CIDECI (Centro Indígena de Capacitación Integral)
Universidad de la Tierra Chiapas
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
I write to you from the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, where evening is settling in dark, shadowy colors of dark green, blue and grey over the brightly painted buildings of CIDECI, Universidad de la Tierra, Chiapas The atmosphere here is electric and if I had to choose words to describe it, they might be: autonomy, hope, hospitality, and uncompromising determination.
For the last five weeks I have been a participant on a course hosted by Gustavo Esteva and the Universidad de la Tierra, Oaxaca) The course is titled: Reweaving the Fabric of Hope, Lessons From the Grassroots in Oaxaca. Gustavo is a long-time and beloved member of the Schumacher community, and a contributor on the CEW Residential Intensive. You will find more information about him here)
This course does not have a prescribed or pre-determined curriculum; in fact, I hesitate to use the word course at all. It is an invitation to experience a different approach to education from the perspective of several different indigenous communities, one that does not rely on a hierarchical structure of transferred knowledge, but rather endeavors to create spaces of learning where knowledge is produced collectively, and for the direct benefit of the community. This is the heart of the lessons I am learning from a grassroots approach to education.
More and more, the desire to effect change at the community level is what draws people to the programme, Cultivating an Ecoliterate Worldview, Person, Place, and Practice. Through the CEW programme, Schumacher College invites people from all over the world to join the dynamic team of teachers, students, volunteers and staff and engage in what is an ongoing conversation at the college: how to take the principles of ecological literacy and holistic science and effectively and thoroughly apply them to the whole of one’s life. The residential intensive affords the CEW participants, individually and as a learning community, time to be in dialogue with those who have built a strong foundation of knowledge, experience, and perhaps most importantly, valuable tools to implement lasting change based on new awareness and understanding.
As a way of focusing the experience, each participant is invited to find a theme or inquiry they are called to explore. There is complete freedom in how this is articulated; you may choose a verbal statement, an art form, or a presentation. The inquiry can take the form of a design question they have been working on for years, or a blank sheet of paper drawn on blind-folded with a fellow participant at the College at midnight. The invitation to consider an inquiry or personal question has proven very valuable for participants in previous programmes, serving as a sort of centrifuge for all that is experienced during the residential intensive. It can then be used as a touch-stone when reentry into daily life happens, with all of its stimulus and demands, and when it becomes time to put what you have learned into practice.
I think we all recognize that real transformation is not a spectator sport. It is an on-going process with you, your place and community. The true effort of cultivating an ecologically-literate worldview, or perhaps better put, cultivating an ecoliterate life, is that it’s something that happens slowly, over time, and within a specific context. The process is, of course, different for everyone, involving millions and millions of choices every day. At Schumacher College, these choices can seem easy. The food is prepared for you each meal, and it is vegetarian and organic. The community that surrounds you is on a similar page and will not think you outrageous – the wise presence of the trees is undeniable.
Once re-embedded in the systems of family, work, and hectic schedules, it becomes more challenging to weave what has been newly experienced into old patterns. The Study Circle offers an opportunity to take time with those with whom you have created connections and shared an experience in order to reflect and integrate what was learned at the College. It also helps keep alive the inspiration you will undoubtedly leave the College with, and that can make all the difference!
The purpose of the Study Circle is to continue the process of exploration and inquiry from within the supportive container of the community. Each Study Circle has an emergent design, with each monthly theme determined by the desires and interests of the learning community. We approach it as an experiment, with the ability to respond and adapt as necessary, with the only constant being that the calls need to be enjoyable and fun!
In this incredibly busy world, it is no small feat to schedule a two hour monthly call with people who inhabit every time zone. Some have to rise very early or stay up very late in order to participate on the calls, and all need to fit them in to very busy schedules. It takes commitment and the willingness to see it through. Curiosity and interest are the easy part. Being a supportive and connected community member when your community is half-way around the world is another thing entirely.
