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Ecovillages and Sustainable Living Conference 2011

 Strategies for Resilience headlined this year‘s annual Ecovillage and Sustainable Living Conference.  Inspiration, in the form of both presentations and workshops, highlighted the work of the Global Ecovillage Network in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, creating the body of the four day event. From July 7-11, the community of Tamera, in Southern Portugal, graciously hosted 200 participants, from 35 countries, in a beautifully caring and relaxed atmosphere.

The conference opened with participants and members of Tamera gathered under a strong Portuguese sun.  In the sacred stone circle, a very particular place for the community that links to all forms of intelligence, we shared in song, meditation, and listening.  A tender heart-space opened, and prepared us to plunge into the technologically equipped Aula, a warm straw bale constructed auditorium, where we engaged in intense days of presentations and media.  Starting with our official welcome by our charming President Macaco, followed by a charismatic opening address by Kosha, Secretary General.  Kosha shared an overview of the last year‘s developments within GEN and previewed the remarkable developments underway, all of which were then further elaborated on in the days to come.

Through the morning presentations and afternoon workshops, GEN members and close collaborative partners unfolded an understanding of key developments along three main threads: the South, Outreach and Education.

Lua and Adama, our representatives from emerging GEN Africa, moved us with profound, pithy  accounts of this year‘s key developments in their region, focusing on the ongoing work in the Congo and West Africa.  Uri and Aida, both based in Tamera, shared insights on the development of Ecovillages in the Middle East, highlighting these communities as active agents in peace work in the region.  To hear Lua and Aida, both extraordinary, powerful women, share their profound wisdom and beauty, as they raised our awareness of the suffering caused by war and the intricate involvement of modern technologies in their countries, was truly a gift.  In this flow of emotion and closeness, the conference, evolved and deepened over the entire four days - sprinkled with precious moments of laughter, play, pleasure, dance and song.

The morning of that first day concluded with May East, director of Gaia Education, who made an astute presentation of the connected partners, Transition Towns and Gaia Education.   She firmly placed GEN in the context of a global, bottom up phenomena featuring civil society taking action towards transition beyond peak oil, climate change and economic crisis.

Widening Networks for Resilience – Building Alliances set the stage for the Saturday presentations.  We examined the very diverse approaches through which GEN facilitates outreach to academia, Green business and the EU, while staying closely linked to movements such as clean-up and urban ecovillages.  Outreach tools include internet strategies and critical EDE courses, which further develop important themes; as well as the traditional village transition into ecovillage and the connection of people, South-South.  The audience exhilarated in the confidence exhibited in big dreams, like Nara Petrovic and Toomas Trapido speaking about “Clean-up the World in 2012” and Paulo Mellet, from Lush, quoting amongst many powerful examples of hope, a Ghanese farmer whose mission to stop the desert led to the planting of 80 million trees.

Mainstream society’s growing interest in solutions pioneered by ecovillage experience becomes evident in many nuances of our work.  Examples presented at the conference included how to apply the public-private gradient (habitual to many ecovillages) in urban planning, how to create ecoquarters in cities, presented by Erik Rombaut, how to develop traditional villages in the Baltic Sea area presented by Robert Hall, solutions for climate mitigation, possible crowd and government funding to support knowledge transfer in Africa and India.

The afternoon workshops expanded on themes from the morning sessions and also included workshops offered by other conference participants.  Internet and new media emerged as an  unexpectedly strong current throughout the event, and resulted in the connection of various experts from within the network who share a desire to empower the Outreach of GEN through these channels.  Our host Tamera was an excellent example of applied technologies, showcasing their research on water retention landscapes, the solar village and composting toilets. A third thread throughout the afternoons was the opportunity to experience social tools presented by GEN members, including sociocracy, community structures, and overcoming the ego.

If you think the day was intense and full, you are right; yet there was more to come.  Each evening, five ecovillages or related projects hosted 15 Minute slide presentations for an audience that seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the beauty of this new world evolving before our eyes.

The intensity of listening and sharing information was balanced by dancing, songs, and games by our clown Nicoletta.

The closing day was designed to ground the energies and close the conference for each participant individually; but as a community we drew on collective intelligence and searched for “elevator phrases“ to describe GEN.  We asked each participant, “What is GEN to you, described in one sentence?”  We collected a remarkable array of quotes during our last session, that Monday, the final day of the conference.

To complete your picture of our days with GEN in Tamera, imagine the continuous flow of learning and interaction, coloured by raw vegan food in hues of orange, green and purple, on a campus where your tent, the bar next to the lake and the central meeting places are all within a few minutes walk through a landscape of reddish sand that stretches between lush permaculture gardens along rippling lakes, bordered by skeletal green cork oaks on the surrounding hills, with wind and sun caressing your skin, while swallows nest in the compost toilet you are about to use.

If you want to be part of our next General Assembly and Conference: Come to and join us at Schloss Glarisegg, Switzerland, July 8-15th 2012!

Education for Sustainability presented GEN-Strategies both for adult education and children in communities.  In this atmosphere, Sunday morning began with a matinee featuring a stunning performance of “America Insurrecta,” by the community choir of Tamera.  They were followed by two young women from Tamera, who shared what growing up in an ecovillage had meant to them. They spoke of having received the instruments to allow them to awaken politically to the world‘s condition while still being able to choose to keep their hearts open and foster hope, in spite of the painful truths they encountered.

Out of GEN, grows a powerful teaching and empowerment tool for catalysing people to engage in action.  It is the four week long course, ”Ecovillage Design Education EDE,“ which was presented at the conference, by Jane from Findhorn and Thailand.  As a further step, Kosha presented a two-year-long learning journey, uniting the best teaching examples from the EDE curriculum, Transition Town, the urban HUB movement, Permaculture, Dragon Dreaming and the Ecovillages of Damanhur, Findhorn and Cloughjordan.  Outlined by the visionary of the project, Kosha, the learning journey has created a perspective that will open up horizons for future change agents in towns and cities.  Betsy, further expanded on new horizons with the introduction of the emerging world of Transmedia and Gamification as a means to introduce ecovillage knowledge in a compelling way to a quickly growing, broad audience.

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