I am in Auroville, an international city that runs experiments on many levels with the aim of unifying humanity as a whole. I just completed a five week long Ecovillage Design Education Course (EDE) designed by the Gaia trust. This program provides students of all ages with knowledge and practical skills on how to evolve towards a more sustainable society. A society which, for example, uses energy and materials with greater efficiency, distributes wealth fairly and strives to eliminate the concept of waste, as the Gaia Education website informs.
5 Weeks of Ecovillage Design Education
Each week covers one of the four dimensions of sustainability identified by Gaia and several eco-villages: Social, Ecology, Economy and World View. Each dimension is subdivided into five modules, as the mandala shows.
Our EDE is a five weeks program. We have one entire week to design a project of our choice, applying our newly acquired skills and knowledge. It is also the first EDE that takes place in Auroville and the first certified by the United Nations Development Program (UNEP).
Getting to Know Auroville, Tamil Culture and the Group
During the social week, we were very busy getting to know the fellow participants and start forming a group, learning more about community building tools and elements and getting to know Auroville as a model for intentional communities. Every day was packed with activities, starting with a one-hour physical morning practice at 6:30 and often continuing even after dinner. The sessions are a good mixture of theoretical lectures, interactive Q&A sessions, individual reflections as well as practical group work, like acting out little self-invented sketches on certain topics, playing role games or creating posters together. We not only learned about Auroville but also about Tamil culture that we are surrounded by.
Some of my most valuable learnings include decision-making models and a small insight into Sociocracy, conflict styles and conflict resolution patterns as well as leadership issues. Further more we learned about Tamil culture and social structures, visited the Matrimandir, Auroville’s most central building that serves as a meditation hub, shared personal life stories and learned from each others’ experiences in eco-villages or communities and life in general.
Super-diverse Group of Participants
This is probably the most diverse group I have ever been in. We are 36 participants from many diverse places like different Indian cities, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, South Africa and different European countries. Around half of the participants have grown up in Auroville, often in Indian or multi-national families. Age-wise we range from around 18 until over 60. The majority is in their 20s though. This vast diversity is a great learning source and it makes me happy to get to know each and every one in this group. Our perspectives are not only cross-cultural but also cross-generational.
Living and Learning in a Forest Community
Our accommodation and classrooms are located in Pitchandikulam Forest in the greenbelt of Auroville. What is today a peaceful forest with fresh air and lots of animals was once a hot, barren piece of land when Auroville was founded in 1968. Joss, the care-taker of the place, planted hundreds or thousands of trees here to turn the desert-like land into a lush green oasis.
A beautiful tree house is the latest building of the community. It is about 25 meters up in the air and comfortably equipped with fairy lights, sockets, light bulbs and a mattress with a mosquito net. When I slept inside I could watch the moon shine through the roof window, squirrels and birds came to visit and I heard the branches and leaves swaying gently in the soft breeze.
Some of my most striking learnings of the Social Dimension included:
- When Auroville was founded in 1968, this place was a barren land with hardly any trees, not even much grass here. In the monsoon season, rain water used to just flush down immediately into the ocean, coloring it red because of the soil it washed out of the plateau we are on. Today, Auroville is a super-green place. We stay in Pitchandikulam forest. This entire tropical ever-green forest grew over the past decades and is now home to many plants and animals. Last year when a super-strong monsoon caused floods with numerous casualties in nearby Chennai, Auroville was not affected. Today the soil is able to catch the water due to the many trees and the water retention systems. This gives me a lot of hope that dry, nearly dead land in many places in the world can be re-cultivated.
- I find it very interesting to explore the generational differences of the “pioneers”, the people who built up the city from the start or joined in the very first years on the one hand. And on the other hand the Auroville youth who grew up here. We had the opportunity to talk to two of the “pioneers” who are now old men. People who helped shape Auroville in the first years were very dissatisfied with the world situation at the time. Some fled from being forced to fight in the Vietnam War by their home countries. They found for themselves the opportunity to contribute to shaping a place towards what they considered an “ideal” world. But what if you grow up in this supposedly ideal world (or a place that is striving for it) and come to point where you are completely dissatisfied with your life situation? Where do you go? What do you do?
- In the conflict resolution session, it struck me that conflicts are only possible because somebody takes on the victim role. If there is no victim, there is no conflict. When somebody takes on the victim role, usually somebody else takes the perpetrator role. Often a “neutral” person steps in to “save” the victim. During the course of the conflict these roles may change. The “perpetrator” accuses the “victim” and tries to obtain the “victim role”. Sometimes even the “rescuer” takes on one of the two other roles. If nobody takes on the victim role, there is no conflict. So we could end all conflicts in the world if we learned not to impose or take victim and perpetrator roles anymore.
The Ecovillage Design Education Course took place from December 4, 2016 until January 8, 2017 in Auroville, Tamil-Nadu, India. I will dedicate one blog post to each dimension in following weeks. Each blog post, I will write from the perspective of that particular week. Later I will go into more depths of the topics that inspired me most.
For a little sneak preview, watch Serena Aurora’s taster:
Picture credit of pictures marked deva-m.com goes to Eugenie Dumont.