:
- Culture and art forms
- Sustainable technologies
- Alternative education or positive education
- Natural farming or Organic farming
- Environmental conservation
- Gandhian principles
- Being a creative partner or parent
What else is required to join us?
- Ability to communicate in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi or English and (Coming soon. Our friends are still trying to get us speak Spanish) Spanish. We will add more languages, as we learn more of them from you!
- Ability to manage yourself. (Like bathing, laundry, walking, talking etc.)
- Ability to respect our customs, manners and practices. This is very important. Otherwise we will find each other in a mess of hating each other. One of our aims for this program is to build harmony among cultures. If you find someone smiling at you instead of saying welcome as rude, please re-think about joining us. Keralites are not used to saying thanks or welcome, but their beautiful smiles say it all.
- Ability to dedicate yourself to the subject that you have chosen
- Ability to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs while you are with us. We have a very strong policy against them especially there are children in our family.
- Ability to wear Indian dresses, which will cover you appropriately.
- Ability to sleep on a mattress / sleeping bag on the floor. (You will have secure rooms whether you are in Attappady Sarang or otherwise) We try to use minimum furniture.
How to go about it?
Send us an e mail with the following details:
- Full name and permanent address
- Age, Nationality and mother tongue
- Subject you would like to learn
- A few words that will describe you
- A few words about what made you interested in the subject
- When you would like to come
To clear your doubts, you can chat with us (Beta) between 9.00 AM to 5.00PM Indian Standard Time. (We are our call center. Emails are recommended. 🙂 )
Where is this place?
There are two campuses. Sarang Campus at Attappady is where our school is based. For easy access to good faculty for various art forms, we have Sarang Cultural Exchange Center at Pathirippala. For more details about the activities of this Center please visit www.culture.saranghills.org.
As of now, due to peak summer season (February – May), threat of fires and lack of infrastructure no courses are being offered at the Attappady campus. Rest of the months you are welcome to join us. However, volunteering opportunities are open all year round.
The Sarang team performs on various platforms for creating awareness among the public. They make use of various art forms such as drama, folk songs, folk dance, instrumental music along with power point presentations using LCD projector; integrating themes varying from education, impact of chemical farming and genetic modification to women’s issues, democracy and politics. These performances are also a way of income generation for us.
Contact us for details of our programs and booking us.
04 February 2010
Seeds of the Future, A Skit, Mount Carmel’s College, Bangalore
See the invitation here.
About the Sarang Team members