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EDE Orissa

Back in 2007 John George from THREAD, Orissa, India took part in the first EDE in Sieben Linden, Germany. He brought with him news and inspiring images of a women’s movement: women taking an oath over fire as they step into leadership – pledging to safeguard their communities, their forests, their children; climbing on tables and pitching speeches to each other; in political protest to counter the potential of Monsanto to destroy seed heritage. Back then, John and I hatched a dream to bring the EDE to Orissa in order to further empower the Orissa Nari Samaj women’s movement and explore the possibility of recognizing their villages as ecovillages. Four years passed before this dream came true.

From January 29 – February 27 2011, 33 participants met with a facilitation team of 8 (half Indian) to embark on a journey of mutual learning. Besides Gjohn, 4 more members of the Nari Samaj had participated in the EDE in Sieben Linden – making for a strong and committed holding team. Now, we offered 11 places to participants from Nari Samaj. The Siemenpuu Foundation (Finland) funded 14 village network leaders from India, but also from Cambodia, Vietnam and Brazil. Others travelled from Congo, South Africa, Thailand, USA, Finland and Serbia to join.

A strong emphasis was put on participatory learning (eliciting the wisdom present in the group), experiential learning and the exchange of best practice.

One core question this course enquired into is whether and how the ecovillage concept and GEN can be of use to traditional village networks. Much is currently being lost as villagers all over the globe lose access to natural resources and are forced to move into urban environments. The movie ‘Ancient Futures’ by Helena Norberg-Hodge could well have been set in current Orissa. Can GEN and Gaia Education play a role in bringing recognition to the preciousness of what is being destroyed in this process?

GEN has always had contacts to village networks. Are we ready now to develop associations that go beyond personal contacts? We have started to develop “Guidelines for the Recognition of Traditional Villages as Ecovillages” which follow the EDE model of the mandala. These were tested and refined during this course. Valuable feedback on the applicability of concepts and terminology was incorporated.

The course went on a field trip to stay in local villages where we enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of local technologies and witnessed how the reintroduction of communal cultivation of land, of communal cattle sheds, and of grain and seed banks, strengthen the fabric of community. Awareness of the impacts of modernisation and a conscious design of their own pathway into the future is core for the survival of these villages.

The idea of establishing ‘pilot ecovillages’, which serve as centres of inspiration to wider village networks was applauded and will be put into practice not only within Orissa, but across India and in parts of Africa.

With EDEs soon to be run in Senegal and Congo it is apparent that one of the contributions of the EDE lies in the realm of building alliances with village networks in the South, honouring the wisdom of indigenous people, and working to empower some of the world’s poorest people. The next EDE in Orissa is coming up soon, probably October 2011 – this time run by a wholly local team in the local language, Oriya!

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