GEN Estonia celebrates 7 years of eco-life
7 years ago, on the 8th of February in 2008, a group of sustainably minded people founded an organisation called the Network of Estonian Eco-communities, working towards creating a just and ecological Estonia. Today, our biggest achievement is a sustainable and vital ecovillage movement with yearly gatherings and regular communication activities, 2 strong eco-communities, and a Gaia Elementary School. Kadri Allikmäe from Network of Estonian Eco-communities reports.
We first hesitated in founding an organisation. However, today we are grateful to have a legal body to be able to organise so many projects and gatherings, apply for funding, and to stand up as a professional partner to politicians, journalists, teachers and other NGO-s in Estonia. As an independent NGO (instead of organising projects through an already existing organisation), we have grown faster than we expected and succeeded in achieving more than we ever planned. Hundreds of people have become inspired to start living a sustainable life, become a natural builder or a sustainability teacher, found ecovillages, organise sustainable projects and use the social techniques of communities in their everyday work in different fields.
We feel that our ecological 'heart-print' is big.
What can we celebrate?
We can celebrate that the community of Lilleoru that, 7 years ago was a small spiritual centre, established next to SkyEarth ecovillage that has grown into a conscious and vital community with its almost 100 full members and 50 other inhabitants (incl. children). The ecovillage movement has brought much public attention, with hundreds of new guests coming to the open-doors days and seminars of Lilleoru. The biggest project – building an OPEN learning centre – has gotten a good kick-start in these 7 years and the house, for sure, will be ready for 2018.
Secondly: The first EDE course in Estonia inspired so many people that, thanks to this, we now also have a new ecovillage "Small Footprint“ in Estonia (founded in 2014). Located in Central Estonia, with 33 ha of land, there are currently 10 adults and 6 children living there. There is a functioning home-shool, a childcare and has regular open experience weekends happening.
Thirdly, we can celebrate that, in August 2014, the Gaia Elementary School was founded by the participants of Estonian EDE: who are also parents. The school functions as a private elementary school in 3 different locations in Estonia and the whole school is based on Gaia Education principles. At the moment 10 children learn at the school.
Fourthly, we can celebrate that our tradition of annual gatherings of the ecovillage movement have been so successful. Last year over 200 people participated at our summer gathering that focused on the idea of community schools and carried the emblem: "It takes a whole community to raise a child". The gathering was funded through the cooperation of Baltic Ecovillage Network (BEN) and through the TESTS II project. Thanks to this support, the Estonian network had a chance to enrich our gathering with beautiful foreign speakers - Juliane Eckmann and Janos Valder from Tamera - who shared their experience on children and community in Tamera. Thanks to the support of BEN we could also organise the gathering in a much more professional way and offer cheaper prices to participants. This year we also had a very fruitful cooperation within BEN altogether, meeting twice (one BEN gathering also took place in Estonia!). Thank you BEN for bringing together so many inspiring people and giving us a chance to share our experiences on ecology on the Baltic Sea level.
Fiftly: Thanks to a project of Estonian Civic Society Foundation, about 500 people participated in our events and seminars this year.
And at last: We can also celebrate that finally we have managed to impress politicians! On 18th of February (just before Estonian parliamentary elections), we had a round-table with all representatives of political parties of Estonia, interviewing them on behalf of the ecovillage movement about how their programmes support the idea of sustainability. We will continue to work on the policy issues also after elections.
Looking back, these 7 years have been really magical: we have achieved more than we ever dreamed of. I guess it is a good justification for starting to dream again? What might be possible in the next 10 years?
"I think the biggest benefit of NEEC has been the internal and external communications that have made the idea of ecovillages visible to the wider public, including politicians. For me, it is also admirable that we organised the EDE in Estonia that has given a kick-start to so many further ecovillage initiatives and helped to promote the ideas of Gaia Education in Estonia: thanks to that also the Gaia School was born.“ - Toivo Aalja, a long-term volunteer of NEEC, member of the board of Lilleoru community.
"The activity of NEEC has been important for the many people it has engaged. Many activists, including me, feel that they are not alone with their different thoughts about our society, but rather they belong to a community that has even written in the statute that its aim is to facilitate the
emergence of a just and ecological world.“ - Toomas Trapido, the founder of NEEC, former member of Estonian parliament and former member of GEN-Europe council.
"Thinking about global developments and challenges, our planet Earth definitely needs a new narrative in order to step out from this mindless consumption party. The ecovillage movement worldwide shows one possible path, one way out, but this is not for sure a one-way road towards sustainable living. The annual gatherings of Estonian ecovillage movement have contributed to acknowledging sustainability issues more deeply in the public debate and society of Estonia. Encompassing people and communities with similar world-views, the ecovillage movement has given many people in Estonia both ideas and practical skills for developing sustainable communities." - Erkki Peetsalu, the founder of NEEC, editor in chief of National Geographic Estonia.
As a partner in our growth, we owe the biggest thanks to GEN Europe for their absolutely inspiring gatherings and to all ecovillages in Europe and elsewhere, where our people have participated in life-changing courses. We especially wish to thank people from different ecovillages in Europe who have visited Estonia, who have given lectures and shared their experience at our gatherings. And we also wish to thank GEN Europe staff for providing us with so much good information about courses that we have participated in! Thank you so much everyone! It is a great joy and inspiration to move on hand in hand with you!