A huge thank you to LOES for organizing for a group of us from Danish Ecovillages to participate in the GEN +20 Global Ecovillage Network Summit held at Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland last July. It was my first GEN event and it was a wonderful experience.
By Dada Krsnasevananda from Ananda Gaorii Community in Vig
On the Way
Findhorn is in a fairly remote location on the northeast coast of Scotland and not so easy (cheap) to get to. The cheapest route went via Edinburgh, an elegant and impressive hilltop city with beautiful neo-classical architecture. Staying one night in a youth hostel there was still cheaper than flying in through Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands, and much closer to Findhorn. From Edinburgh it’s a four hour train trip through hilly farmland to reach the small town of Forres, located on the lower edge of Moray Firth. I was lucky to catch a ride from the station with some Findhorners who had come to meet the train.
First Impressions of Findhorn
First impressions of Findhorn were that it was well organized and busy. They had a reception office, a shop and a museum just inside the entrance. Quite a lot of other buildings containing various ecovillage projects and businesses radiated off the main street in different directions. The initial buildings were mostly inexpensive and plain looking constructions designed for minimum cost and basic functionality.
On arrival we were taken to a large tent where the participants for the summit were being processed. 300 plus participants were there. Plenty of volunteers were on hand to manage all the arrivals. Those of us from Denmark had decided to stay in one of the large common tents in the camping ground. The weather was windy, wet and cold and the first night was not comfortable, despite going to bed wearing everything except my shoes. Fortunately, the remaining nights got a little warmer. Those less tough (or wiser) than the Danish contingent stayed in the many nice-looking caravans laid out neatly in the caravan park to accommodate Findhorn’s many visitors. I found myself wondering if it would be possible to do the same thing (use caravans) at our own ecovillage, Ananda Gaorii, to provide more accommodation for volunteers and seminar participants.
I had heard about how the founders of Findhorn started with a tiny caravan and a small garden so I went off to find it before the formal program got started. It didn’t take long to find and I was amazed at how small it really was but also at how lovingly it was maintained along with the beautiful garden. Findhorners obviously respected their history.
Other things which impressed – a large food growing area with many polytunnels growing food for residents and events. Lots of classroom and learning facilities including a beautiful pentagonal shaped lecture dome with modern facilities and a very nice café. A large and well-organized dining hall and kitchen, capable of handling 300 people; A well oiled education program, volunteer program and induction process beginning with something called “Experience Week”. Varied but nice looking ecological houses, lots of little businesses, a large blackwater recycling plant and finally, a very nice walk through a pine forest (planted by early Findhorners) and sand dunes to a spectacular beach which looked like something out of Planet of the Apes.
Findhorn’s Spiritual Program
Being a daily meditator I was quick to check out their meditation facilities. There are a number of nice meditation spaces at Findhorn and those who wish to meditate gather in “The Sanctuary” every morning for an hour of silent meditation. On the outside the Sanctuary is a very simple building with a red light above the door which alerts you when a meditation session is in progress. Inside there is a nice centerpiece surrounded by matching cushions and chairs neatly arranged in concentric circles. There is no speaking inside the room and a volunteer begins and ends the meditation with three strikes on a Tibetan gong. I enjoyed going every morning during my visit and appreciated the importance given by the community to a collective meditation practice. Of course not all residents attended – it is a purely voluntary practice.
GEN +20 program – lots of choices
On to the program. We gathered for a welcoming on the first evening. Robin Archer and Kosha Joubert from Findhorn were our hosts along with two delightful representatives from GEN Africa who did a great job creating a sense of family and warmth throughout the gathering. Robin was hilarious as the high energy MC. He is a real standup comedian and I couldn’t help wondering if he was high on something – he kept up such a constant flow of humor and sparkling energy. We all looked forward to our daily gatherings.
The following morning we were given an overview of the program. You could choose to attend daily lectures on different subjects or you could join a focus group such as: Deep Exchange between Communities; Education; Emergencies; Gender Dialogue; North-South Dialogue (this was a stormy group and some pain and anger spilled over into the collective meetings on different occasions); Science and Research or NEXTGEN (youth). There were also keynotes on most mornings. Given that we had also signed up for kitchen work and other duties at the time of registration there was lots to do.
Before arriving we were given the opportunity to join any of the organizing teams where we felt we might be able to contribute. I joined the team organizing spiritual activities and we met on the first day to work out a program of workshops and meditations to offer to the participants. A space in the main hall was also arranged for people who felt the need to step back for a moment and meditate a little or just be still and silent and not engage in conversation. This was also intended to help bring an element of stillness and presence to the proceedings.
GEN Europe Meeting
First up I wanted to attend the annual general meeting of GEN Europe to meet people from other European Ecovillages and get some idea of what GEN Europe was like. We had also applied for full membership of GEN on behalf of Ananda Gaorii Community and I had to give a ten minute presentation to all the members of GEN Europe as part of the application process.
