An ecovillage can be a traditional village, a city quarter, or an intentional community that improves the lives of its members and the environment in a conscious and participative process. Ecovillages in Europe and the United States mostly follow the desire of members to lead healthier and more communal lives. In the Global South it is different. There it is often directly about surviving: about food sovereignty, protection and survival in areas of crisis, or ways out of poverty. We invite you for a trip to ecovillages throughout regions of the world.
Did You Know?
…that the ecovillage Crystal Waters in Australia, with a population of 200, simultaneously acts as a wildlife reserve?
…that in Orissa, one of the poorest areas in India, over 200 villages of indigenous people are transforming their communities into ecovillages?
…that during 13 years in Latin America, the traveling community of La Caravana taught villagers, farmers, youth, and children sustainable living techniques?
…that the ecovillage Hurdal in Norway has developed the “Active House” and created a green business by building eco-friendly houses?
…that Eco-Valley in Hungary produces an abundance of grain and vegetables to feed its 200 residents several times over, and that it effectively offers social work to some of the poorest communities nationwide?
…that the Peace Community San José de Apartadó in Colombia has formed a neutral village in the middle of an armed conflict zone and its more than 1,000 peasants have been in nonviolent resistance against expulsion for 18 years?
…that the Healing Biotope Tamera in Portugal with 170 members and a Love School at its center has ecologically regenerated an area of 220 acres of land which had been in the process of desertification?
…that the Konohana Family community in Japan has 100 members that are engaged in new agricultural methods for healthy food production and cares for psychiatrically vulnerable people?
…that the fast growing ecovillage Schloss Tempelhof in Germany with its extended economic and legal know-how has established a foundation that supports many other ecovillages and emerging intentional communities?
…that the Republic of Damanhur in Italy with more than 1,000 members was building a secret underground Temple of Humanity for more than 10 years before it was discovered and turned into an officially recognized piece of art?
Future City Auroville, India
In 1968, on the Coromandel Coast in South India, the Tasmanian traveler Joss Brook heard for the first time of the idea to found a future city: Auroville. This vision attracted cultural refugees, hippies, and truth seekers from America, Germany, and France who started to build themselves a different life. Many of them left the project—the early life of poverty in the ecovillage was too harsh—but Brook stayed. “We spoke with old village dwellers who had a huge knowledge of herbs. They were singing while planting rice, and communing with plants and animals. Through them we made contact to the soul of the original forest which grew here once.”
Today, there are about 2,000 people from 40 countries living in Auroville. On the formerly barren plateau we now find houses of wood, adobe, and natural stones in the shade of many trees. Big solar systems serve for cooking and producing electricity. A daily stream of tourists visits Matrimandir, the sacred center of Auroville.
Brook’s team planted a 400 hectare wide green belt and built 1,000 miles of ditches and earth dams to conserve rainwater. For Brook, it is the growing forest, not Matrimandir, that is the most sacred place of Auroville.
Meanwhile, experts from Damanhur ecovillage of Italy help the government to develop sustainability concepts for the whole region, collaborating with the local population. In the nearby city of Pondicherry, they turned a public dump into a recreation area.
Brook: “This is Auroville: people from all over the world together with locals try to find the way of sustainability. The most important thing is to perceive the soul because in the soul we find the memory of the future garden.”
Favela da Paz, Sao Paulo, Brazil
According to the United Nations, the Jardim Ângela neighborhood in Sao Paulo used to be one of the most violent slums in the world. Criminal activity, drug dealers, youth gangs, street children, and poverty dominated the streets.
When he was 13, two major events occurred in the life of Claudio Miranda: his best friend was killed and he was arrested. “The policeman pointed his gun at my head and demanded that I play my saxophone to prove that I was indeed a musician. It worked. Since then I have known that music is life energy.”
Much has changed since then. Today he calls the police his friends. Claudio, his brother Fabio, his wife Hellem, and many of their friends run a samba school that offers street kids an alternative to drugs and violence. After visiting the Tamera ecovillage in Portugal he had a larger idea: “I will call it Favela da Paz—slum of peace.”
They turned their family home into an ecological center with a biogas digester for cooking on the roof, a solar shower, and a permaculture garden along the walls. Hellem: “Of course the neighbors became curious. Today we run courses in vegetarian cuisine and urban permaculture.”
Coming together and learning, instead of fighting and stealing—this launched a process of change. The parents of the neighborhood planted trees in the schoolyard. They fought successfully against the Brazilian government’s destruction of Favelas in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2014. And every month there is a big samba party on the streets.
Many years ago during his university studies in Austria, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish from Cairo got to know anthroposophy. He returned home with a big vision: he saw water, trees, animals, and people thriving in the middle of the desert. “Trees gave shade, the land turned green, flowers exuded fragrance, and insects and birds showed their devotion to the creator as if they spoke the first Surah of the Quran.”
Forty years ago, he purchased a property in the north of Cairo and drilled a well. This is how Sekem started—and today it is an ecovillage, a farm for medicinal herbs, organic cotton, and cattle, a hospital for locals, an alternative university, and a Waldorf school; it also supports several ecological industries and crafts workshops.
Sekem introduced the idea of organic agriculture to Egypt. Hundreds of farmers learned to cultivate and market cereals, herbs, and cotton without chemicals.
