By the Ecoversities International Gathering Steering Committee
Group photo at Third International Gathering of the Ecoversities Alliance (photo by Udi Butler)
On October 2018, in a period comprising 10 days for some, and two weeks for others, the Third International Gathering of the Ecoversities Alliance took place at Swaraj University, Rajasthan, India, and continued during a collective learning journey to other educational experiments that are part of India’s Multiversities Network. With over 70 participants running regenerative education platforms in more than 25 different countries, this years’ event was marked by the arrival of many new Alliance members from Europe, Asia and South America; the interest and the intention to be there by so many committed educators, gave those who were returning the sensation that ‘the plant was growing’, that a maybe quiet movement was emerging from different contexts and spaces, hence the urgency and the necessity to connect people and initiatives developing pedagogic preferred ways, moving away from the educational mainstream models and institutions.
An important part of the experience was to be in the specific context of India, a country in which the contradictions of modernity, and the violence of late capitalism are dramatically evident. At the same time, living inside the particular ecosystem that is Swaraj University, with its founders, khoji (seekers-learners), ‘alumni’, the young leaders and the magnificent food team, and larger co-hosting web of Indian multiversities partners, the group witnessed an emblematic experience of resistance, resilience, care, connection, self determined protocols, and a quite solid pedagogic alternative, lasting in time and cross- pollinating with other similar initiatives.
Looking back at the previous International Gatherings in Portugal and Costa Rica, the India Gathering resulted in a more balanced way of interaction, one in which the group was able to co-design time and hold space, while maintaining the ethos of a collective, porous, inclusive, and ecological approach. Moreover participating in the reproductive work of our hosts, while self directing the learning with an open structure, allowed for the inclusion of suggestions and directions from the group. These were defined by a particular emphasis on: learning from place, learning from/in nature, learning from each other, learning through the body, the mind, the spirit and with our hands.
Instrumental to this result was the opportunity to have a core group of those who participated in the previous gatherings meet a few days ahead, to prepare and set up for new members joining the gathering for the first time. This pre-meeting allowed the group to ‘tune in’ with one another, to clarify intentions to improve trust and commitment, to reach clarity around protocols, desires, and visions, and to get grounded as we prepared to open up to a larger group with people from different backgrounds.
The final design for our days together (photo by Udi Butler)
A loose emergent structure was created, able to include any propositions and skills that would arrive from the floor. Many people participated and co-created our container. This gave a balanced rhythm and an opportunity to be involved and experience at different levels, including:
- ceremonies, spiritual practices, ritualistic ways of connecting with each other, the Earth and all living and nonliving creatures.
- somatic work, based on the wisdom of the body, movement, playfulness, Chi Gong, healing massage, breathing, and “embodying” our togetherness;
- discursive moments, conversations, presentations of different projects via Open Spaces, facilitated activities to reflect on language, actions, gestures, dreams, struggles in our contexts and as a way to reflect on the Alliance’s goals and outcomes.
- Indigenous and autonomous protocols, rituals and tools for collective self-governing (pedagogy of aloha, asembleas, cargos...)
- reproductive work (preparing food, cleaning), hands-on activity such as clay bricks making and some farming and ‘being in service’ to help the hosts and the needs of the community;
- conviviality, spontaneous conversations, performativity, celebrations, music, dinners with the Udaipur community, visits to the city and meeting local leaders and practitioners;
- learning in/from nature, embracing the Ashram ecology and its surrounding.
- learning yatra (pilgrimage) to visit a few local learning platforms in South India. For an account of this see: http://www.traianbruma.ro/2018/11/ecoversities-yatra-in-south-of-india/
Some powerful aspects of the gathering:
As befits the Indian tradition of hospitality, the khojis (seekers as Swaraj calls its ‘learners’) and others living and working at Swaraj were an indispensable foundation of the gathering, welcoming us all and participating in the events, often acting as co-facilitators of various sessions and wonderful guides to the local realities (both on campus and in outings to nearby city of Udaipur). Local initiatives were also addressed in the highly informative panel around the specificity of the Indian context and history: we were fortunate to converse about issues regarding farmers, women and lgbtq people, colonialism and imperialism, industrialization and late capitalism resources exploitation, religious tensions and diversity, current policies and a deep historical perspective brought by a veritable elder, Kishore Saint, a Gandhian who shared with us an insightful analysis of a range of contemporary events.
The presence of a number of Ecoversities that center spirituality within their guiding orientation, including Buddhism, Advaita, Prout, Sri Aurobindo, Krishnamurti, Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Kabir and other Indian and Indigenous traditions, was a central element allowing the Alliance to deepen the reflection around the role of the ‘inner’ learnings and practices within a re-imaged higher education. It also raised conversations about how to balance the inner and the outer, how important it is to maintain and reclaim political awareness and an ability to move into actions collectively, and how to avoid the risks of withdrawing from the world we inhabit and reproduce. How spirituality may inform our politics, and vice versa, as we -pilgrims of all sorts- proceed in our learning, unlearning and seeking.
“Moving on the fringes of the landscape of adult education while seeking new, integral and regenerative paradigms and ways of learning, easily makes you feel alone and under constant assault of the on-going paradigm. When exiting the bustling traffic of Udaipur to take a small road up the a dusty valley in India, little did I know of the many friends, colleagues and collaborators I would find gathered there.
