Muni Seva Ashram sits near the village of Goraj in the Vadodara district of India’s state of Gujarat. The ashram houses a variety of integrated community welfare programmes including an old age home, an orphanage, a cancer hospital, a primary and secondary school and a home for mentally challenged girls.
The ashram is a clean and tranquil place where natural resources are utilised in a sustainable manner and both administrators and beneficiaries try to incorporate the concept of sustainability into their lifestyles.
What is most remarkable about the ashram, however, is that it is largely self-reliant in terms of energy and produces almost no waste. Among its innovations is the world’s only solar crematorium, powered by a 50-square-meter solar collection dish.
Just 40 kilometers away from bustling Vadodara, Gujarat’s fourth largest city, lies Muni Seva Ashram, a self-sufficient, almost entirely solar-run and zero-waste-producing ashram that aims to teach lessons on sustainability.
The Muni Seva ashram is home to one of the largest solar plants in India. The ashram has a refrigeration system that runs in part on solar energy and that cools its cancer hospital, which is frequented by people from Gujarat and some of its neighbouring states. Administrators plan to boost the amount of solar energy produced by eight times, which would enable the hospital to run its air conditioning entirely on solar energy.
Kailash Cancer Hospital and Research Center (KCHRC) is ranked as one of the leading cancer hospitals in India for the number of patients diagnosed and treated annually. The entire facility is run by locally generated energy.
The ashram’s old age home, or Vanprasth Mandir, was established on the banks of the River Dev, and is run on solar energy. The residents are encouraged to engage themselves in ashram activities and utilise their expertise and experience.
Solar is not the only alternative energy source at the ashram. All the kitchens, including those of the guest house, orphanage, old age home and the “differently challenged women’s” home use biogas or other biofuel to prepare meals for employees, inmates, students, administrators, patients and their relatives.
An ashram worker puts manure into a giant digester that generates biogas. Biogas is produced from the manure of about 200 cattle kept at the ashram. This biogas is piped directly to some of the Ashram kitchens.
Biogas is also produced from the manure produced by 600 animals maintained at the Bakhrol Farm, another community project administered by the ashram to encourage healthy and new farming practices. This gas is generally put into cylinders for cooking in kitchens, which do not have directly piped biogas, or used for running ashram vehicles. Biogas production enables to ashram to reduce the amount of waste produced and its climate-changing emissions.
The ashram houses around 150 mentally challenged girls and women who have been ignored or ousted by society. These girls are taught basic skills such as cleaning, cooking and carrying out house hold chores so they can function independently and lead a dignified life.
Through indirect means like story-telling, songs and games, interest in learning is generated and small lessons of sustainable living are imparted.
The ashram uses a dozen parabolic solar cookers at its residential primary and secondary schools. Each 10-square-meter solar concentrator generates enough heat to cook food for about 380 students.
The schools cater to children from nearby villages who would otherwise not be able to afford education, and try to teach them sustainable methods of living.
The ashram, which tries to demonstrate how people can live in harmony with nature and sustain themselves at the same time, provides jobs to about 500 local labourers who would otherwise have had to move to urban areas in search of jobs.