Tales from the Second Asian Ecoversities Regional Gathering, Hoi An, Vietnam, 31st October – November 3rd, 2023

Originally published in VCIL Community Group.

The Second Asian Regional Gathering of the Ecoversities Alliance took place at Triem Tay Garden in Hoi An, Vietnam, from October 31st to November 3rd, 2023, adopting an unConference format. The main objective was to assemble individuals deeply engaged in reimagining higher education. These visionaries work both within and outside the conventional education systems and universities. They also contribute to locally-rooted learning spaces that foster community regeneration, ecological sustainability, local economy development, and a sense of belonging. Many of these initiatives are connected to various grassroots, social, and ecological movements, as well as indigenous communities.

Following the success of the inaugural Asian gathering in Thailand last year, VCIL Community, as a dedicated participant in the movement for years, had the honor of hosting this year’s event in Vietnam. VCIL is a network and community of individuals advocating for a paradigm shift towards a well-being society and holistic, sustainable development in a disruptive world. We this through alternative, non-traditional education and social entrepreneurship to construct new models of development and civilization.

Approximately diversed 40 participants, primarily from Asian countries, attended this 4-day gathering. They are independent researchers, un-educators, climate activist, freelance educator, entrepreneur, community leader, organic farmer, etc. Together, they have come from various places and bring their own stories and experiences and their beautiful souls to this gathering.

VCIL Community also invited Bao Cam band, which was founded in 2005, a group of young students of VietNam Music Academy which they have brought to visitors from near and far the unique features of Vietnamese music, also maintaining the precious culture of our beloved country.

At the heart of our gathering lay the notion of friendship—a deep, foundational bond. Before delving into work, collaboration, and other aspects, we emphasized the importance of building a foundation of friendship, trust, and care. This ethos permeated the four days, as people were encouraged to share personal stories, concerns, and experiences, emphasizing the human element.

One of the primary goals of this gathering was to rethink, recognize, and reimagine the concept of success, happiness, and development. Many of the definitions imposed on us have been colonized and fixed by external forces. Thus, at Ecoversities, we created a space during this gathering to question these definitions and bring our own worldviews, experiences, stories, and values into the conversation. The gathering aimed to facilitate experimentation and the sharing of diverse experiences. It provided a platform for individuals and small communities to work together and create new paths, emphasizing the idea that “we make the path by walking it.

Our aspiration is to shift from mainstreaming to “many streaming.” Like the tributaries that feed a river, we acknowledged the value of diverse perspectives and streams of thought. Instead of attempting to convert others to our viewpoints, we aimed to share and appreciate the richness of multiple perspectives, believing that a world with many streams is more beautiful.

We challenged the conventional mental model of universities as institutions with brick walls or corporate appearances. In Ecoversities, we explored a range of alternative educational settings, from river-versities to mountain-versities, soil versities, favela universities, grandmother’s universities, and even jail universities. This approach allowed us to break free from the narrow definitions of classrooms, learning spaces, teachers, and learners. Ecoversities invited us to engage our cultural imaginations and let them flow freely.

Hoi An: Riversity - Life, Learn & Alivelihood. Embark on a boat ride along the scenic Thu Bon River, journeying from Cam Kim village to Cam Thanh village, all while listening to the captivating stories shared by the locals.

Lots of people have brought their projects and experiences and sharing with the group over the past few days. There are lots of projects working on alternative education such as สถาบันอาศรมศิลป์ – Arsom Silp Institute of the Arts, รร. ปูทะเลย์มหาวิชชาลัย ศูนย์การเรียนกสิกรรมธรรมชาติมาบเอื้อง Pudalay Mahavijalaya School, Khoj India, Project DEFY , Center for Aesthetic Education, The Soil Project, VCIL Travel School… Projects are working on sustainable farmings, agriculture, and sustainability or social movements such as Homecoming, Farmversity, Gaia Ashram, Project Ripple, 好土氣 l 風土生活社群, Bà Đất Eco Homestay – Your truly home,… There are also projects to empower marginalized (“Diffrently-abled”) people such as Cormis, Hiraya Collective PH for the Blind, etc.

The impact of Ecoversities extended beyond the gathering, fostering a sense of belonging and support for individuals who often felt like outcasts. Many participants found a community of like-minded individuals who understood their unconventional paths and provided empathy and understanding. This sense of freedom, the ability to express oneself without fear of judgment, was deeply cherished. Ecoversities became a space where people could be vulnerable and connect with a big family that shared their values.

The gathering in Vietnam allowed participants to experience the local culture through various sessions. The opening ceremony followed Vietnamese traditions, seeking blessings and protection from ancestors for the event. Participants engaged in a Coffee Chit-Chat style to learn about Vietnam’s history over the past century, gaining insights into the country’s development, culture, politics, and economy.

