In the summer of 2019, during four weeks Aug. 3 – 31, I attended the Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course at the Federation of Damanhur close to Ivrea, Italy, in the Alpine foothills. It was a transformative experience both personally and in terms of skills and competence development.
I participated as part of Permaculture Sweden’s "Capacity Building for Permaculture Teachers 2018" project, funded by Erasmus+ Adult Education Staff Mobility, Learning Experiences for Individuals. As described by course developer Gaia Education, the course programmes are based on the four core dimensions of sustainability: the Social, Worldview, Ecological and Economic. The Curriculum was developed drawing on the experience and expertise developed throughout a network of some of the most successful ecovillages and transition settings around the world.
Figure 1. The four core dimensions of sustainability (www.gaiaeducation.org).
The activities/tasks carried out closely followed the stated learning goals/outcomes of the programme:
In the Social Dimension:
- creating a common vision for a collective project
- improving communication skills and communicate in a more compassionate way
- using consensus to make decisions that everybody can accept
- dealing with conflict and diversity – of ideas, beliefs, roles, etc.
- considering the network of connections needed for projects and map it
In the Economic Dimension:
- assessing the impact of the global economy in projects
- finding out economic opportunities in projects and develop them within the frame of the social enterprise
- consider complementary currencies
- realizing what is needed for a business plan for projects
- finding ethical financial opportunities for projects
In the Ecological Dimension:
- making a whole-systems design of projects possibly using permaculture principles
- using base maps and other designing techniques
- designing to be carbon neutral
- designing a whole water system for projects
- applying green building principles in projects
In the Worldview Dimension:
- having a regular spiritual practice (meditation, prayer, etc.)
- practicing reflection and writing a journal with dreams, insights, and observations
- valuing contemplation within Nature and deepening gratitude for Natural world
- valuing rituals for the most significant moments in projects/lives
- developing a healthy life style, food, body-care, friendships etc.
Figure 2. World Cafe exercise.
Thus, some of the more easily identifiable job-related skills and competencies acquired were also closely aligned to the learning goals and included:
- social tools for leadership, participatory decision making, group building, conflict solving…
- holistic education in the four dimensions of sustainability
- solutions and effective models to transform society
- direct experience of a visionary community in “real life”, that has been existing and transforming for 42 years
- transmitting design and implementation skills for effective projects
- ecological knowledge and practice from permaculture, green building to renewables
- developing an artistic approach to life
- exploring the importance of spirituality and creating sacred space in building new societies
The setting was quite unique and very much conducive to personal growth. The several decades of experience at Damanhur in building vibrant sustainable communities were a constant source of lessons learned and best practices found, sometimes stumbled upon. The experienced and competent team of facilitators/teachers facilitated the enriching and productive activities. In particular, lead facilitator Macaco – Martina’s animal name – led the course with energy, skill, and compassion.
Figure 3. Lead facilitator "Macaco" (in glasses, center) giving feedback on a permaculture design exercise.
A particularly special highlight of the four weeks was a private guided tour of the underground Temples of Humankind, excavated initially in secret decades ago in the heart of the mountains. The inclusion of artistic activities were also particularly rewarding, for example, a whole day sculpting “community” in earthen red clay, and subsequent painting exercise in which group members developed and amplified each other’s initial individual expression to produce a collective artistic interpretation of community.
Figure 4. Expressing "community" in red clay and acrylic paint.
The holistic sum of this transformative experience was certainly more than the straightforward sum of the activities, tasks, and job-related skills and competencies acquired. The twenty some group of participants ranged from young (teenagers) to young-at-heart (pensioners), of various backgrounds and from all continents of the world, and we were thrown into the overarching task of community-building from day one. The intensity of the experience forced me to grow in unexpected personal ways, for instance through a fair amount of practice in navigating conflict, and having to go deeper within myself to find energy and motivation to more actively commit to richer and more meaningful human relationships. The curving, winding 80 minute Alpine foothill run I undertook daily, up to a peak, down the other side, and then back again, became a metaphor for the ups and downs of a life journey, exacting and joyful in turns, necessarily defining who I am and what I value. It's difficult to recall any other extended experience in my life that was as challenging, stimulating, and ultimately rewarding. The striving continues to share and apply all that I learned during the course in my daily and lifetime endeavours.