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What the Water Gave Me by Rafaela Graça Scheiffer

water research on River Dart

Since I finished the MSc Holistic Science, it has taken a while to notice that water has been a recurrent theme that is grabbing my attention in different contexts and that is why I decided to give it attention and understand what the water is trying to teach me.

The river Dart, for instance, had educated me to trust the larger systems, observe and surrender to the needs of the moment and slow down my own flow, thus becoming one of my favourite metaphors.

Last November I have been in Portugal, where part of my family lives. While travelling with Brazilian friends and visiting diverse beaches on the coast, I felt a great sense of belonging to that land that didn't occur me ever before. At that time, the country was facing some of its worse forest fires with hundreds of human victims and everybody was talking about that.

I remember drinking a beer with my cousins at a local pub and for the first time hearing them talking about climate change, with conviction. That motivated me to begin searching for job openings across Portugal as a researcher, facilitator and activist but I could not find much. My top concerns were to make the reforestation process efficient, being sensitive to the species introduced, avoiding monoculture and giving ground to the landscape to self-regenerate and bring rain and consequently water into the soil.

A couple of weeks later, I attended a couple of conferences within the Geneva Forum at the UN headquarters in Geneva. I was surprised to see that Holistic Science was one topic within a collective brainstorm that is feedback into the UN office Harmony with Nature every year.

I took a lead sharing my masters while also giving an explanation on flying rivers, a concept that came alive during one of the MSc classes given by Stephan Harding and Antonio Nobre. With a couple of people, we strategised a investigation on Europe's flying rivers and ways of bringing water back to the semi-arid soil to rapidly present in the conference, with the support of the event's organised, the NGO Objectif Sciences International. 

After that initial encouragement, I came back to Schumacher for two days of co-creation of the Schumacher Network and met my teacher Philip Franses and his partner, Minni Jain. That was the start of a five-month collaboration within Minni's water charity The Flow Partnership. Her vision for community driven water management is grounded on the successful results that people like the Slovak hydrologist Michal Kravcik and the Waterman of India Rajendra Singh achieved by engaging communities to build local water interventions in their landscapes.

The results are a holistic regeneration: the flow of rivers is slowed down and the water has enough time to infiltrate the soil, recharge aquifers and also evaporate to participate in local water cycles - both floods and droughts are remediated according to similar principles.

I learned about this 'new water paradigm' not only by doing research, but also by organising webinars, community film screenings and also teaching a session at Park School with my friend and colleague Susie Nicholls, when we told the story of the Waterman of India and played water games with ten and eleven year-olds.

Equally important, was to visit villages in Slovakia where Kravcik designed solutions that proved successful and cost-effective always starting from the bottom up and now entrepreneurs a organisation called Rain for Climate.

The month of June brought me back to Portugal, now equipped with my new water mindset. I was lucky enough to visited an incredible project on the south of Portugal, Tamera, a Peace Research and Education Centre that is an open-air lab of holistic solutions for water management, sanitation and water retention in the landscape.

It is located in one of the driest regions of Portugal, Alentejo, where the summers represent challenges to the local inhabitants. By their example, they prove that citizens have the power to find their own solutions rather than just demanding governmental action.

Then, back at Dartington I was delighted to offer a session on citizen science on the river Dart with the Belgian activist and water manager Elina Bennetsen, invited by the Flow Partnership as part of its Water Summer School. A nice description of the activity was prepared by some  Bioregional Learning Centre UK members here.

The next steps are still a mystery and at this moment I am managing my anxiety. Who knows what is coming next? An internship in UNEP Thailand might be on the go, but I know I also want to research water independently and design my own project in the near future. May my interests in indigenous ways of living and relating to water bodies come into fruition and give some voice to what I believe to be an Indigenous Science.

In any ways, Holistic Science will keep taking me beyond a 9/5 job style into more benefitial, fulfilling and why not to say humane ways of bringing my needs and dreams with what the world calls me to do.

Rafaela Graça Scheiffer is an alumnus of the MSc Holistic Science

Picture provided courtesy of photojournalist Jeromine Derigny for the Flow Partnership Summer School 2018.

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