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Ecuador Dispatch, 2010

Peter returned to Ecuador in November 2010 to initiate the Bioregional Sustainability Institute. He sent this essay about  his thoughts and activities. 

Index of 2010 Dispatches

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Dispatch #1, A School to Retrieve the Future , November 18, 2010

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A School to Retrieve the Future

Dispatch #1, November 18, 2010
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
by Peter Berg

These are life-altering times across the planet for practically all major aspects of human endeavor. Arching over the shifts that are taking place in social, political, economic, and cultural areas that all of us are experiencing is the urgent need to recognize and accommodate our species' utter dependence on the viability of Earth's natural systems. It is a mutual concern shared by everyone regardless of differences in any other respects. We must all learn to harmonize with the continuity of life processes in order to secure an affirmative future for ourselves and generations to come. It is definitely worth dedicating time to study this information and directing a significant part of a lifetime's work to implement it.

When the idea of an institute to share and advance the underlying ideas behind Planet Drum's highly successful projects in Bahia de Caraquez first occurred, I was wary of putting out so much effort on our skimpy budget and concerned that the difficulties involved with bringing it off were too daunting. After over a decade of constantly improving work here from participating in the Eco-Ciudad Declaración in 1999, to carefully placing tens of thousands of native trees, and producing hundreds of educated children and adults (both local residents and international volunteers), it became apparent that teaching what we knew (and have learned here) was not only doable but increasingly necessary.

Among Bahia residents, "bioregional" is in common use similar to the term "environmental" in the U.S. The high school students in our Bioregional Education Program designed T-shirts on their own that proudly state the word bioregionalista. Bahia is widely recognized as an ecological city and listed among the top ten by the Internet magazine Grist. This is the right place for a bioregional institute, and Planet Drum is the right group to build it.

We have finally birthed the Bioregional Sustainability Institute (BSI) in Ecuador to teach effective ways for achieving balance between human activities and our ultimate basis of support in Nature's web of life. BSI has an important place beside the other essential projects that PDF pursues in Bahia de Caraquez - Revegetation and Bioregional Education.

Before diving into the rapidly filling reservoir of approaches to Earth learning, it was important to consider one point of confusion. There are now so many uses for the word sustainability that it seems to need a case-by-case definition to avoid wrangling over - for what? - for whom? - for where? - (and ironically enough) for how long?

The following criteria make BSI´s courses unique:

  • 1) location in a specific bioregion that has a representative range of intact natural systems, observing characteristics of that immediate life-place in order to relate them to a template for bioregions anywhere;

  • 2) integrating theory with hands-on practice;

  • 3) a focus on goals of bioregional reinhabitation i.e. becoming native once again in the places where we live:
         a) restore and maintain damaged natural systems,
         b) create sustainable means to secure basic human needs including water, food, energy, shelter, production and manufacturing, and culture,
         c) support allied bioregional activities of other groups;

  • 4) set in urban and rural locations;

  • 5) student choice of a specific field of interest that culminates in completion of a personal project;

  • 6) mastery of bioregional sustainability that provides graduates with information for individual use and to teach and lead others.

It is Planet Drum's mission with BSI to provide the most complete in-depth and ecologically oriented learning experience of subjects and activities taught from a reinhabitory perspective that is available. We view graduates as peers in applying bioregional ideas and practices in pro-active solutions to problems brought through the destruction of Earth's local life-places. Masters of Bioregional Sustainability Practices will be capable of demonstrating affirmative alternatives to ecologically disconnected processes and lifestyles that have led to planet-wide catastrophes such as climate change, habitat destruction, loss of species, diminishing potable water and wild food sources, and pollution from Industrial Era wastes.

We are seeking students with interests ranging from ecological restoration and natural sciences to eco-architecture, wildlife conservation, renewable energy, land use, and a wide variety of professional fields, as well as those who are seeking sustainable paths for a more ecological way of life.

The basic components of the BSI curriculum include:

  • a) Ancient Culture Practices into the Present - in-depth investigation of the rich 7,000 year inhabitory heritage in coastal Ecuador of methods to secure water, food, energy, shelter, and production/manufacturing that are still in sustainable use today;

  • b) Revegetation - (1) learning both dry and wet season aspects including seed collection, compost making, growing trees (seedlings into saplings), greenhouse maintenance, determining and preparing planting sites, planting, and maintenance of native tree species, and (2) relating revegetation to mitigation of soil erosion, recreating native animal habitat, and producing viable human and animal food sources;

  • c) Permaculture Farming and Gardening - training and practice to develop and maintain a farm and garden on the BSI land site through organic permaculture techniques;

  • d) Sustainable Land Development Practices - mapping BSI site, investigation of land use preferences and roads/trails, development and maintenance of means to supply potable water, ecological construction of structures (living, teaching and research), identification and planting of garden, farm, and revegetation sites ("wild farming"), and accommodations for native animals and habitat;

  • e) Bioregional Education - learning and teaching fundamental bioregional mapping techniques from Discovering Your Life-place: A First Bioregional Workbook, understanding and use of Bioregionalismo text book, designing and teaching classes;

  • f) Community Outreach - announcement and publicity of Planet Drum and BSI activities and events in radio and newspaper stories, cooperation with city-wide and neighborhood projects, and integration with the general population of Bahia de Caraquez through participation in appropriate local government functions;

  • g) Introductory or intermediate Spanish language is available but optional.

Highlights of the course are field trips that present a range of ecological approaches to land development in different reservas (private nature preserves), research at an extensive archeological site and exposition center in Puerto Lopez, and overnight camping and extensive exploration of BSI´s 150 acre wild land site. There are special opportunities in community outreach involving Bahia´s pursuit of becoming an ecological city such as planning and participation for all aspects of the annual weekend-long Ecological City Celebration with talks, presentations, parade, and fiesta.

Clay Plager-Unger, Director of Planet Drum's Bahia Projects, is taking on oversight of student progress and BSI administration. Ramon Cedeño, relentlessly upbeat leader of our Bioregional Education Program for high schoolers, will be profesor for learning how to teach the Bioregionalismo text book. Orlando Arias, a remarkably well-versed local naturalist and Planet Drum's Foreman of Field Projects, will teach a wide range of practices and techniques related to revegetation. Other teachers and guides to provide exposure to permaculture or tours of archeological collections will participate as required.

Depending on student preferences, personal recreation is easily and inexpensively available through beach and ocean activities in both popular and unspoiled environments, forest hiking and nature observation of spectacular numbers of plant and animal species, visiting various distinct natural places and diverse cities such as nearby Montecristi where "Panama" hats were originated, and extensive immersion in friendly local culture.

When a vision of this potential scale becomes a reality it takes on a life of its own. There may have been an author at first, but as soon as others begin to share the dream and become involved, proprietorship fades. The idea becomes an identifiable entity that represents more than individual interests. It takes on the equivalent of personhood. The inevitability of this process may be obvious, but watching it unfold has been transfixing. Everyone who has contributed to date has shared an epiphany upon realizing the prospect of not only undertaking this important work but teaching it. During discussions of class subjects I have seen members of the present core group putting on the role of an instructor right then with a sitting-straight, shoulders-squared demeanor. The work of planning and arranging various aspects of the program has gone unusually quickly because of enthusiasm about the prospect of creating a heightened ecological future for Bahia de Caraquez and the Rio Chone Bioregion, as well as the far-flung places where the BSI students will later go to apply what they learned here.

For more details about enrolling in the BSI, email Planet Drum Foundation at mail@planetdrum.org

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