As a part of our #YearOfCommunity we will describe for you some we had the chance to visit and volunteer for.
Kadagaya is a small intentional community* in Peru, built around a scientific approach. Their founders come from an academic background and want to use science in each aspect of the community, from farming and building till social interactions. They stay away from specific spirituality or religious approaches, believing in constant experimenting and updating, rather than following a certain book or belief. They see science as a tool for humanity to overcome problems and technology as a way to free people to move forward. Also money is just a tool in their view, which they decided to use for the moment, to speed up the process, yet in their ideal vision there is no need for money, which tends to divide people. Their goal is to be able to fulfil the basic needs of each community member, defining together what basic needs mean for each person. They believe in a gift economy in which everybody does their best, without counting hours of contribution. If people need more than basic needs they can work online or open their own small business (they already had one up and running with chickens). At the moment we were visiting them, beside two founders and their 3-years old child, they had one local person and his family on board and they were expecting two foreigners to join soon as members. They also usually have volunteers around, many of whom consider to come back and become full members. Everybody lives in the same building, separated by curtains, which doesn't provide much space for privacy, yet with time they plan to build more houses. The goal would be a fully sustainable and self-sufficient space for 40 people, which can become an example for others, an alternative built before the crisis comes. Once reached a good standard the idea would be to create a network of like minded communities and share the knowledge and experience gained, so the model can be replicated faster.
Janajpacha is an ecological community and a shamanic ashram in Bolivia founded by Chamalu, who for a long time was its leader and guru. Janajpacha celebrated their 32 years recently, yet as a community they changed a lot. There was a moment when up to 100 people lived there together in their huge, beautiful and comfortable land, but by the time we visited them it was run by around 10 young people, mostly new to the place, although still very connected to Chamalu's teaching, even if he himself was not living there anymore. Janajpacha is a spiritual place, rooted in the Andean ancestral knowledge, in which the day starts from common meditation and finishes in a closing circle for those who wish to join. They organise various rituals, therapies, workshops and Spanish classes, trying to sustain themselves and the place through events as well as fees of those who decide to join - new members pay for the first few months of their stay. As a volunteer we were allowed to stay for one week for free, helping with the garden, cleaning, repairing, cooking. This meant, though, that every week new volunteers were showing up, which brought some frustration to people who lived there and had to meet the seamless flow of new faces every week. Members shared the main responsibilities among themselves, having different people managing the garden, maintenance, cleaning, taking care of volunteers, kitchen, etc. They had all the meals together, but also appreciated their individual time and space - the land and a number of beautifully designed buildings was definitely big enough to fulfill this need. There were many corners for meditation, ceremonies, mindful walks or connection with nature to be enjoyed after 6h of volunteer work. :)
Duraznillo is a small, isolated, Peruvian village in the middle of the Andean range. The community consists of around 60 families, which have lived together for generations. It's not an intentional community, yet it cultivates strong relations and mutual support. They sustain themselves mostly from growing organic coffee and they actively support each other, especially during the harvest. Inhabitants of Duraznillo collect coffee in big groups, devoting several days for each farm, to make their work more effective, but also more pleasant. Maybe today 10 people collect coffee on your land, which means you are responsible for the meals that day. Everybody meets early morning in your house for a warm soup and from there they go together to your plantation, which can be located 20-40 minutes walking from the village.In the afternoon you bring them lunch (depending on the day: rice, bananas, beans, yuka, eggs + coffee or orange juice). And in the evening they come back all together and join you once again for the last meal. Tomorrow maybe we'll go all together to collect coffee at your cousin's place and we will eat and meet in his house. The life in the village is quite simple and conditions a bit harsh, as it's located above 2000 meters and there are not many things which can be grown. At the same time access to shops is fairly limited - every Wednesday there is a small truck coming with staple products, but generally speaking inhabitants depend on what they or their neighbours can cultivate.Community in their case is not a new fashion that came along - it was nurtured from generation to generation and never forgotten.
Ulica Siostrzana [Sisterhood Street] is a very different type of community. It's actually a feminist collective from Poland focused on organising summer feminist camps. It has existed since 2001 and has already organised 18 feminist camps. Yet, it doesn't have any structure, it's a fluid group to which you belong if you feel you belong to. There are no criteria for membership. In fact there are two types of communities which shape up in this process - one consists of people who decide to organise the camp for the year and one is built on the spot during the 10-days experience of the feminist camp itself. Every year different people decide to join the organising team and they have full power over decisions regarding that camp and some of the decisions are quite essential - for example who can attend the camp? This changed over the years, turning with time more and more inclusive - today participants are not only women and girls, but also queer, transgender and transsexual people. The community built during the camp usually consists of around 40-50 adults and 10-15 children and it's quite incredible to observe how strong bonds can be created in such a short timespan. Decisions - both in the organising team and in the camp - are made by consensus. Organising the camp is a voluntary activity and participants pay for their accomodation and food. They can pay more than their share to support those with more difficult economic situations. Ulica Siostrzana also fundraises additional money for this purpose, trying to be as inclusive as possible. It's quite an unique environment - although there were some serious conflicts during those past 22 years, the group keeps forming and organising the camp. This year the feminist camp will take place in Mazury, in Poland, 21-30.07.2023. Here you can find more information: https://siostrzana.org/?p=2288.
