Blogs >> A Holistic Gateway - Schumacher College by Mariana Gómez Soto

A Holistic Gateway - Schumacher College by Mariana Gómez Soto

Mariana Gómez Soto, Sustainability Masters & Holistic Education

I have journeyed through years of empirically and intuitively searching for a holistic view in my studies, jobs and other activities, knowing that I would some day come across an experience that would trigger all the potential held in the network I have been weaving. I am motivated to answer the call I have felt since I got to know about the Holistic Science masters program at Schumacher College. I feel that the holistic view of the College suits most of the aspects, activities and experiences of my life, making them come together to confirm that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, boosting my potential to work for the communities in my country. 

My holistic past

I grew up between the city and the countryside. Since my early years, I had the example of my father and his close relationship with the earth, and this rural context made me interact with people that came from different backgrounds. When in school, I started working in education and outdoor activities, first as a guide for children in environmental activities, and then as a director and creator of social and ecological restoration projects with children from local rural and city communities. In college I had an interdisciplinary experience studying Anthropology, and complimenting it with minors in Biology and Geography. For my Master degree in Social Anthropology, I did my fieldwork in the Amazon on the way an indigenous community uses the natural resources from the forest and river, and the way these local production systems interact with the commercial market. The final outcome of six months of fieldwork financed by Tropenbos Foundation, was materialized into a published book "Living in Cash: The Economy of the Tikuna Community in the Amazon", which has been used by the community to design projects that protect their knowledge and environment.  

Four years of work in a natural reserve in the Amazon jungle, following the steps of the locals in the forest, while they moved silently, blending with the environment, made me integrate and deeply understand these ways of living and points of view. With the native people I discovered the intrinsic ability in human beings to develop the sensibility to feel and interact with the cycles of nature. Working with indigenous communities has given me the opportunity to come very close to wise and ancestral knowledges, and gave me access to participate in rituals and healing circles. This has made me rethink spirituality, finding the mystery of life in everything, all interconnected by the power of the flow of energy and the infinity of love.

My working experience has focused in territory, environment and traditional knowledge. My last job before leaving Colombia was in Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, the national government office responsible for the management and administration of the natural parks, on the implementation of the Social Participation in Conservation Policy. The existence of this policy guarantees the participation of local communities, integrating their ancestral knowledge and practices for the management of land and the use of natural resources, which recognizes human beings as part of nature, believing that we can be a positive and active figure in conservation. 

My active presence

At the end of 2012, Anglo Gold Ashanti, a huge gold mining corporation arrived to the town where my father has his rice fields, bent on installing the tailings dam of all the toxic wastes produced from one of the potential largest gold mine projects in the world: La Colosa. My heart felt a deep compromise in defense of my roots and beliefs. Since then, I have been involved in the pacific resistance process the community has held. Inhabitants of a small town called Doima, in Piedras, Tolima, on the Andes Mountains, also heard this call and have risen to defend their territory and proclaim their dignity to continue their life from what the Earth produces and gives them. A land rich in water resources whose vocation is food production, and depends entirely on this resource, has been the central inspiration of defense. We managed to request to the local government authorities to hold a popular consultation so the inhabitants could state by voting, whether they agree on a mining project in their territory. The results of the vote where astonishing! Of 5,105 people eligible to vote, there were 3,007 voters, of which 2,971 voted against mining and only 24 voted in favor of mining. In spite of this victory, the national government argued that local communities couldn´t hold voting mechanisms on mining, because this is an issue of public and national interest. Who is the nation if not the citizens? 

Searching for ways to support the community, I wrote a letter to a community in the UK facing similar threats last year. This took me to start a Global Solidarity Network with the support of the Gaia Foundation London and to become a global activist to defend territory and community rights. I have also participated in the defense of indigenous seeds and traditional varieties supporting the Colombian Seed-keeper´s Network, which I had the privilege to represent a few weeks ago at the Great Seed Festival in London. I spent the first six months of this year in India working as a volunteer in seed-keeping projects with my partner Ricardo, who is a agro-ecologist and ethnobotanist, with whom I share my views and inspirations. We collaborated in Pebble Garden Project in Tamil Nadu, in Navdanya in Uttarakhand, the seed-keeper network founded by Vandana Shiva, and in Sophia, a local NGO that works with the Van Gujjars, a local nomadic tribe of buffalo herders and milk producers. 

As a global activist, I continue to be a gateway for Colombian issues while in the UK. I am also helping spread the message of the Kogi, a Colombian ethnic group that lives in the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in our Caribbean coast, one of the groups I worked with before. I am currently collaborating in the coordination of screenings of Aluna, the movie by Alan Ereira, who was called by this ethnic group to communicate their message to the world.  

Me and the opportunity at the college

Holistic studies are an opportunity to reconcile the dichotomy existence we have been taught to believe in. This dialogue of universes is important when coming from a country which is rich in biodiversity and ways of thinking and experiencing life, qualified or disqualified as a “third world country in its way to development”. It is an opportunity to find a more harmonic way of living. It is an academic experience that accepts wisdom as an official source of knowledge which has historically been key for the sustainment of nature on earth, and which we can actually incorporate in our way of “managing” the world[1] to build a more harmonious model of cohabitation.

I respect the scientific academic component of the program because it is an exercise of rigor, which I have experienced in my immersion in disciplines like biology and geography. I admire the humanistic and intellectual ingredient of which I feel very connected because of my formation as an anthropologist. I am profoundly inspired and fond of the natural views because of my experience of growing up in the countryside, and I was happily engaged in my father’s experimentations with biodynamic and energetic agriculture. The environmental component suits my interests in finding new ways of interacting with nature with us being part of it. I am very intrigued by the social economic component, which evaluates our system and its breaking points. It opens a space for innovative new system proposals that can have a dialogue with the common sense we have lost for managing the earth. 

My dissertation will be a proof of this by working with local communities in Colombia and sharing the way they have come to hold grass-root movements to defend their territory, and how all these are triggered and inspired by an inherent quality present in all human beings: the protection of the living system we are part of.

Your Help

I can´t make this dream come true all by myself, even if I have looked for ways of funding my studies and have received support from bursaries and loans. I still need help in order to cover the tuition fee and living costs while in the UK. SUPPORTING ME WILL ALSO BE A WAY OF SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY PROCESSES I AM ENGAGED IN. JOIN ME, AND LETS MAKE THIS DREAM COME TO LIFE TOGETHER!!! Click here to help make this dream happen!

Other Links to my work: 

1. Interview for The Ecologist: http://www.theecologist.org/Interviews/2585566/...

 

Video Credits: 

- Film footage: Jess Phillimore, Gaia Foundation London

- Interviews and editing: Juliana Pastoriza - jupastoriza@gmail.com

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