This year, the day before the team took their Deepawali break, we celebrated a newly dreamed up Forest Way Day. It had dawned on us that after all these years, and with the project having grown so much that there are now different areas of interlinked yet distinct work, we almost never gathered everyone together to meet and share experiences. We wanted to give those that spend their lives on the Hill looking after the trees a taste of what happens in the school and farm. We wanted the children and teachers to hear stories from those that had built the school or created the park they know and love so much. Most of all, we wanted to come together and have some fun, and to honor the work of all those that make up what we have become.
The day began with Parasuraman giving everyone a tour of the farm. After that, everyone joined the morning assembly, where the kids were in full song. Preethi, the teacher of the transition group, shared, ‘I started to cry when they all walked in to join us. Having seen everyone in work mode all these years, I was so touched to see them all dressed up in their best upon coming to the school.’
We then all decamped to the sports field for some festive games, including a relay sack race, and a team game involving blindfolds and a great deal of laughter.
Then it was off to the dining hall for a big breakfast, before a selection of workshops that gave a taste of school activities. Somu led a theater session, Jessica and some of the older kids taught circus skills, Volker took his position by the climbing wall, while Gayathri and Sandhya facilitated arts and craft sessions, again along with the kids. Whether from the morning games or just general good cheer, there were very few inhibitions in trying new things, and everyone had a great time learning and laughing in equal measure.
After that we again came together, and those who have been with the project from the start told stories to the kids of how it all began. ‘Big’ Parasuraman reminisced about how you could see with a glance what everyone was doing back then, but now your colleagues might be invisible from ten yards away as the forest has come back. When Kumar spoke he said ‘Nobody should underestimate what it means that so many people support their families through their work here helping the forests. This is truly a rare thing.’ Others shared their personal journey of falling in love with Nature and the forest through their work, and what it meant to them to do this on Arunachala Hill.
Many of the children were clearly very touched to hear these stories, and got a stronger sense of what went into regenerating the forest they visit so often. Vijay from the older group said he was overwhelmed by the sharing experience. “My father worked for Forest Way for many years. I used to come with him and see all the work. But back then, I was too young to see that they were doing something so incredible,” he said. “Today, I finally saw.”