Taisa Mattos is an Educator and Researcher of the Ecovillage Movement. She trains individuals and groups on sustainability, social innovation, and community life.
My first contact with Taisa Mattos was online. As part of my ESC programme, I was starting my work with GEN International and I received an introduction to its Education area provided by her, who connected from Brazil. Research on ecovillage living seemed to be one of her biggest passions, something that caught my attention and made me want to know more about her. At that moment I would have never imagined that the opportunity to do it in person would come relatively soon. Three months later, we were sitting in my living room in Findhorn (Scotland) recording this interview after having been together in Glasgow supporting GEN’s work at COP26.
In this conversation Taisa opens up about her roots and how she grew up by the beach “in a nice environment and a very supporting family”. That doesn’t mean her family would have necessarily wished her choices were the ones she made, as Taisa Mattos never prioritized settling or having a stable job. She needed to work on things she liked, that was the priority.
Although it was always easy for her to enjoy what she did, it was not until she fell in love with the Ecovillage movement in 2008 when she found a meaningful cause where to put her energy. “There was something missing”, she refers to the previous period, in which she had always worked with Communications. Very inspired after that Ecovillage Design Education course in Sao Paolo where she met the movement, Taisa talked with some friends and soon they became a group with an objective: co-creating an ecovillage.
And so they did. After a long process they finally agreed on a piece of land and funded Terra Una Ecovila. Neither its beginning or what came after were easy feats to accomplish and, of course, disagreement and conflict were also part of the parcel. From developing an exchange trade network, a fair and a social currency, to gaining understanding on remote areas’ challenges and financial difficulties for emerging ecovillages, the experience was definitely very rich but eventually came to an end for Taisa. She defines it now as “a 10-year beautiful learning journey”.
It was also during these same years when her new pathway was formed. Already in 2009 she was drawn to organize an EDE (Ecovillage Design Education course) in Rio and in 2010 they did the first one in Terra Una, following with another one in Bello Horizonte in 2011. At some point she simply started traveling around to support and teach these programmes, adapting them to different groups and needs.
So, what is Taisa’s profession? “That’s a hard question”, she recognises. In order to answer it, she often finds herself choosing the right terms on what she does depending on who she is talking with. At the end of the day, she can call it ‘community building for sustainable development’ or with ‘a regenerative approach’. It always does make sense, because it is needed everywhere. Taisa can adapt the Ecovillage Framework to any situation: “It might be applied in a real community but also in a workplace, organization or group”.
She also talks about the special place Education has in these moments of global transition, and how the educational system as we know it does not serve the world. For Taisa, we are all here “to contribute to this great transition” and “Ecovillages are not perfect either for everyone, but they are amazing living laboratories” that allow other systems to realize “it could be this way”. And there might be many different ways, but in all of them Taisa finds “community is always crucial”. She likes to think that this was the only possible way of living in the past and still is key in many cultures today: “If Brazilian indigenous people have to tell you who they are, they are going to tell you the name of their community before their own name”.
“Doing things together” is something that has always been abundantly clear to her, even for choosing her first therapy session, which had to be in a group: “The issues I had were all social”, she explains.
How can we re-learn doing things together?
It is not easy, nowadays, to focus on ‘community’ and set aside the individualistic mindframe embedded in a global society centered on growth. Taisa knows there are many questions and she is aware of not having all the answers, but keeps “navigating” them as an act of conviction. Any positive change requires first “an internal decision” on the level of self-development, she states. After that, there are many ways to continue, one of her favorite ones being “to visit an ecovillage” or even finding one’s community online, where “sharing from the heart” is also possible and comprehensible.
“Each one needs to experience and find their way”, she considers. That makes me see how interviewing Taisa was, somehow, a very valuable help to find my own way. I resonate with her teenage story when it comes to not willing to follow a single path and choosing Communications looking for that potential flexibility or desire to constantly learn and do different things. And here I am today, finding as well ‘what was missing’ in the Ecovillage and the Degrowth Movements, enrolled in an online EDE course that Taisa herself is facilitating with Macaco Tamerice.
Is this experience going to change my path again? Will it make me more aware of all the challenges that ‘community’ implies? How can I grow from the struggles that working and living with others bring? Taisa finds that we don’t only need “more skills” to deal with people and being able to live together -which is not easy- but also to reconnect to nature and “understand life cycles”. As she says, “life is always connecting, and taking the most of it”. We might need to reconsider what taking the most of something really means. “Recycling, upcycling and closing the loops” are things that we learn from nature, which is “the best master”, Taisa concludes.