The idea of “the chamomile kids” was controversial but effective. As the local population could not afford to do without the salaries of their children, Sekem engaged the children to pick chamomile in the morning—under the condition that they could go to school in the afternoon.
Today the ecovillage combines Islamic and anthroposophic cultural elements. Every morning, all the thousands of coworkers—from farmers to managers—gather in a morning circle: a symbol for equality and wholeness of the vision.
Abouleish: “Sekem has become a model for sustainable development throughout the world. We want to prove that through our work and investment in education we can compete with the best companies of the world.”
The SICE Ecovillage Initiative for Syrian Refugees in Sweden
Fayez Karimeh from Syria, 43, father of three, maintained a reforestation project in Yabroud before the war. After neighbors chopped down his trees for firewood, he searched the internet for alternatives forms of energy and came across instructions for building a biogas digester. While constructing it, he came in contact with the European ecovillage movement. When his city was bombarded he decided to take his family to safety in Europe. Tamera in Portugal offered him temporary residency, enabling a legal means to escape his country.
“Tamera was a cultural shock for me,” he remembers. “I had never heard of ecovillages before, and now, coming from a war zone, I met this community that tried to act peacefully in every element of life.”
After three months he continued to his country of choice, Sweden, and decided to build an ecovillage for refugees. “Ecovillages for refugees have many advantages,” he elaborated during a talk in the University of Uppsala. “The refugees help with the ecological revitalization of the host country, and at the same time learn techniques that will later help them to rebuild their country.”
It is very important for Karimeh that those techniques include social skills: “The communities need knowledge about social communication, basic democracy, and conflict resolution.”
On April 1st, 2015, Karimeh founded the association SICE: the Syrian Initiative Craftsmanship Ecovillage. Under SICE’s auspices, he organizes seminars in Swedish ecovillages: about clay building, harvesting wild fruits, building natural sewage systems, and more. Many Swedes support the idea, and two communities have offered land to establish the first refugee ecovillage in their country.
To learn more, visit their website at www.ecovillage.nu.
Kitezh is a community dedicated to the nurturing of foster children. The hamlet, around 360 kilometers south of Moscow, is surrounded by forests and consists of just 16 houses, a school, a workshop, and several outbuildings, including a cowshed. Though its “footprint” is naturally small, ecological sustainability is not its first priority.
In the latter days of the Soviet Union, radio correspondent Dmitry Morozov observed the plight of street children living without the support of parents in his country. In the chaotic post-Soviet years, he set out to create a community that would offer a different way of life, aspiring to the best of human values. The community, now led by Maxim Aneekiev, helps children adapt to everyday life, overcoming their trauma and pain. Children learn care and love, not by listening to adults, but by exploring a therapeutic environment of challenges.
Morozov: “Perhaps it would be best to develop the adults first before they work with the children, but in reality, they develop alongside the children. This is the natural way. Through the reflective awareness of the reality of everyday activity…adults understand the necessity to change and work with their own attitude towards life. By helping others they are helping themselves.”
The community’s weekly meetings help bind it together. Kitezh’s work has become better known in the region and in Moscow through the Role Play Games run during the holidays. These events, lasting up to two weeks, are designed to help children confront their own issues with courage and with the support of their friends. Through these public events, Kitezh expands to take in children who come from “good families” but are not thriving in the region’s normal schools.
The Green Kibbutz, Israel
Kibbutz Lotan in the southern Arava desert was founded in 1983, established as a pioneering community experiment in combining the ideals of egalitarian society with creative and liberal Jewish expression, and a political agenda of disengaging religion from government. The founders were a group of 60 young adults, aged 18 to 24, from Israel and around the world.
With its many ecological activities it is a catalyst for environmental consciousness in Israel—and for liberal Judaism. With all its environmental efforts—land preservation, bird watching, waste separation, recycling and composting, renewable energy, energy conservation—the kibbutz has made a direct impact on the region. Over 50 percent of the electricity used in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city, is produced today by solar panels, and the region practices significantly more waste separation and recycling than Israel’s other regions. Cofounder Alex Cicelsky: “We’re proud to be reminded that we were the catalyst for these developments.”
The compact photovoltaic system that powers the EcoCampus, housing students from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where students live in 10 highly efficient passive solar strawbale houses, produces five times more electricity than it needs—even when air conditioners are turned on high all summer. The EcoCampus kitchen runs on biogas. It has no-water toilets and a greywater system to showcase for the 10,000 people who come every year to visit and learn from their work.
Making community decisions and airing issues publicly is both the challenge and strength of the kibbutz. Cicelsky: “In the beginning, everything was discussed in our general assembly. Now, more is processed in committees and then resolutions are brought for approval.”
Leila Dregger is a graduate agricultural engineer and longtime journalist. She traveled for many decades to all the world’s continents, encountering various communities and peace projects to identify and write about diverse lifestyles. Her primary areas of focus are peace, ecology, community, and women. She has worked for 25 years in press and radio and is a screenwriter and director for theater and film. She was the editor of the magazine The Female Voice—Politics of the Heart. She was press officer for the House of Democracy in Berlin, the ZEGG community in Belzig (both in Germany), and the Tamera ecovillage in Portugal, where she mainly lives today. From 2012-2015, she was the editor of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) International newsletter. She teaches constructive journalism for young professionals and students, as well as in crisis regions. She is the author of several books.