The speedometer on the bus read 0km/h which didn’t seem too inaccurate as I alternated between roasting my rear end on the gearbox and standing. I was on my way to Eco Community Sri Lanka (ECSL), about 6 hours from the nation’s capital, Colombo.
Chaminda, one of the founders had responded enthusiastically to my request to visit and exchange our ecovillage insights and lessons.
Eco Community Sri Lanka sits on 52 acres in the dry zone of central north Sri Lanka. When I visited there were about 12 community members onsite and 2 international volunteers. The community has been in place for only 1.5yrs and, from my research, appears to be the first ecovillage in the country that has been entirely created by its members, rather than being initiated by a program of an NGO. (However, if anyone knows of any other independently created ecovillages, please let me know).
Aruna describes their vision as "mutual completion" which is about working together to achieve shared goals. He believes that each person has a special "Universal Task" and that in finding and following this "task" we will be building a better world for all. Following this philosophy, Chaminda left his well-paid job as an NGO aid and development worker to volunteer fulltime at ECSL to make a "real difference".
At this stage, much of the development is experimental, an ongoing learning and evolution process. For example, change will soon be made on the chicken front. The loman brown chickens are susceptible to disease and need to be kept in their barn. At the end of the dry season, feed for the chickens is costing more than their eggs are worth. However, the local chickens are disease resistant and can free range to feed themselves and their eggs (although less frequent) fetch double the price of the loman browns’.
At ECSL, they are wondering how to balance the needs of people and nature. Stephanie, an Irish permaculture teacher from Auroville in India is developing a permaculture plan for the kitchen garden. A permaculture plan for the whole site would be great - trees, mulch and compost are particularly important.
Buildings are efficient - compact and made of local materials, with traditional mud walls and palm frond roofs. The community is off the grid, with a number of small solar panels providing for LED lights and a water pump.
The need for agrochemical-free farming was highlighted to me by the alarming level of kidney failure in Sri Lanka. Current research by the World Health Organisation shows a growing problem around the world - that began to emerge amongst poor rural farmers in the 1990s. It appears that ground water tainted with cadmium and arsenic from chemical fertilisers and pesticides are a key factor. Chaminda and the crew are trying to work out how best to assist the farmers in their area.
On the social level, sometimes ECSL volunteers teach English at the local school. They have also established and run the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) network in Sri Lanka.
Article by Chris Gibbings. Chris is co-founder of the Bellbunya Sustainable Community (www.bellbunya.org.au) on the Sunshine Coast in Australia and Vice President of the Global Ecovillage Network Oceania and Asia (http://genoa.ecovillage.org/).