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O.U.R.Ecovillage: 15 years of inspiring people

Today I want to share a campaign worth considering:

Of course I’m biased, I used to live there.

I spent more than 10 years designing, building and teaching at O.U.R.Ecovillage.

While life at O.U.R. Ecovillage consumed a lot of my energy it has given back equally:

I have

  • become a communitarian
  • learned to listen
  • had a venue for natural building and creativity
  • felt the power of the circle
  • witnessed the sparks when people wake up
  •  met hundreds of people young and old
  • enjoyed countless delicious meals in community
  • lived in a cob house
  • shared skills I learned at O.U.R. in several settings worldwide

and most of all O.U.R. Ecovillage is my home community no matter where I am.

community love

Consider this:

Eco-villages are seed communities for a change in lifestyle. Important processes happen there: people learn to live and work together, deal with personal issues that are triggered by living in close proximity with our “mirrors”.  Staying longer has us ever more deeply connected. Moving away from individualism to communal power.

Living in Africa I’ve experienced a culture where the community comes before the individual. This is something those of us from Northern developed countries are not used to and struggle with. The African village community quickly gave a sense of belonging for me. Helping each other goes two ways.

I believe it’s time we become villagers again and step over our fears of losing private space. Places and Organizations like O.U.R. Ecovillage are leading the way to sustainable community. Breaking new ground, sometimes literally with development permits and Natural Homes, with Permaculture vision and local food and the courage to step outside the box.

Speaking of food: one of the incentives of the campaign is a nice meal at the Zero Mile Eatery…..

Claim yours by making a contribution

 

 

 

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A king was caught and a mayor installed: celebrations are part of volunteering

traditional celebration

When a traditional Cameroonian fon (king) has passed a new one must be “caught”. This was the case in Nkwen, one of the communities in the urban area of Bamenda. Ritual celebrations go on for days culminating in the catching ceremony at which dignitaries, traditional dance groups from many villages and the local residents gather at the palace grounds to greet the new fon. catching the fon at Nkwen

This happens with tremendous noise: guns are being fired, drumming and singing and a master of ceremonies on loudspeakers. People wear their colorful traditional clothing and anyone of stature in the community is there. We were happy to meet Mayor Langsi of Bafut, with whom Better World Cameroon works in close relationship. Bafut Mayor Langsi at celebration

Only a few days later, the Mayor Langsi was installed into office at Bafut council- following a successful re-election earlier this fall.

But it’s not just major celebrations that make volunteering rewarding and fun. While work isn’t always exciting or glamorous, we do make sure that we spend time together and acknowledge our achievements. When Italian volunteer Isabella Bonetti was about to return home we organized a farewell party in connection with our own housewarming. It’s not easy saying good-bye after three months of collaboration- but we’re grateful for a new friend.

The launch of the new website for Better World that is one of my projects here was highly anticipated by all of us here and our partners in the world. We’re happy it’s there and we continue to add more information and events as they come up. Check out next years International Summer Workcamp for young activists and change makers from Cameroon and abroad.

Joshua Konkankoh and the team in planning meeting

As the year draws to an end, plans are now made for the 2014 calendar: Permaculture classes, Natural building projects and a new office location in Bafut will keep us busy in the coming months. Sonita Mbah from our team is now a National Volunteer under VSO (Volunteer services overseas). In Cameroon VSO has been a strong partner to organisations supporting them with capacity building and placement of national and international volunteers. Sadly, CUSO has withdrawn their funding to VSO Cameroon which means that as of March 2014 there will be no more VSO Cameroon.

Volunteer Action

In my role as independent international volunteer and line manager for Sonita’s VSO program, I was invited to be on a panel on local radio”Afrique Nouvelle” . The program was part of the celebration of international volunteer day on Dec. 5. Also on the panel were from Better World, Silvestre Ngwasuh from VSO and Pascaline from COMINSUD.

interview on afrique nouvelle

Christmas is coming into our awareness as every morning some neighborhood loudspeaker is blaring Boney M’s Christmas album. The region here is very much christian so I expect that the holidays will become more and more evident.

Should you be interested in directly  supporting my work with Better World  Cameroon I’d be grateful for your donation through paypal (see link at top right).

Happy holidays to all – Peace and Prosperity in Sustainability

 

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Permaculture in the design of buildings

green roof Permaculture

green roof Permaculture

Much attention in Permaculture is directed to growing things and planning sustainable land-use. I invite you to think for a moment about Zone 0: the home. How can we apply Permaculture thinking here?

My passion for a long time has been with the design and building of houses and work-spaces that are friendly to the occupants as well as the environment. I call it “Building as if people mattered”.

sketch for a family home

What do I mean by that?