The meetings went slowly but smoothly. All full members had voting rights and the main issue was electing a new executive committee. They had decided to use sociocracy to conduct the election and it was very interesting to see how the process worked. It moved along very systematically and, as it unfolded, we could discover some of its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths were: 1) everybody got a fair chance to speak, so everyone’s wisdom was made use of; 2) as an election process it brought up a good variety of nominees and 3) it brought out enough information about each of the nominees to enable voters to make an informed decision. The weak point was that a lengthy round was required to collect nominations for different positions and hear something about each nominee. Sometimes a clear majority in favor of a particular nominee would gradually emerge but in the end the nominee themselves did not accept the nomination and the process had to be started again. This was quite tiring. In the end they were forced to abbreviate the process in order to complete on time.
The Education Focus Group
Education and training is part of the mission of LOES and also at Ananda Gaorii so I was keen to see what new initiatives others in GEN were doing or planning. Gaia Education presented their new partnership with Goddard University in the USA – now those who have completed selected Gaia Education courses can have those courses accepted as credits for post-graduate degrees from Goddard. Findhorn has a similar arrangement with Edinburgh University. I hope we can achieve this with some of our own courses in Denmark in future. People might be more willing to spend the time and money required to attend an EDE (Ecovillage Design Education course) if they could get a recognized qualification at the end of it. This would also allow us to make longer and more in depth courses (the present month long EDE is really just an introduction course).
For me the most interesting new idea was something called the “Evoneer’s Journey”, presented by an energetic group of young educators from the SIRCle Project (www.sircle-project.eu). Here’s a description and image from their website:
“This learning journey was created for those that are seeking to marry purpose with livelihood. We realized that change makers and their projects need further support to sustain momentum and motivation in order to create new social enterprises or to become intrapreneurs of the organizations they already belong to. This builds on existing sustainability trainings, such as Transition Training, a 2-week Permaculture Design training, or a one-month Ecovillage Design Education, which are usually focused on generating community projects, rather than social enterprises. The new Evoneers Journey curriculum is built on three such journeys of change, the Transition to Resilience Training, the Pioneers of Change Training and the Oasis Game. The use of rich on and offline learning environments, action learning sets, peer support and mentoring create a strong framework of support. In addition, the SIRCle Project was also born out of the recognition that, while existing sustainability and resilience trainings support individuals and communities to develop excellent practices for deepening their environmental, social and cultural bases, there is a need particularly to strengthen the economic dimension.”
You can find information about the stages of the Evoneers’ Journey by going to their website (http://www.sircle-project.eu/?page_id=182). I found this program an inspiration for what we could do in Danish ecovillages also.
One pattern which became clear from the various projects I heard about during GEN +20 is that organizations and NGOs rarely start projects alone – most people work with partners. This strengthens the project and also increases chances of getting funding.
Hot Topic – Greece
It became obvious during our daily gatherings that there was a strong feeling among the participants that GEN should take some action on Greece and also play a more active role in the political sphere in general. There seemed to be some frustration that GEN did not have a political action plan. As a result some meetings were organised amongst interested participants to see what members of GEN could do for Greece. Here are some proposals from the group about how we all can help Greece:
1. Make holidays in Greece, enjoy the beauty of the country, spend lots of Euros there!
2. Visit and volunteer, take part in one of the activities and help to build the systems of sustainability. Write to Anna Fillipou: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Donate your expertise in one of the needed fields – teach in EDE courses, the Eco Caravan or Skala ecovillage. Write to Anna Filippou: email@example.com
4. Make a financial donation. Ecovillage Skala or Kalikalos do not want to receive any money to sustain themselves, but funding support is needed for materials and travel costs of the specialist trainers. Gaia Education, GEN, Earth Deeds and Grace Foundation together ask you to support and transfer the money either with http://earthdeeds.org/project.php?projid=223&teamid=219
or from Europe use the paypal account: firstname.lastname@example.org or transfer the money to the account of the Grace Foundation: Raiffeisenbank Zürich, IBAN: CH9881487000009218869, BIC: RAIFCH22.
Use the keyword: “We are Greece!”
Participants also composed a statement from GEN +20 called “We are all Greece” you can read it here: http://gen.ecovillage.org/node/5745.
As the global situation worsens there seems to be a growing consciousness among members of GEN that as well as creating good examples on the ground we need a clear political voice that puts pressure on governments to promote just and sustainable policies and fights against their opposite.
NEXTGEN – GEN’s youth wing
The mixture of humor, sharing, art, celebration and ritual woven into the collective programs generated a sense of vitality, purpose and most of all, family. And what is a family without young people? Youth had a very active presence at the summit – as organizers, volunteers, entertainers and thoughtful participants. GEN’s youth wing, “NEXTGEN” reinvented themselves as an organization open to all ages but focused on creating exciting programs for youth. One of the funniest moments of the whole summit was when 80 year old GEN veteran, Declan Kennedy, came dancing onto the stage to be the first one to answer NEXTGEN’s call for a new cross generation membership. If anyone wants to convince their children that ecovillages are cool – please send them to the next GEN summit.
Chinese and Colombian Ecovillages – how lucky we are
It was moving and inspiring to hear stories from people creating ecovillages in difficult situations. Ecovillagers in Colombia need to go out to the fields in groups to protect themselves from being shot. Ecovillagers in China had their houses bulldozed twice by the government and are still planning a third attempt. How is that for dedication!
Thanks again to LOES for arranging this opportunity (via ERASMUS plus funding) to participate in a really inspiring event. Next year GEN Europe’s gathering will be held in Spain and I will be very much looking forward to that event.