It was a breath of fresh air as well as a feeling of homeliness and familiarity, even if thousand of kilometres from home and with a 40 degrees celsius difference in temperature.
What if education was not just about ‘What’ and How’, but included the ‘Who’ and the ‘Why’ and resulted in whole, healthy and creative human being in the process?
That’s what I took from this gathering: this group of people that genuinely seek to serve the holistic human development in each, in order that those humans can step into their service and stewardship for the collective. It’s great to know this striving is shared the world over, even if life does not allow us to share the same geographic and journey.”
Reinod Meijer, International Youth Initiative Program, Sweden
“My trip to India and participating in the 3rdEcoversities gathering at Udaipur reminded me of the beauty of people and our power to shape things but also how hard it is to remind ourselves of this and reclaim our ability and trust to do so.
Being there showed me that there is no just ONE way of learning and how we want to learn is not the alternative, because what is the standard? How we want to learn is connected to our roots, ancestors, culture, food, language, land and the magic is in the mix. The people and mainly the kids at Swaraj touched me the most, they are living what we are trying to live or still discuss and being in the mid of this offered me the need to constantly change the way I learn or question how I learn; different cultures and stories offer new ways of learning. As if I want to learn I need to be present.
For the time being there is an urge to have a regional Arab gathering, as well as the need to host the big gathering in Jordan and Palestine. Our story is untold or unheard and thus our struggles are unknown.”
Reef Fakhouri , Taghmees, Jordan
“What moved my heart was the relationship between nature/universe and the people. I met many people in the gathering whose expression of how we share life with everything around us and how we can grow with and learn from everything around us left me reconsidering my relationship with the universe.
Secondly was the notion of connecting deeply to oneself. I have thought about these things before but at the gathering it was so deep.
Lastly it was about members in the gathering sharing not only their story but in most cases telling a story on another Ecoversity they were connected with.”
Henry Othieno, Social Innovation Academy, Uganda
“The Ecoversities Gathering was incredibly inspiring for me! I was so touched to see so many excellent initiatives globally, where brilliant alternative education centers have grown from people’s hearts, and have connected local communities in aspiration of a truer learning journey.
I attended this gathering as a representative from Auroville, as I am a third generation community member, and thus this alternative approach to life and learning has been dear to my grandparents, parents and myself.
I have grown up in community with alternative education, but then chose to leave attending the world’s “best” ranked higher education institutions in India and the Netherlands. I quickly realized how skilled these conventional educational institutions are at training the Mind, but that all other levels of my Being were neglected. I chose to come back to Auroville at that point to live a more holistic life.
In addition to YouthLink, I also work as the Educational Director for the Global Ecovillage Network Oceania-Asia (GENOA) region – so connecting networks such as Multiversities, Ecoversities and GENOA is very important to me. I am so grateful to be living my dream and designing my own learning through work. I am willing to offer myself to such networks to help connect and amplify these positive initiatives.”
Kavitha Urvasie Selvaraj, YouthLink, Auroville
Ecoversities Massage (photo by Udi Butler)
Through a series of working groups that came together before and since the gathering, a number of projects have emerged and started to take shape. The gathering in India has helped also to enlarge the group of people willing to take responsibilities, lead new projects and invest time and labor in the growing of the Alliance. Find below a brief outline of the current working groups.
In 2017-2018 Ecoversities supported the creation of multiple publications and both in English and in Spanish as “Pedagogy otherwise: the reader” edited by Alessandra Pomarico with many ecoversities’ contributors, three bilingual English/Hawaiian: Taking care of the Ocean/ of the Forest/ of the Stream – A coloring book for all ages, by Polanimakamae K. Kahakalau, illustrated by Luana K. Zablan, “La alimentación como arte de la resistencia. Comer es rebeldía Vol. II” (Food as art of resistance. Eating is rebellious. Vol. II), by Cooperativa CACAO, as well as “Relatos de las abuelas y los abuelos de San Mateo Piñas”, by Edgardo García, and two short films: “Terca tierra”, by Carlos Mireles, that narrates the history of the Escuela Campesina de Educación Popular y Alternativas Sustentables, in Mexico, and “Entre milpa y tierra comunal”, produced by Genaro Vásquez, that documents the resistance of the Mixe nation in Oaxaca to protect their forests against ‘development’ (all available online in the Ecoversities Alliance website, some still in progress). An expanded publications group, including people in change of commissioning, editing and translating, will be commissioning and organizing a series of publications in different media for 2018-2019.
At the end of November the www.ecoversities.org was launched and had over 2,000 hits just in the first couple of days, thanks to reposting and the Alliance’s social media activation. In 2019, a website group will reconvene to update and develop the website, and find coherent strategies and a cohesive approach to represent the multiple aspects of EA online.
European/ North American regional gatherings
An intention was set to initiate and organize gatherings in Europe and North America to discuss questions of those specific regions. There are also regional gatherings planned again for 2019 in India/Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Islands.
A Germinator group will act as a support team for emerging or aspiring Ecoversities around the world. The Pollinator group will actively find occasions to cross-pollinate with other networks and movements, connect to other groups not currently represented in the Alliance, participate as ambassadors of Ecoversities Alliance in other spaces and disseminate our actions.
Wishing you all a 2019 of inspiration, love and transformation!