Ecovilla GAIA: Diseñar para la permanencia
Voluntary and educational experiences in Ecovilla GAIA.
In the Navarro area, about three hours by car from the Federal Capital of Buenos Aires, is Ecovilla GAIA; a human settlement built upon the principles of permaculture.
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is a concept that was created in Australia in the 70’s which refers primarily to designing an agricultural production system that works systematically and sustainably, without depleting the region’s natural resources.
Now, the term has been expanded to include “Sustainable Culture” or “Culture for Permanence,” integrating the cultural dimension, the social organization, ethical principles and principles linked to the biotic environments of the human population.
The objective is to promote and develop a living system and design that seek the sustainability, or continuity, of our species on this Earth.
It is, if you’d like, another one of the responses that have been created in the face of environmental and social catastrophes that we have had to live with throughout history, that functions in an integrated and active manner by encapsulating the experiences of other proposals that precede it. For example, it has done this by associating itself with the current activist movements that defend the right to life and advocate for the conservation of the Eco-system.
ACTIVITIES AVAILABLE IN THE SPACE
The Argentinian Institute of Permaculture (AIP) functions in the Ecovilla. Its objective is to investigate and promote permaculture in different environments. It has been approximately 20 years since the Institute and Ecovilla began working together in this area.
One of their main activities is planning and teaching courses with different themes, all linked to permaculture. For example:
- Manufacturing Ceramic Ovens Workshop
- Earth and Lime Finishings Workshop
- Course in the Production and Conservation of Openly Pollinized Organic Seeds
- Bioclimatic Architecture Workshop
- Course in the Construction of High Efficiency Ovens and Stoves
- Sociocracy – Dynamic Decision
- Course in Designing Ecovillas -EDE-
- Certified Course in Permaculture Design
- Course in Green Roof Construction
- Course in Bakery and Pastry Making – Vegan, Wholemeal, Organic
- Aromatherapy Course
- Experimental Relieved Land Blocks (RLB) Workshop
- Water Filter Production Course
- Theory-Practical Course in Low Strength Air Generators
- Course in the Natural Construction of Direct Modeling on Earth
- Bamboo Construction Course
- Natural Agriculture and Forestation Course
- Permaculture Course for Children
As you can see, the Institute’s course proposals are extensive. Other activities are also being developed such as advising, guided visits etc.
MICROEXPERIENCE: Certified Course in Permaculture Design
Someone who has a foreign vocation learns that, sometimes, getting close to some borders takes time.
For me, arriving at the doors of the Permaculture enterprise and designing a course is only a small part of the journey to discovering the answer to the question: ‘What is our role as participants in the human project on this planet?’ Clearly, these are very big questions and the journey will become rich and interesting as well as complex and unending. Luckily, I continue to travel this road with my closest friends who are going to bring us closer to tools that can change the world and meet many others who want to want to use those tools.
A boat made the journey from Uruguay to Argentina. I arrived in the Federal Capital and spent three days in the fifth most populated city in America (friends, subway, people, people, people and people) and from there, I traveled to GAIA.
The first impression that I had, which I later had to corroborate with a satellite photograph, is that the ecovilla was a patch of trees in the middle of a blanket of homogeneous fragments of Pampean land interspersed by monoculture and livestock.
During the course we were told the history of the place; like how the previous space was little more than overgrazed land with a dairy factory that was abandoned forty years ago. Approximately twenty years ago, a handful of people bought it, cultivated the land using permaculture ideologies and participated in a series of exchanges with other projects near the region and around the world.
Now there are forests and gardens, bio-constructions; it is a space that aims to be sustainable, educative, adaptable, conservative of land and resources and autonomous. Today, there are still only a handful of people who are now living in a space designed meticulously and patiently using old and new technology, but both with the same purpose.
The course lasted twelve days. The main theme was introducing the design of sustainable living systems to the world, covering the fundamental principles of permaculture, their ethical principles, design, areas of activity and so much more. The meetings with the diverse people that are going to take the course can only be found in a semi-crazy course such as this one. Also, the meetings with people who live there, people who have made the difficult decision many times before to leave work and go to the countryside. And meeting the ecovillage (people call it ecovilla, I don’t know why I like village more) that speaks for itself.
It was quite a conceptual and expository course, with Gustavo and Martin exuding permaculture data which revealed a lot of interesting information:
Clever economic global and regional analysis, diverse world-wide experiences and the history of groups and communities who were both affected by problems and invented solutions for permanence.
Figures, techniques and methods of application of forms of sustainable life, like food production systems, water, dry baths, bio-construction, energy, etc… The interesting thing about this is to see it working and fulfilling a role in a system that is geared to sustain itself.
Within this skeleton of ideas that runs through the course, its meat was the human meetings and passions. If you are going to ask about the permanence of culture, it would be in order to find the bond that unites us in a fraternal and collective human project among people. The different participants of the course come from diverse places and have different experiences but we embody a similar spirit that compels us to develop friendships, share our experiences and interact with people who want to do the same. This is the necessary engine to continue working on anything. Or among residents who also encourage beautiful encounters and contact with experiences of people who, through their journeys, set out to initiate a radical change in life, something so difficult and pondered many times by us (“I don’t have to give up all of this and move to the middle of the countryside, do I?”). They were there and they are an example of what is possible and even necessary.
Voluntary Work: Alternative Living Spaces
In the Ecovillages at the global level and in GAIA in particular, it is customary to work with the proposal of voluntary work. The proposal is basically going to work on different daily tasks, allowing the volunteers to contribute based on the knowledge and the skills that they have, in exchange for daily support and learning about the functionality of the space.
This is a strong alternative learning space, where instead of going and paying for a course, I go and I work, forming part of a community, resulting in a win-win situation, and we avoid using money.
The strength and potential of voluntary work is enormous. I need to think about if it is something I want, I search for an ecovillage in a place that I like, I communicate by mail and if it is required by the people, I carry my backpack and go to them, just around the corner. Many times the groups that set out to establish ecovillages fail because of a lack of technique or experience and the majority of the enterprises of this type look for people.
To go through and to interact with the diversity and richness of this type of experience appears to be a very interesting learning opportunity.
These design courses, like many others, are done in many places around the world. They are all based on principles of Permaculture but each place has its own focus, its own people, its distinctive features, riches, weaknesses and projects. In this “idiosyncratic relationship”, the “singularity-collectivity” of each space, there is much wealth, not only in the ecovillages but in every space that we live in. It is very good each time we explore the world because we communicate with other people and we discover territories and people that propel us to new worlds.
GAIA is not a massive enterprise. A handful of people live there, focused on the tasks of day to day life and maintaining the activities of the Institute. Perhaps its main tool has been perseverance, the accumulation of knowledge and careful work with the land that, little by little, has been converted into a very interesting reference for the groups that set out to erect alternative, ethical and sustainable living spaces.
95% of permaculture enterprises fail. Luckily, 5% of these businesses remain as our reference, and for everyone who failed to continue learning.
Writed by Daniel Perez.
Translated by Kerlene Teselford and Vongai Mlambo