Kartong in The Gambia is a special place, with a wealth of, hitherto, unrecognised assets including unspoilt, deserted beaches, and great tourism potential. From 21st Feburary to 20th March 2014, a very special Ecovillage Design Education – EDE – took place here. It was the culmination of a long held dream that originated in 2007, when the Secretary General of the Village Development Committee of Kartong attended an EDE in Findhorn Ecovillage. Vicky Stallwood reports.
It was soon recognised that sending a lone participant to attend an EDE in a foreign land was not enough to build resilience in a community struggling to survive in the face of multiple challenges to the environment, culture, community and economy. The dream became to hold an EDE in Kartong, and build a critical mass of expertise and support for the hero’s journey towards sustainability. Years went by and strenuous efforts were made to secure funding for an EDE, with no results.
The breakthrough came when Sandele hosted GEN International President, Kosha Joubert, and her partner, Robin Alfred, for their honeymoon. They gave up three days to assist us in hosting Kartong village elders and delegates from GEN Africa and GEN Senegal, for a one day workshop. This led to the signing of an accord to explore Kartong becoming an ecovillage.
The village gave a resounding ‘yes’, and the running of the EDE was a perfect first step. Having experienced this event, it is hard to imagine how a traditional village can make a transition from where it is now, without the groundwork of inspiring a critical mass of people, and giving them the space to dream, plan, do, and celebrate, using EDE principles.
The two hoped for outcomes of the course were to provide proposals of how the village can move towards becoming an ecovillage, and a plan for the tourism zone in the Kartong area. The impact started before the course with the selection process. Non-Violent Communication workshops, and several women’s gatherings took place to ensure that they were well supported during the course. Regular consultations with the elders of the village were critical to the success of the outcomes, and our thanks go to those who gave (and continue to give), their great support at the village level.
At the graduation celebration, the two proposals were received to rapturous applause and a commitment of support from the elders of the village and government representatives present.
The EDE challenges were many, but these were far outweighed by the inspiration, fun and learning. The greatest gift, of course, is the knowledge and wisdom gained by our tribe of enthused trainers who will be taking their new found skills and expertise forward into the village of Kartong.
A great deal has happened since the completion of the EDE. Meanwhile, the EDE group is meeting monthly and non-violent communication sessions are taking place. Kartong EDE has become “Kartong Ecovillage Network (KEN)”, and a decision has been made for KEN to become an NGO.
A KEN Board of Trustees has been democratically appointed, a Facilitation Group continues to plan EDE monthly alumni meetings, and the Project Groups are meeting regularly with increasingly active plans of action.
In early May, the ‘self sufficiency’ group went on a 10 day “walkabout” to interesting villages in The Gambia and Senegal, as part of their continuing education about ecovillage development. The group also met with GEN and NEXTGEN representatives in Dakar.
It is not all plain sailing. There is concern among some in the village about the appearance of a group that is interested in development in areas that not everyone fully understands as yet. Meetings have been held with key village groups and individuals, and continuing consultation is a key principle within KEN. Sixteen EDE members met on 10th May for a general session. Part of the time was spent discussing the impact the group is likely to have and how best to react sensitively to local concerns.
Overall, KEN and the project groups are thriving and the EDE momentum is being maintained. The group remains very strong and united, and the enthusiasm to pursue a “developed Kartong” is very much alive and well.
As a footnote, we are delighted that our international participants brought so much to share with us, and reported that they had also gained so much. One of them is still unexpectedly with us, and another is planning to be back full time before long, thereby confirming that Kartong is a place that you can ‘come to but never leave!’