Gaviotas: A Model of Ecology & Peace
South America's Gem
About a year ago I was in Dinkytown, which is a little village of restaurants and books near the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota is a smoke-free oasis in Minneapolis. I love going there for affordable meals and the famous used book store, Book House, which is full of many literary gems. I checked out the Eastern religions, History, Archaeology, New Age and Ecology sections. When I saw the cover of Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World," I knew I had to study its contents and purchase it. The whole idea intrigued me. Alan Weisman, author of the famous international best seller, The World Without Us, wrote this spectacular book.
Gaviotas is Spanish for gulls, which inhabit this region. This ecovillage is located in the Los Llanos region of Columbia. It was founded by engineers and scientists who were fed up with the corporate world in the 1960's. They liked challenges and wanted to build an ecovillage in one of the most challenging ecosystems in the world. If they could do it there, anyone could develop one elsewhere. This area is an eastern savanna which has the extremes of monsoon rains and a desert ecology. One of the founders, Paolo Lugari, an Italian development worker, was a great visionary and believed it was possible to do the impossible in such an ecosystem.
The savanna soil was poor, not the kind you would choose to grow anything worthwhile on to feed your family or a group of families. Keep in mind there are paramilitaries (right wing) and guerillas (left wing) who use weapons to create chaos and destruction of the populace of Columbia. This community banned weapons. Both of these groups came there with their guns. They looked around the whole village to see what they were developing. They have left them alone; however, the region surrounding the village is dangerous because of the pressure of these groups.
This ecovillage is interesting also because they have none of the following: cars, a mayor, churches, a police force, priests, cellphones, TVs or the internet. They have developed factories of musical instruments, solar panels, water pumps and resin barks. This ecovillage has created a 19,800 acre reforestation project. In these factories these workers are paid $500 a month in addition to room and board and health care. This is double the typical rural wage in Columbia.
How did they develop the reforestation in such an ecosystem? With their intelligence they used a mycorrhiza fungus which helped digest the poor soil. Jacaranda, ferns and laurels have been planted and have flourished in this ecosystem. The resin from the pine trees is used for bio-fuel, varnishes and linseed oil. They use hydropondic farming for their produce. The native soil is not appropriate for growing crops, so this is why they implemented this kind of farming.
The Columbian government contracted with them to develop a solar water system for Ciudad Tunal, a 6,000 unit apartment building in Bogota. This project is public housing for many of the country's poorest residents. I wish we had that much public housing added to each of our major cities in the United States. The solar water system has no moving parts and is a model of ingenuity.
They have a collaborative system where people take turns doing communal tasks such as planting, cooking and construction. People are encouraged to be creative in developing new ideas in the means of production and inventing ecological products. The Columbian government and the United Nations provided funds for projects in the early days. Now they exist on their own products and through private donations.
Paolo Lugari has this great statement and philosophy: "If you aren't dreaming you must be asleep." It shows that dreams do come true through the vision of visionaries who dare to do the impossible. The ecovillage keeps dreaming those dreams and implementing new projects.
In Hinduism we love to talk about the ecosystem. The Vedas is a great road map of ecology. It was the first spiritual group of texts which explained the whole ecosystem. Krishna delivered a great discourse on trees in the Bhagavat Puranas calling them great "sentient beings." He described all the great things trees create in the ecosystem for humans, animals, plants and the whole creation. Trees provide fruits, flowers, herbs, pollen, charcoal and shade. We know they provide oxygen and destroy CO2 which promotes global warming. Thousands of years ago, the Vedas declared: "Do not pollute!" In these times of global warming, these texts are invaluable gems of wisdom. It is very wonderful to see ecovillages, like Gaviotas, thriving in our times. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world!"
JAI SHRI GAVIOTAS! JAI SHRI MA! JAI SHRI ECOLOGY!