Each group faces this challenge and there are those who are not able to participate on a given month because schedules won’t allow it. The challenges that arise within process of the group are no different from any of the other challenges we all face when creating meaningful relationships with people. A unique pay-off of this process is the establishment of truly global community who know and support you on your journey, and from whom you can keep learning long after the course has finished.
The current CEW participants are halfway through their Study Circle period. There are participants from India, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, and the US. Many of the members work within the educational system, as teachers, guidance counselors and supervisors, from secondary school through university. Two other participants work in the field of development and human rights, another is an architect and designer, others are in leadership development and corporate consulting.
We have now had three calls. The first call was largely a check-in and administrative call, where we picked up the process we began at Schumacher College, of organizing our time for the coming months and establishing a democratic system of choosing what we were interested in learning together. For our second call, we invited Gustavo Esteva to join us. Gustavo was a unanimous choice for everyone, as his talk at the College on creating a life where ecological literacy is generated from the place of community engagement and social change, spoke to everyone deeply. The conversation allowed us to speak intimately with Gustavo about how he lives in action around what he believes, how he views the role of the modern education system we in the Western world are share, and what he would like to see for Unitierra moving forward.
Our third Study Circle Call was held from Unitierra in Oaxaca. My (somewhat spontaneous) decision to take the course I’m on now afforded me an opportunity to suggest following on from the call with Gustavo with having a conversation with folks from Unitierra who bring a different perspective to the work being done there. (Amazingly, a member of the CEW programme, Eileen Boyle, is a participant on the course as well, so we were able to be together on the call, which was just one of the great outcomes of sharing this experience with her!).
The original plan for the call was to be joined by two students of Unitierrra Oaxaca who are working on creating a Universidad de la Tierra in the CA Southern Bay Area, called Unitierra Califas. I was pleased to be introducing these new friends to the group; they have a shared interest in the practice of a true democratic process from the grassroots, and also in the creation of authentic learning spaces, including the use of online technology. Unfortunately, due to the incredibly unstable political environment just following the election here, our friends were kept under threat of arrest all night at an artist collective where they attended and event the night before. Despite the last minute change, which I admit I was disappointed by, group members were very happy to have a conversation amongst ourselves, certain that whatever happened would be a valuable outcome, and it was.
We continued with the themes of community and education and the conversation was powerful, and rich with insights and experiences. For example, Merel Clas, a researcher and designer who is currently traveling across Europe by bicycle, phoned in from Italy where he is working on a project using participatory design principles for a community park. Fairoux el Tom, in Geneva, who works in the field of international development human rights, noticed during her time at Schumacher that what she values most in life are art and diversity and is now working on a project that weds the two, while provoking an important conversation about who is represented in the governing bodies of some of Europe’s top NGO’s. Seetha Anasthasivan, co-founder and director of Bhoomi College in Bangalore, India, has reported just finishing the creation of a year long course for facilitators that focuses on creating a clear mirror between the inner and the outer human landscape. And Eileen Boyle, with me in Oaxaca, shared how dramatically the experience of our time in Mexico was impacting how she viewed her work as a guidance counselor and therapist in Ireland.
For our next call, we will be hearing a report back from the RIO+20 from Mari Vilhena, a member of the current CEW community. We will be also joined by Osprey Orielle Lake, Director of the Women’s Climate Caucus. Osprey was involved with hosting several large events at the conference and is eager to join the conversation to explore the question of how we might evaluate where success and failure actually occurred at that epic gathering. We will also be inviting other CEW alumni who were at the conference to join us, so if you were there and want to join in, please email me (Emily@emilyryan.net ) and I will give you the details for the call!
The next CEW programme is coming up on the horizon. Welcoming a new group of participants into the CEW community is an honor and the experience will be made stronger having just been one again myself. I look forward to being at Schumacher again, where, like here, hospitality and determination are a part of the fabric of life, and where, like here, a community of committed, thoughtful, and compassionate people have constructed a place where it is possible to consider a life of connection and dignity with our earth and one another. I’ll hope to see you there!