The Sholai Way
The Sholai School, Kodaikanal, stood 2nd in the Gobar Times Green Schools Programme Award ranking released on November 27, 2006.
Hi, I am Ashish, a member of CSE’s GSP team. While on a southern India tour this June, I took an overnight train from Bangalore to reach Kodai road. My destination was the Sholai School, located amidst the Perumaomalai hills in Tamil Nadu. ‘Sholai is forests in Tamil, so the Sholai School literally means the Forest School’.
When I reached, the Director of the school Brien Jenkins invited me for a cup of tea. He said that the fully residential school houses about 50 students and 15 to 20 teachers. A community of about 100 individuals lives, teaches, and learns on a 39,3752 square metre campus.
I was introduced to a 12th grade student, named Bala, who took me on a “school tour” during my twoday stay. I was keen to know how the school managed its water, air, land, energy and waste. The school community’s intimate relationship with the environment around it, unfolded as follows:
The school community gets its supply of water from a small river, Periyar which flows across the campus. Bala showed me a series of check dams (small dams that “check” water, and not harmful to the environment because of their size) constructed along a seasonal stream that runs through the campus.
Sholai has tapped water from the main dam Chitam to the swimming pool, which also acts as a water storage tank – the main water source in the western side of the campus that is divided by the river Periyar. In the eastern side, the water table is merely two feet below surface. So, Sholai works hard to ‘catch water where it falls’.
Another 12th grade student Robinson Bucklin told me about the way they manage their campus by decentralising land occupation. 98.70 per cent of Sholai School’s 39,3752 square metres land area is green (forest and fields). There are over 85 different species of plants that have been identified by the students.
The density of the forest is high – 50-100 trees per 100 square metres! Sholai grows coffee, avocados, oranges, gravellia robusta, chebula terminalia, vanilla and other agricultural and native species. Plants that are inedible are used to make bio-diesel.
The oldest tree on the campus is a Nava tree (Syzgium densiflorum), believed to be 150 years old! There are over 50 types of fauna, excluding birds in the campus. Many rare animals are frequent visitors, including the Black bulbul, Nilgiri flycatcher, Grey headed bulbul, Bluewinged parakeet, Mouse deer, Barking deer, The Indian Gaur (Bison).
Only organic fertilisers, and pesticides made from cow dung and locally available plants (like lantana leaves and neem leaves) are used in Sholai.
Achint, another 12th grade student, said since the school is fully residential, the only vehicles they own are a car and a small bus. The school maintains and monitors the transport strictly. The school campus is a forest, which acts as a sink for regional air pollutants.
It provides timber for buildings, keeps the soil fertile, controls soil erosion and acts as a watershed. Sholai plans to substitute fossil fuels with bio-fuels completely. It has begun producing Bio-diesel and Bio-ethanol with cooperation from Prof. Udipi Srinivasa of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Praj Industries, Pune.
GT in Sikkim
Gobar Times met a group of enthusiastic teachers in Sikkim this August at the teachers’ training workshop on Green Schools Programme. Yes, the state of Sikkim formally joined the Green Schools movement by organising a teachers’ training at Gangtok.
Teachers from across the state are now geared up to add the programme to the environment education roster in Sikkim. Environment education has a special place here because of its rich yet ecologically fragile biodiversity.
Most schools have eco clubs, formed with the help of the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ National Green Corps Programme. District Environment Committees have been formed to coordinate and monitor the programme in each district.
Some schools are involved in activities like planting trees, celebrating environment day, and community clean up. Other schools are engaged in active biodiversity mapping and innovative eco tours within the state.
And now Sikkim has taken one step forward in environmental education by adopting environmental auditing with the Green Schools Programme.
Sikkim contact: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information on Green Schools Programme: http://www.cseindia.org/programme/eeu/eeu-index.htm
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Siddharth Arun, a student, asked me “Can you imagine life without being connected to the electrical grid? No, right? Well, the Sholai school is not connected to the power grid. And
produces its own energy!” The primary source of this energy is the sun. The school uses solar photo-voltaic panels to generate electricity, which is stored in solar batteries. It has five solar hot water heaters. The electric system is based on twelve decentralised systems, six of which are routed through inverters.
The inverter system converts DC power stored in the batteries into 220V AC (equivalent to mains power supply). The back-up source of energy is derived from water. There are two micro-hydro plants that produce electricity on rainy days. The electricity produced by the plants is stored in the solar batteries. Another major source of energy is biogas. It contributes more mega joules of energy than any other source in the school.
Thorougly impressed by the school’s resource management strategy by now, I decided to check out its waste disposal methods because managing urban waste in a rural area is major challenge. Because the basic service of collection and disposal of waste is non-existent here. I asked Siddharth what the school does with its waste. Siddharth Arun said, “Sholai has no access to municipal waste disposal.
So, the alternative is a ‘recycling room’ where the nonbiodegradable waste is divided into 16 different categories. And we recently tried to incorporate shredded low-grade plastic into a road that was laid in the neighbouring village. All our biodegradable waste is composted.”