Local cuisine was a highlight, with participants enjoying Vietnamese delicacies such as Banh Mi, Pho, Bun Bo Hue, and traditional cakes like Banh it and Banh xeo, along with Vietnamese coffee and tea. VCIL Community also invited Bao Cam band, which was founded in 2005 by young students of VietNam Music Academy they have brought to visitors from near and far the unique features of Vietnamese music, also maintaining the precious culture of our beloved country. The artist Xuan-Ha Nguyen-Vu has present a remarkable and delicous contemplative art workshop on “The making and comsumption of spring roll – through a lens of migration and cultural preservation”. Besides, we also embark on pilgrimages to Hoi An and Da Nang to explore social innovations and local ecoversities and for local immersion in this region.

Additionally, participants shared their talents, offering self-care techniques, research and storytelling experiences, mentoring and coaching sessions, discussions on livelihood careers, and various activities like Tension Trauma Release Exercises, deep relaxation, Mettler-Creative dance, and chanting. These experiences reflected the core values of Ecoversities, emphasizing the sharing of gifts, culture, love, and struggles among the community.

Workshop: Spring roll through the lens of migration and cultural preservation Presented by artist Xuan-Ha Nguyen-Vu (Founder and Director of A Sông – Art club/collective, based in Da Nang, Vietnam).

The success of this gathering was made possible through the support of Triem Tay Gardens/Triêm Tây Làng Quê, who provided logistical support, and a beautiful venue for our gathering. We extend our gratitude to the local people who carefully prepared fresh and healthy meals for all participants. Especially their welcoming and passion and openess to share with us their beautiful stories. Moreover, the gathering was made achievable thanks to the generous contributions of everyone who attended, reflecting the spirit of the gift culture.

The four-day gathering sparked beautiful connections, memories, learning experiences, fun, and collaboration among participants. Workshops and meetups were organized in partnership with Hiraya Collective and Cormis for marginalized communities in Da Nang. Discussions and collaborations are underway to create learning and experiential programs in Taiwan, as well as joint efforts between Thailand and Vietnam to establish a new school.

Da Nang: "Exploring and Understanding Local Initiatives in Da Nang Addressing Social Issues in Vietnam." Visited Center of Research and Community Inclusive Support (CORMIS): CORMIS, led by its founder, Miss Mai Dung, is dedicated to enhancing the inclusion capacity of marginalized groups, including individuals with disabilities. To learn more about their work, visit their website at https://www.cormisvietnam.org/.

Numerous initiatives were proposed and prototyped during the gathering. For instance, a Seva team was formed to support the Asian Ecoversities Alliance after the event. The Ecoversities passport was introduced to enable individuals within the Ecoversities network to learn and connect across Asia.

As we move forward, we anticipate deeper cooperation and collaboration among learners and communities, embracing diverse knowledge, relationships, and imaginations to design innovative approaches to higher education that promote human and ecological flourishing in response to the pressing challenges of our times.

