Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mongolian Permaculture: What's next? (Day 22)

Theme song of the day: 'Just Breathe' by Eddie Vedder.  His lyrics just couldn't say this any better.

Photo: graduating class of Dec 2009 PDC at SCPI

It's been about 15 months since I stumbled across permaculture at Rick and Naomi Coleman's Permaculture Design Course at the Southern Cross Permaculture Institute in Leongatha (Victoria, Australia).

I had run out of money, moved back home with my parents in Melbourne, and, in search of what was next for me in the adventure that is my life, I had applied for a position studying Landscape Architecture at RMIT University in Melbourne.  There was no way of knowing on day one of my PDC that in just over a year, I would have been to Mongolia twice, covering an area from the Gobi Desert in the south to Zavkhan province in the northwest, to the Kazakh stronghold of Bayan Ulgii in the far west; and working on projects making a positive contribution to Mongolian communities all along the way... life is strange, and unpredictable, and beautiful.


Photo: Bek 'The Mongolian Maniac' wrestles with Dave 'The Ghost' Gibb at Wilson's Prom during our PDC rest day.

The new humble Monoglian friend I made on that course turned out to be the Food Security Director of an international NGO, and the small pact we made over the campfire one evening (to visit each other's homelands) is growing into an international collaboration of knowledge & resources that could help vastly different cultures connect, and learn from each other.

It's Bek's turn to visit my homeland since I am 2-0 in the visit tally right now, but first he has his work cut out for him with establishing a strong foundational year for the SEAL Project, and the other permaculture-based projects he is implementing throughout Mongolia (permaculture has been integrated into all of ADRA-Mongolia's Food Security initiatives).

600 integrated root cellars, and 600 passive solar greenhouses equipped with 600 drip-irrigation systems will be built for carefully selected beneficiaries throughout Bayan Ulgii province in the next year, as part of a 4-year plan to strengthen local food security and stimulate the local economy (with microenterprises and Self-Help microfinance groups) by seeding the community with these permaculture demonstration sites and future permaculture teachers.

Photo: 'Bolhadt', Project beneficiary living in Sagsay soum.  He is married, has 2 young children, has an existing root cellar installed under his house, is already farming his own worms, and has some experience growing potatoes and turnips.

Beneficiaries are screened not for their level of needs (this would be applicable to an 'aid' or 'relief' effort), but rather for their character, motivation, and potential to become future community leaders once equipped with the tools, knowledge, and opportunity to create positive, regenerative change in their own lives.  Checks and balances (such as monitoring gender-ratios and potential conflicts-of-interest) are designed into the selection process to maximize the project's potential for success.

Like all projects and organizations, the quality of results created is entirely dependent upon the quality and character of the people driving it, and based on my experience of the eleven ADRA staff devoted to this project, and the leadership & vision of Bek, Doc, and Michelle Abel (Programs Director) from ADRA-Mongolia's head offices in UB, integrity levels are high and the project is off to a very good start. 

One heartfelt conversation I had with project staff in the closing days of the course revolved around my personal experience of how many friends came forward to support me emotionally, practically, and even financially while I watched the small fortune I made during my twenties be taken away; when the money was gone, all that was left was the people I had touched - and I was humbled to find out how many that is, and how rich I truly am.

The SEAL Project staff have a similar opportunity, in that the work they are being paid to do over the next four years will touch many lives and forge many relationships that would be challenging to create outside of this context; if project staff focus on taking care of their people the best way they know how, than each one of them will be richer than they can imagine by the time the project ends - and we are talking about true wealth: the wealth of rich and supportive relationships, not the transient & deceptive wealth of money.

Photo: Bastama School Gardens project.

Dr. Beket's Bastama School Gardens project has the potential to impact an additional 500 students and families, while Guliya's large-scale fruit & vegetable production plot could also impact countless more.  In this way, we plant the seeds of permaculture design with 13 students, and watch it grow to help over 1,100 families move towards a sustainable & regenerative future.

As for me?  Well, I couldn't have done any of this work if not for the foundation laid by the many permaculturists who have gone before me, especially the work done by Rick Coleman and Kat Lavers during the 2010 Mongolian Permaculture project; had it not been for that experience and learning curve, I would not have a strong enough baseline of knowledge & experience to be effective here, and in fact it would have been irresponsible to send me in lieu of a more experienced instructor.


Photo: Rick and Kat, Mongolian Permaculture 2010

I was able to be effective in Mongolian conditions, and adapt the lessons I learned last year to Mongol-Kazakh culture, only because of the time, money and effort dedicated towards skilling up, and learning from others who were so willing to share with & teach me.  Now I have a stronger baseline to operate from when working in Sustainable Aid and Overseas Development, but there are knowledge & experience gaps (especially in creating and cultivating my own productive & functional crop systems) that I need to fill.

Bill Mollison said it best in the Global Gardener series:

'Once you've set up your home, so that you can leave it for 2 or 3 months and it just gets better, so that you are free to travel, then you can go and teach other people.' 

- Bill Mollison -

So that's what is next for me:  return to Hawaii, marry the woman I love, put some roots down, and start growing some veggies. 

Come visit if you are in the area.

Photo: Wind & Light ride in Hawaii.

Photo: HOME.


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