Reflections on an Eco-Village Design Education course

EDE team in Auroville, 2016-17
EDE team in Auroville, 2016-17

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Auroville desk based in Pitchandikulam Forest has just successfully hosted a 5 week Ecovillage Design Education Course running from 4th December 2016 to 7th January 2017!

With 35 participants coming from Auroville, its bioregional villages, from SriLanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South Africa and many countries in Europe, the group was incredible diverse and rich in age, culture, history and knowledge.

Recognised by UNESCO,  Ecovillage Design Education was specifically designed to enable people and communities coming together to reclaim responsibility for their living situations – at local and regional levels. The EDE is a comprehensive course in the fundamentals of Sustainability Design. It is organised as a mandala that we call the sustainability wheel, encompassing what we perceive to be the four primary interweaving dimensions of human experience – Worldview, Ecological, Social and Economic aspects.

We started the course with the Social week, exploring social dimensions of community building looking at partly the complexity of the Auroville social landscape, its history and current layers. We also explored conflict resolution, governance and decision-making models, leadership in both a general and Auroville context. This week we also touched on Tamil social structures, rituals and art forms though kolams and stick dances. All through the 5 weeks we regularly had ‘council’, a powerful method of connecting a group, getting to know each other, and truly listening.

The second week, the Ecology dimension was very much a site visit week where we visited many different spaces focusing on local, organic food and farming, through Solitude Farm and Auro Orchard, green building particularly with Earth and Bamboo Technology visiting Sacred Groves, Earth Institute and Bamboo Centre, exploring solar energy, a visit to the bioregion looking at remnants of ancient forests and temples and the immense challenges of rampant development in the modern world, and really engaging with possibilities of restorative ecology through the work of Pebble Garden, Sadhana Forest and Pitchandikulam.

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In the third week, the economy dimension, we engaged with the complexities of world economy, looked critically at Auroville’s local economy with site visits to the local cooperative – PTDC and Nandhini, Auroville Paper Factory and Aquadyn, dabbled in local Indian economy with site visits to the Sustainable Livelihood Institute, Auroville Village Action and surveyed a few local village enterprises, looked at the social enterprises (later on a visit to Nadukuppam) and explored gift economy and other alternative economic systems in other ecovillages.

The fourth dimension we explored was ‘worldview’ looking at various structures and beliefs that shape our world views, our consciousness, our actions and the way we address reality. This was done thorugh an afternoon exploring ‘invisible architectures’, by regular body practices such as Awareness Through the Body and Kalaripayattu (a traditional Kerelan martial arts practice), through an introduction to Ayurveda – an ancient Hindu system of medicine, by exploring the Aurobindo ashram and school, a retreat to Nadukuppam for two nights where the group engaged with shadow work, deep ecology and the culture of a traditional south indian village. We experienced music, dance, men’s/women’s circles and fire rituals as well along the 5 weeks.

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The final week, the design week, saw the formation of smaller groups working on various personal projects exploring in particular the tools of dragon dreaming. Projects included designing a role play game exploring interconnectedness in ecology, designing ‘The Hive’ a real Auroville-based project-  a youth learning and experimenting space,  starting a community exploring the ‘Joy of Impermanence’ in Auroville and creating a center inspired by Pitchandikulam’s work. The week culminated in a final presentation to the Auroville community at Unity Pavillion, giving the group a time to reflect on the 5 weeks of this course and to share it with the people present.

In this time of post-course reflection, we are quietly going to be looking at what the new year brings for the Auroville GEN and NextGEN (the youth-led branch) desk . With the support and guidance of Pitchandikulam Forest and YouthLink we aim to follow up on the seeds that are emerging from this journey and help guide the manifestation of some of these design projects in the local landscape.  We would like to humble express our immense gratitude to: the Pitchandikulam/Nadukuppam forest, community and team, the members of YouthLink, our partner in enabling the participation of local youth, to Auroville for sharing its wisdom, to all the volunteers, mentors and donors in and outside Auroville for their generous support to help realize this journey.

This short video by Serena Aurora is a little taster on what we did, a longer documentary will come soon…keep your eyes peeled! https://youtu.be/OqIPd2oa5V0

Nikethana Venkatesan, GEN Desk Coordinator

With thanks to Eugenie Dumont for the photographs

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