Disaster Prevention in Europe:

Supporting Skala Eco village in Greece to Become a Training Center for Sustainability

The participants of the GEN summit followed with growing indignation the political process around Greece: the European Commission forced new austerity measures on a country whose people are already suffering badly under the economic crisis. (http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5745) A working group was formed and together with the founders of Skala Ecovillage, they planned a first crisis intervention. During a network meeting from August 22 - 30, a group of ecovillage experts from Tamera and ZEGG donated their ecological and social skills to build first techniques for sustainability. It was the start of a possible longterm cooperation to make people independent from global supply systems.

Skala, aspiring member of GEN Europe, is still an ecovillage in the development stage. So far, three families live and work on the 7 hectares, 40 minutes outside of Thessaloniki. The aim of their founders, Anna Filippou and Nikiforos Pertsinidis, is to build a model living and learning center for ecological and social sustainability. (Read their latest report here: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5868 )

During the GEN summit, Anna shared about the situation in Greece: "The people feel deeply wounded. The downfall of the delusions and the collapse of the image of the world as we knew it, brings a deep grief. I feel more than ever that it is time to leave the old ways of thinking, acting, consuming, living and being and move to the next level. We believe, the best help would be to support us to transform Skala Ecovillage into a realistic, self-sufficient and sustainable international peace garden. In Greece the issue of intentional communities is very new, but is so needed!"

A working group for Greece formed, thinking about how GEN and ecovillages can support the country. The main idea was: by bringing ecovillage expertise, by teaching people how to become independent from the large systems, from the global food and energy supply that creates the economic pressure, and by bringing the message that a community can take on challenges much better than individuals.

Three experts decided to come to the network meeting in August to teach: Bernd Müller, water expert from Tamera, Jay Abrahams, builder of constructed wetland systems of the UK, and Martin Funk, biogas expert from Tamera. For them it was the first intervention of "Blueprint", an initiative founded by Ruth Andrade who had gathered friends of her late husband, Paulo Mellett, to create a "task force of humanitarian experts giving an integrative response to crises". (more about Blueprint: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5842)

They were accompanied by Sandra Imhof and Christine Fischer from the ecology team in Tamera. As the fundraising during and after the GEN summit only brought in very small donations, most of them covered their own travel expenses. Water Having enough clean and fresh water is a pre-condition for every community development. The first thing that should be planned in every new village is the water situation, to make sure that the rainwater is filtering into the ground and replenishes nature, the gardens and wells.

"Slow it, spread it, sink it", the late Paulo Mellett had said.

Bernd Müller: "A water retention landscape is a place where no rainwater leaves the land anymore, but is infiltrating the ground and only fresh water is running off."

In Skala, the team found a typical site for southern Europe: strong run-off of the rainwater, eroded land that has lost the fertile topsoil, difficult growing situation for the bush of 40 years old oak trees. Nikiforos´ main question was: Is our water situation sustainable? And how can we become independent from the official water supply? The precipitation of 450 mm annually runs off to a large extent.

The experts and the participants first measured contour lines of the site which was the precondition to then build several smaller and larger swales, terraces and a new water-friendly road. Swales are ditches along the contour lines which save rainwater from running off, instead enabling it to filter into the ground. Bernd: "In Tamera, we have build several retention spaces and lakes. However, in many situations, swales serve the same purpose with less effort."

On the hill with the new swales, no rainwater should flow off anymore. The new terraces and embankments are ready to be cultivated with fruit orchards and food gardens. The team involved all participants and especially trained two members of Skala in order to enable them to continue the work afterwards. The first swale they dug by hand. Before they started to use excavators to build larger swales, they informed the wildlife and natural beings with a prayer and a meditation in the beginning.

Christine, who is part of the spiritual ecology team of Tamera, says: "This is our commitment when we work with heavy machines. The animals have a chance to leave the site for the time of soil movement and come back afterwards finding much better conditions."

After the building site was finished they gave a tour for the new guests. One of them showed deep concern about the harsh impact of machines on the fields. Bernd explained that after decades of destruction it sometimes needs a powerful impact to restore a landscape. He also invited the skeptical participant to the closing prayer, where the wildlife was again invited to return. Christine: "It was a magical moment. Right after we finished our meditation, only a couple of steps away two turtles hatched and crawled to the light. It was a powerful sign that the wildlife was not disturbed and now reclaims their place."

Biogas

The second intervention was building a biogas digester for producing energy for cooking. Martin Funk used the new system for decentralized, small biogas digesters. He bought IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Container). Two of them were used as digesters. For this they were painted black to increase the temperature and create the best living conditions for the bacteria. The other two are used for storage. 

The participants collected cow dung to gather bacteria which later will transform the waste into methane. Kitchen waste will serve as fuel for the digesters. It will take two to three weeks for the digester to develop the right conditions and produce gas for cooking. Most participants were enthusiastic about the easy possibility of decentralized energy autonomy. Nikiforos: "They were asking for the disadvantages, but it became clear that there were none. It is just like it, and I have seen it in Tamera: we produce our own energy for cooking." Three participants asked Martin to build a digester on their places, too.

Martin: “Actually, people should be able to build a digester on their own after having been present when I built one. I am a fan of low-tech solutions that can be built in simple workshops. Residents of poorer countries, without specialist training, can understand and build it, and thereby achieve energy autonomy.”

Future

The workshops were followed by a network meeting of representatives from many projects of Greece, held by Zisula Kourdaki from ZEGG (Germany), and Irini Kourdaki from Agnanti of Veriritis, and Thomas Anemos from Athens, longterm activists of the community movement. Zisula: "I am very touched to see what is happening in my country and how vital the network is." ZEGG generously supported the meeting financially. Many ideas were shared for the future. Definitely the network wishes to see EDE courses at different places to teach more people. More: www.skalaecovillage.com

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14.09.2015