Here are 7 main qualities I hope to achieve with my designs:

  1. Connected to surroundings = fits into a Permaculture design of the land which includes looking at weather patterns, neighbors (human and animal) and other activities on the land. I look for the best possible relationship between all these factors, which results in ease of use and natural benefits like cooling or warming.
  2. Well fitting = enough room for the purpose or the activities that will happen inside. I think about getting the most use out of least amount of space while making it easy to operate inside. Designing with “what will you do in this space”.
  3. Planned for expansion = I encourage my clients to start by building something affordable, and in the planning include possibilities for future expansion. For example: build openings into walls that may become doors, think ahead when designing a roofline.
  4. Healthy for people and planet = I choose non-toxic materials, locally harvested or produced as one part of this. Another aspect is plenty of natural light, fresh air and beauty for the soul. Systems should consist of complete cycles, where whatever comes in will be treated in such a way that it will return to Mother Earth without causing harm after we’re done using it. This applies especially to water, but also to construction materials.
  5. Maintenance friendly = Let’s build it so that repair is easy: good access to shut-off points for water, gas and electricity. Invest in durable infrastructure (good pipes, wiring). I also teach people how to do basic maintenance and repair, on earthen walls and plasters for example.
  6. Materials put to their highest use = consider strength and structural needs when choosing what to build with. Cement and concrete are high strength and often overused in applications. I look for smart ways of reducing these high impact materials like vaults and using materials like stone and earth.
  7. Beauty = put love into the building by adding personal touches. I involve people in the process of building and invite their creativity. The energy we put in will radiate out.
personal touch interior

Touched by human hands: this interior is custom fit in all aspects.

Developing a sustainable lifestyle is easy when houses are planned to support us. Becoming part of natural patterns, paying attention to inputs and outputs can be facilitated by design.

In the end our experience is enriched and we feel more connected to Nature.

attached greenhouse with lots of daylight

Sunrooms feel like being outside and give extra living space in shoulder seasons

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Leaving O.U.R. Ecovillage



When I first came to O.U.R. I was just establishing myself as a natural builder. I was living in Courtenay and worked a lot with Cobworks on Mayne Island during the summer. OUR was in its first years of establishing vision and zoning and every time I was there I saw a group of people in meetings all morning and then in work parties all afternoon.

Little did I know that I would be one of the people in the meetings a few years later.

My interest was to promote and teach cob and Natural building. I had not spent much time thinking about community and didn’t see myself as a community member.

As my relationship with O.U.R. became more familiar , Brandy and I talked about hosting a longer building program every year. We started with a program we called Plan B : Practical Leadership and Natural Building.

Preparation for this was the design of the Healing Sanctuary: a process of community inquiry into needs and wants and a design that would make sense of all the ideas.

This building was much larger than others I had built and none of us really knew what we were getting into when we started into the season. We knew we wanted to build a stone foundation, cob and straw bale walls and a living roof. We also knew that for permit things would be better with a post and beam structure.

 

As for the program I learned a lot about group dynamics, leadership and communication. We had a few wonderful support staff who kept breaking up tense energy when needed and brought in fun and lots of heart.

Everybody camped on the land (this was and still is typical for most natural building projects) and shared meals. We shared our knowledge in “each one teach one’s”, started our days with yoga, and struggled together as we built the massive foundation walls, log post and beam and cobbed and built bales through the summer.

When the program finished we wrapped up the building site and made plans for the next season.

So it came to be that O.U.R. Ecovillage now has several natural buildings, built in summer programs by a temporary learning community.

 

When the second season came along I decided to participate more in the “community” piece realizing that I quite enjoyed the processes and times spent together. The core group was small then and the idea was that more committed folks would join to hold this dream together. This is where I began to learn the art of “holding space”. I have since come to appreciate that this is key to the success of the programs and it is something that doesn’t fit a job description. It’s energy, synergy, and it comes from intention and attention to each other as we relate to the whole.

Most importantly it takes time.

As we developed more facilities OUR garden also became the focus of a learning program that was somewhat parallel to the building. We called our programs “skillbuilders” from then on:  either Natural building or Sustainable Food production Skillbuilder. The number of people on site in the summer kept rising and each year we added a few more events that became regular occurrences in our annual cycle.

All along Brandy tirelessly built relationships with funders and successfully landed grant money for most programs. We sometimes held our breath when signing large contracts: can we really pull it off?

We laughed and cried, problem solved, went through endless cycles of norming, forming and storming always thinking that we would finally end up just performing. Ha! That’s not how it works though and what we did learn is to expect the ups and downs and ride them with more grace.

 

As I write this I am acutely aware that I learn most when in contact with others. The deeper the connection, the more vulnerable we become, the bigger the learning and the more I feel a sense of belonging.

O.U.R. Ecovillage, especially the people at the heart, have seen me through my cycles of growth, challenged my sense of what’s possible over and over again, and in the end I now operate from “WE” more than from “I”. As I step away I wish to express deep gratitude for all the subtle shifts in my being that living in community caused. I am more open and more whole as a person.

My work here has been fulfilling and rich, challenging and rewarding on so many levels. I am honored by the trust invested in me over the years and I am proud of the accomplishments we share. My heart is imprinted in the earthen walls all around here and I hope that this body of work will continue to inspire the future buildings for the village.

 

May the voices around the commons be joyful, may your steps be light and bouncy and may your circles be deep and warm.

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Rootcellar progress: a roof!

skillbuilders celebrating the reciprocal roof

It was an exciting day today for the Natural Builders at O.U.R. Ecovillage: we laid the reciprocal roof frame on the root cellar.

I had participated in a roof structure like this once during the Natural Building Colloquium in the Czech Republic where Tony Wrench taught us how to do it. I took notes that day and was very grateful I did when we started planning for this one.

I solicited the help of the building team and found that everybody wanted to try it and a couple of guys had a bit of experience. Thankfully the root cellar is a small room, so rather low risk for trying something.

We had prepared the poles by peeling the bark off. The walls were ready and the placement of the poles marked.

The biggest question was where to place the Charlie and when we started laying poles on we found that it needed to move a little. Once the process was started it all happened very fast and without further problems. Have a look: