By Diana Leafe Christian
In early January in Colombia, in a long sunlit room filled with people in bright colors speaking rapid Spanish, a brand new ecovillage network was born — C.A.S.A.! An acronym in Spanish for Consejo de Asentamientos Sustentables de las Américas (Council of Sustainable Eco-Settlements of the Americas), C.A.S.A. is a network of ecovillages and other eco-projects in South America, Central America, and México. (C.A.S.A. includes Brazil, and the letters create the same acronym in Portuguese too.)
Ecovillage Network of the Americas (ENA)
On January 5-7, 2012, about 15 of us met at Atlantida Ecovillage, which is located in a beautiful mountain valley in southern Colombia about two and a half hours south of Cali. It was a meeting of Ecovillage Network of the Americas (ENA), one of the three GEN regions. This was just before the eight-day Llamado de la Montaña (Call of the Mountain) — the sixth annual ecovillage celebration and Vision Council hosted by the Colombian Ecovillage Network at Atlantida Ecovillage.
Longtime ENA activists from seven of GEN’s nine regions attended the ENA meeting: Giovanni “Gio” Ciarlo, co-founder of Huehuecoyotl Ecovillage in México and former GEN president, and Arnold Rincalde of the Ecobarrios project in México City (MesoAmerican region); Carlos “Pato” Gomez from Colombia (Northern South America); Lucia Battegazzore from Uruguay and Javiera Carrión from the Chilean Ecovillage Network (Southern South America); Thomas Enlazador, a social justice activist and new representative from Saõ Paulo (Brazil Region); Alberto Ruz, cofounder of Huehuecoyotl in México, and Penelope Baquero, cofounder of Sundog Ecovillage in the US (Mobile Region, representing caravans and projects not connected to a country), as well as ecovillagers, eco-activists, and eco-caravanistas from many Latin American countries.
I was there as a liaison to ENA from the US, representing Eastern and Western US ENA regions. Although not able to attend, Linda Joseph from Colorado, US, ENA core group member and central office administrator, was instrumental in organizing the meeting, along with Gio, Lucia, Pato, and other ENA core group members.
This two-and-a-half-day ENA meeting was apparently the first one ever held in Spanish and the first in which there were more Spanish-speaking than English-speaking representatives. This turned out to be quite significant.
We began by discussing the history of ENA in South, Central, and North America, which are the three continents of the Americas comprising the ENA region, as designated by the original GEN founders in 1991, and what was decided at previous ENA meetings.
Reports from the ENA Regions
Each person gave an update on the ecovillage movement in their country or region. We heard reports from México, Costa Rica, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. We learned that national ecovillage networks are particularly strong in Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil.
We had a report by Alberto Ruz, co-founder of the Rainbow Peace Caravan (La Caravana), which traveled from Huehuecoyotl through 17 Central and South American countries for 13 years. La Caravana ended in Brazil just a few years ago, and Alberto is now back at Huehuecoyotl. He told how in La Caravana many hundreds of volunteers from over 40 countries offered musical, theatrical, and circus performances at towns and villages and cities along the way, first to amaze and delight people and also to inspire them to create eco-settlements, eco-habitats, ecovillages and learn and use permaculture design, natural building, organic agriculture, off-grid power, consensus decision-making, and so on. La Caravana was a fabulous success, and ecovillage projects sprang up in their wake, including several in Colombia, as their founders told us. So La Caravana was a major cultural phenomenon and basically seeded the ecovillage movement in many Latin American countries.
We also had reports from traveling researchers making videos of the places they visited in Latin America, including ComúnTierra — Ryan Luckey from the US & Leticia Rigatti from Brazil, and CodeEarth — Renny Freitas from Brazil and Kali Vaux from Australia.
I gave an overview report about various ecovillages in the US and Canada. I drew a rough map of North America with dots in all the states and provinces representing ecovillages. I briefly described various different kinds of ecovillage projects, from urban create-it-in-your-existing-neighborhood projects (for example, LA Eco-Village, and Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage, Cincinnati) to ecovillages on the edges of or right inside small towns (for example, Port Townsend Ecovillage, Washington; Yarrow Ecovillage, British Colombia; EcoVillage at Ithaca, New York). I included two categories: famous-old-rural-spiritual-community-now-also-an-ecovillage (The Farm, Tennessee), and famous-old-rural-commune-now-also-an-ecovillage (Twin Oaks, Virginia), and more recently formed rural ecovillages (for example, Dancing Rabbit, Missouri; Earthaven, North Carolina). Penelope Baquero, originally from Colombia, gave a report about Sundog Ecovillage in Montana, US, which she and her husband Jason Gutzmer, former caravaneros from the Rainbow Peace Caravan, co-founded with others in 2008.