Arterra Bizimodu is an intentional community in the north of Spain and the place we decided to come back to. It's an 8-years old community with around 25 adult members + 6 adults in the entry process + 11 long term volunteers + children. They all live in a huge building, at the moment rented from its owners, which once used to be a hotel, and even before a seminary. Each member or family lives in separate apartments, with their own kitchen, bathroom, etc. Every person is paying for renting the apartment - the price depending on the status of the person in the community (member, volunteer or visitor) and squared meters. The price is lower than average, but each person is expected to contribute to the community also with time - around 30h/month. The rent includes electricity, gas and all the amenities. Arterra organises quite a big number of diverse events and their income feeds the common budget, which is used for maintenance, development, etc. Arterra bases their management on sociocracy (we speak about it in a separate article, here we will only mention that sociocracy values efficiency and equality, decisions are made by consent and work is divided between various operational circles). As a member of a community you are expected to participate in the meetings of your circles and cover the duties you agreed upon, but your engagement in the social life of the community depends on your own preferences. Generally speaking, the community meets every day for the common lunch (breakfast and dinners are prepared at homes) and extra occasions, but in practise it breathes according to the vibes and the seasons - in winter people tend to be more secluded and even common lunches may not happen, while in summertime there's always something going on. Arterra has its own vision and mission which is related not only to co-living, but also creating a better world together. They produce their own organic fruits and vegetables, biogas, they have solar panels and at the community level they keep the sustainability standards high, buying only fair, ecological products, recycling properly all the waste and unnecessary materials, sharing unused clothes and things in good stage prolonging their life, etc.
Thabarwa Meditation Center in Myanmar is a community and a sanctuary consisting of buddhist monks, local villagers and hundreds of people in need who came or were left there. It was founded by Sayadaw u Ottamasara who is a spiritual leader and teacher, followed by many people in search of purpose. Thabarwa is located close to Yangon and the land of the community is mixed up with estates belonging to the local village and it's often hard to say what is what. People in need - elderly, sick, with disabilities, those without other chances for care - live in huge buildings taken care of by local and international volunteers as well as Buddhist monks. Every morning the Buddhist monks, together with volunteers go to Yangon to collect food - In Myanmar giving food to a monk is considered good karma, a good deed for your soul. They come back to the center around 11.00 with trucks full of stuff, which is distributed for lunch between people who are part of the community. The breakfast consists of rice, lentils and a bit of fish, while dinner is not provided - people can fast or prepare it in their own houses, if they have one. Only international volunteers receive leftovers from lunch. Although the center itself is clearly rooted in buddhism and the specific way of life taught by its founder, those who are living here are free to choose their own way. There are no strict rules, rather general guidance and invitation to find yourself by doing good deeds. Food and accommodation is financed mostly by people's donations. Everybody can come and stay as long as they wish and need.
Arterra, where we are right now, is renting a huge building, so every month it pays a certain amount of money to the owner. All private apartments are inside the building, which makes some people question whether Arterra really falls in the category of "eco-village", which one may rather associate with separate (usually ecological) buildings. And there are several of these around. Here in Spain a popular way of starting an eco-village seems to be occupying an abandoned village and this is the case of Lakabe - a community located half an hour drive from here, one of the most recognised in Europe. They renovated an old deserted village and transformed it into a beautiful, sustainable living space. They function in a fairly different way than Arterra - they have a common economy which means there is no private property and they earn money together, as a community, by baking bread and organising training. People who are not directly involved in those activities are responsible for other areas which diminish expenses - e.g. food production or animal care. We had a chance to visit Lakabe twice so far - once for the 8th of March celebration and once for their fiestas - and we are definitely curious to explore it more, even if Lakabe, at least at the moment, won't be our place of choice for settling down. A bit too isolated (even if beautifully nestled in the mountain), with limited access to the Internet and no phone signal, based on a shared economy... it's a bit too challenging for us, but there are plenty of people who found their paradise in Lakabe and many other such places.
Sandeck is a small village 90km outside Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. When we visited them in 2015, they didn't have access to electricity or running water. For many inhabitants we were the first white people they've seen in their life. We were invited by Dan - a changemaker who decided to dig his heels into his education even if most people in the village didn't see any point in doing so. Today he organises English classes for hundreds of kids from Sandeck and local villages, instilling in them his passion for education and showing first hand how it can change their lives. Although isolated and fairly poor, Sandeck kept what many other places lost: a community spirit. We didn't speak the same language (only children could say a few words in English), yet we were very welcomed by Dan's family and all the neighbours. Each of them tried to share something with us, be it a bit of rice, a fruit, or a scarf. Often they would come to Dan's parents' house to watch us eating or working, curious about how we do our living among them. And in fact, the week spent with them was one of the most interesting in our travels around South East Asia. They reminded us of many things we already forgot - how to be together, how to care for each other, how to reuse things and never throw them away, how to prepare fresh food every day from what nature gives us and how to keep your doors open to whoever comes.
*If you are not sure what (intentional) community actually means, check the definitions we proposed here.