'It was clear at the onset that we were a group looking to come together in Love, and to create ritual, to share stories and to live a world that we believe in. The tension of homelessness in a globalized world and groundedness in knowledge and multifaceted experiences with land and spirit was present. We eased it by dancing, singing, and sharing the successes and failures in our respective lives. Most importantly, the one thing that stood out to me was the number of healing practices that were shared: creative dance, water therapy, TRE, Total relaxation, drawing. It is clear to me that the new world is one that is based on healing, healing relationships with the land, healing relationships with each other, healing relationships with ourselves.'
Vanessa Meng
'At first, I was a little nervous to meet all new friends from different places. However, the activities gradually connected us together with "no rush" and "be at your comfort" senses. So, I opened up myself comfortably and started to connect with others naturally. The unlearning I liked the most was giving time to connect our spirits first before switching on brain mode talking about work or expectation, "need and offer" activity and "open sacred treasures" where we can exchange our wisdom and culture. The insight opened up for me is to connect with people who have similar interest or ideology, in order to continue on hands-on projects to take real action. The new possibility I see is to scale out my team's social movement project about life long learning under Sufficiency Economy Philosophy into international level in the future where everyone can pursue their own alivelihood path. Thank you ecoversities team for this precious moment and opened us up to new possibilities.'
Slinphat Rodjanaphinun (Bouquet), Thailand
'I think what touched me was the amount of genuine “face time” we were able to share and exchange. Offering this presence for the various activities that participants decided to share with the group felt empowering just to be involved with. When I asked for help about my own project, I was greeted with some incredible insights and guidance that could only come from others who have been there and want to see grassroots projects flourish. A little storytime: I unlearned an unconscious fear that people selling things on the streets only want money. One evening during the Hoi An gathering, a new friend from Ecoversities wanted to purchase a marvellous blue stone from a vendor who had set up a small blanket on the banks of Hoi An’s mellow riverside. Not only would the vendor not give a discount, but the way he politely declined to change the price struck a chord with me, it felt like a commitment to art over money. I befriended this vendor, a Mexican traveller named Abraham. On a whim I invited him to join me in constructing a kava lounge I had been planning at festival in Thailand a few weeks later. Remarkably, Abraham he came to Chiang Mai and we bonded deeply in building the space which became a powerful melting pot of connections at the festival. We shared many stories about life on the road riding the universal flow. Abraham’s example ended up being the final kick that promoted me to finally leave my apartment in Bangkok and embrace the life of rhythmic nomadic travel, at least until the next deeper project unfolds. I now consider him a good friend and a mentor, a ‘teacher’ or colearner if you will. While this experience was perhaps ‘adjacent’ to the gathering itself, it really all felt like one big hug from the universe. This kind of meeting could not have happened without being primed by the earthy, open and sincere context of the Ecoversities gathering. Thank you, Ecoversities!'
Dexter Bohn
'Ecoversities Asia gatherings are magical portals. I first shared about HIRAYA Collective for the Blind during the 1st Asia gathering in Thailand. At that time, HIRAYA was just a vision written on a piece of white paper. Our activity that time was for everyone to write their needs and offers and to circulate it among ourselves. I was truly moved by the stories and sharing of different Asia fellows regarding their lives as well as their projects. Definitely, the energy and care of everyone in the Bangkok Ecoversities gathering carried HIRAYA into reality as soon as I returned back to the Philippines. One year later, the 2nd Asia gathering came. This gathering was very special in many ways: first, Beverly, one of our members of HIRAYA Collective, joined me in Vietnam. What an honor to share with her this special community. And what a pleasure to share to the gathering what journey we have been over the year with HIRAYA. In Vietnam, we met old and new friends, and made new visions together. Immediately after the Asia gathering at Hoi An, there was already a momentum: Together with our new Ecoversities friend, Ms. Dung of CORMIS (a Vietnamese NGO focusing on inclusivity), we opened a gathering in a cafe in Danang and meet friends from the Vietnamese disability community. New friends from the Deaf and physical disability communities as well as international and local Vietnamese students joined - we introduced each other, played games and shared stories. We cannot help but to dream more - we are excited for what’s next to come~ Before coming to Vietnam, I admit it was difficult to explain what magic happens at an Ecoversities gathering. But being there with everyone, it exudes a spirit of warmth and love. The magic is felt so deeply and we at HIRAYA are honored to be embraced by everyone. I cannot wait what magic the 3rd Asia gathering would bring! Sending warmth and light from La Union.
Eva Wang, HIRAYA Collective for the Blind, Phillipines
'When my friend Eva, who was already part of the Ecoversities Alliance, told me about Ecoversities, I saw that she seemed to struggling in describing what Ecoversities is. She ended-up telling me “you’ll know when we get there.” Having no choice but to accept her answer, at least for that time, we got our tickets and flew to Vietnam. And now looking back with all the experience I had, she was right. Ecoversities is indeed hard to describe. And when my friends ask me what Ecoversities is, it’s now my turn to say, “you’ll know when you get there.” The place, the people, the culture, and the vibe. I love all of those things about my ecoversities experience. We were given a program before coming to Vietnam so I had a bit of an expectations but what I didn’t expect are the warm welcome of the people, the openness of the community to accept you as you are, and the amazing stories generously shared by everyone. Since I am a visually impaired, at first, I was very anxious about how I would be able to socialize and talk to people, but I was so happy because most of the people in the alliance were very approachable and they always initiated conversations with me genuinely interested with my stories. Surprisingly, conversations wither during eating time or during the activities, were something I was always excited for. Even the conversations while walking towards the venue or the rooms we’re staying was enjoyable. I enjoyed the perfect balance of structure and openness with the activities. I love that I was able to mingle with a lot of people, learn their culture, and shared good food with them. The sacred treasure was also one of the activities that I enjoyed. I got to learn how diverse the community was. The support given by all the people in the alliance was also precious. I love that everyone is interested to learn each other’s projects and opens opportunities for collaboration. And of course, the games we played facilitated by one of our friend’s dad who also came with her and joined the gathering. He cannot speak English but he was able to connect with us by introducing us to fun games. The Ecoversities Asian Gathering was definitely one of the highlights of my 2023. I am beyond grateful to have been part of last year’s gathering and looking forward to more activities by this beautiful community.'
Beverly Bravo, HIRAYA Collective for the Blind, Phillipines

Save the Date! Our Third Asian Regional Gathering will be celebrated in Nepal on May 11 – 15th 2024. Stay tuned for more information.

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