A Latin American Ecovillage Network — It's Time!
The real heart of the meeting was the strong impulse that was articulated many times, and which we all felt, to create an organization solely of Latin American countries, with Spanish and Portuguese as the languages (and cultures) of the new organization.
What emerged was C.A.S.A. — Consejo de Asentamientos Sustentables de las Américas, which means, as noted above, “Council of Sustainable Eco-Settlements of the Americas.” Much discussion ensued about whether CASA would be incubated and birthed by ENA and remain a part of it or become a new entity altogether.
Unlike ENA, CASA will not be focused solely on ecovillage projects, but will include other kinds of intentional communities, urban ecobarrio projects, transition towns, traditional sustainable villages, eco-caravans, sustainability educational centers, and NGOs and other organizations that further the values of sustainable projects across Latin American borders.
Language, Culture, and C.A.S.A.
CASA meetings will be held in Latin America and conducted in Spanish. This is muy, muy importante for the CASA folks. How significant language and culture is! The pride and delight in one’s own language and culture. How our language and culture includes us; how different languages and cultures separate and divide us. How different languages make important information and resources less accessible to us, even if we do read and speak the other language.
The Latin American ENA folks didn’t want to dishonor the North Americans who have been holding the fort for so long. They want to keep the hands of friendship between South and North. They are like a new energy leaping up and saying, “We emerge!” There is so much pride and delight in Latin Culture — as I saw so vividly before me every day — and they want to do their international, tri-continental ecovillage and friendship network inside their own culture. Of course!
I understood this completely, and when people in the ENA meeting asked me, “Do you think the other ENA people and ecovillagers in the North will understand and support this?” I said “Yes, of course, absolutemente! The whole purpose of ENA and GEN is to trigger and seed wonderful projects and get people turned on to the more sustainable way of life. And to make their own projects in the framework of their own culture. Sí!”
CASA representatives will be from each country, not several-country-regions like ENA is now organized. On the last morning of the Llamado, Jorge Calero, one of the Atlantida co-founders who was very involved in the meetings, told me CASA had nominated me to be one of the liaisons from the North to CASA. Did I accept?. “Sí! Claro!” I said. “Es un grande honor!” (The other liaison from the North is Penelope Baquero from Sundog Ecovillage.)
C.A.S.A. Meetings at the Llamado
Participants of the ENA meeting, as well people from other Latin American ecovillages, attended the subsequent meetings of the Ecovillage Vision Council, one of the ten Councils in the eight-day Llamado gathering that followed the ENA meeting. In these meetings they continued discussing how CASA would evolve. Gio Ciarlo later wrote, “CASA will work alongside ENA, amplifying relations with parallel movements, creating partnerships and helping to empower all of the eco-community projects to succeed and gain recognition as real-life solutions for our current global transition.”
The organizational process is now is in the hands of working groups who are organizing activities for the Peace Village to take place during the RIO+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.
A longer version of this article appears on the ENA website and in Ecovillages newsletter.
Diana Leafe Christian is author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools To Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities (now available in French, Italian, and Spanish) and Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community (New Society Publishers, 2003 and 2007, respectively). She is publisher of the free online Ecovillages newsletter, and is an EDE trainer. She is a liaison to CASA from North America, and an ENA representative for the Eastern US region. A member of Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, US, Diana teaches workshops and speaks at conferences internationally.
Other activists who participated in the ENA/CASA meeting included Verónica Sacta Campos, originally from Equador and keeper of Andean traditions, and former Caravana member who now lives at Huehuecóyotl; Noelle Romero and Ivan Sawyer from the Ecobarrios project in México City; Holger Hieronomi, permaculture teacher and organic farmer from México; Gustavo Rojas and Rosita Elena Blanca from Costa Rica; Bruno de Roissart, who lives with indigenous Andean people in the Shasawasi community in Bolivia; Natalia Alonso from Spain; Penelope Baquero and Jason Gutzmer, former Caravana members who live at Sundog Ecovillage in the US; and two more members of the Colombian ecovillage network, R.E.N.A.C.E.: Beatriz Arjona, of the Change the World nonprofit and formerly from Aldea Feliz, an ecovillage near Bogotá; and Carlos Rojas also from Aldea Feliz.