GEN Conference: "Seeds of Hope in Times of Change"

From the 7th to the 11th of July, the annual conference of GEN Europe took place in Tamera: More than 200 representatives of ecovillages and community seekers from 35 nations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa came to connect and to think about common strategies and projects. The big topic was the necessity in these times of change to make the experience of this diverse movement accessable for many.

For four days and nights, the shade roofs of the bar"A Onda", situated around one of the lakes of the Tamera water retention landscape, was full of encounters and talks - and reflected the diversity of the Ecovillage movement:

There were people like the brothers Pavel and Dmitri from an Anastasis settlement in the Ural, who gave people their self-made honey and wanted to share knowledge about how soil that has been exploited during many decades of colchose farming can become fertile again.

City planner Erik Rombaut from Belgium applies methods found in ecovillages to make cities greener and healthier.

Professor Ali Gökmen and his wife Inci Gökmen are something like the grandparents of the Turkish Ecovillage movement and have been working for many years to make Permaculture popular and to found the first ecovillage.

Alex from Kibbuz Lotan in the Negev desert in Israel has specialized in compost toilets and waste management: "The desert teaches us to live in a way that everything can be re-used. We aim to not have to throw anything away anymore".

Participants from Denmark have turned a normal urban neighbourhood into a co-housing project where a couple of families with several generations share gardens, kitchens and storage rooms.

Lua from Congo impressed all kinds of people with her strong willpower. It was a personal crisis that led her to the decision to look after street children and to found ecovillages.

Participants of big communities like ZEGG and Siebenlinden in Germany, Findhorn in Scotland, Damanhur in Italy and Tamera in Portugal shared intensively: They have been constant pillars for knowledge of sustainability in their regions as well as global places for experience and education for many years.

Paulo and Ruth represented the company Lush (French handmade cosmetics) from the UK and wanted to help in commercializing products from Ecovillages. Already now Lush has sponsored GEN Africa, and bought the first 25 tons of cacao beans from the peace village San José de Apartadó in Colombia, to supprt peace and sustainable development in these countries.

The loudest and funniest groups were always gathered around John Croft from Australia who taught young people with his roaring voice the basic knowledge of "Dragon Dreaming". He showed them how a personal dream can become a universal dream and how to share it convincingly enough to find funding and a team.

"Ecovillages are seeds of hope in a time of change", Macaco Tamarice from Damanhur said, the GEN Europe president. "Living together seems to have become the biggest challenge of our times. Ecovillage in their diversity can provide answers on the most different questions."

In four intensive days with talks, workshops and project presentations in the auditorium of Tamera knowledge was shared, experience exchanged and contacts made. Moreover, we also worked on ways to provide the knowledge of ecovillages even more effectively in these times of economical crisis and climate change. The hosting country Portugal in particular has been hit by the current ecological and economical problems - but it can also become an example of how the knowledge of ecovillages can help.

Helder Guerreiro, vice major of the district town Odemira, said: "Like a seed holds in itself the core information of life, you as seeds of hope hold the core information for humanity living together in a healthy way. In its special situation, Portugal and mainly we as politicians need the be in contact with groups like you to stay in touch with this orientation, in order to be able to return to it again and again."

"Being here is absolutely fascinating", participant Paulo Daniel of the enviromental organisation Quercus said. "Tamera´s experience in natural water management, the knowledge of all these projects in sustainable architecture and descentralized energy technology, and mainly the experience of coming together as a group or a neighbourhood to solve your problems together - all this creates hope for a better future. In Portugal, many people think that they cannot do anything for a change. But here we have seen many examples of how people have the power to make a change."

With the EDE courses - Ecovillage Design Education – in so far 23 countries, which also takes place in the slums of São Paulo, with hundreds of city planners, with publications and with the internet, GEN already spreads the knowledge quite effectively.

Still, "GEN is in a current transformation,", Kosha Joubert, a member of the GEN council stated. "We hear the call of mainstream society, we get requests from official bodies like the European community and the foreign ministry of Germany. Our knowledge is needed. Among other things GEN has the task to give the ecovillage a political acknowledgement."

The general feedback after the conference was that we had never touched the world situation so closely. And never had we more seriously worked on finding meaningful responses. This impression was regarded especially by the participants from Africa. Professor Adama Ly from Senegal, Lua Bashala-Kekana from Congo and Philip Munyasia from Kenya presented ecovillage projects in their countries that are responses to poverty, war trauma and exploitation of nature.

And so it was clear that the GEN Excellency Award of this year had to be given to Africa. It was impossible to decide between Otepic from Kenya and Mama na Bana from Congo. The award was split, and a spontaneous fundraising doubled the prize money of 3000 Euros. Now, Lua and Philip can take home the full amount of money for their projects.

Lua: "The name of our project is Mama na Bana, which means mother and child. We already have 5 ha to start building the ecovillage for the street children. We will spend this money on a pick-up and other things that we need to start building the first facilities. Even more important is the personal support: In the next following years several specialists will come and help building a water retention landscape and the first clay houses. Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world. In reality it is - as the heart of Africa - the richest in terms of resources and biodiversity. But during war, more than 3 million people were killed, uncountable women were raped, and farmers were displaced. And the war of the multinationals on Coltan and other treasures is still going on. We need places where women and children can feel safe. So far the heart of the land remains intact: we still have untouched rainforests, the country is full of people enthusiastic for rebuilding it, the original magic knowledge of our culture can still be felt in some places, and women are still respected in the communities. I know in my heart that ecovillages can help to heal this treasures."

The Palestinian Aida Shibli found her own words for this attitude: "We as women from crisis areas don´t have the privilegue to give up hope."