Running from one meeting to the next, juggling deadlines and projects, ticking off boxes on endless to-do-lists: that used to be my average day at the office. From 2000 to 2012 I’ve worked in communications, fundraising & marketing for a variety of non-profit organisations: nature conservation, culture & arts, and social justice. But I always felt the longing to get away from that computer and get my hands dirty. The nagging thought that, at the end of the day, what difference did I really make?
For a long time, I pushed those feelings and thoughts aside. Until March 2012, when I was confronted with serious health issues: severe neck and shoulder pains that forced me to stop working. It became clear that these issues did not have a physical cause. They were completely related to stress. My body had decided: enough is enough.
Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me realize how disconnected I was: from myself, from others, from nature. How frustrated I was with many aspects of our consumption driven society and how powerless I felt in the face of all the destruction going on for the sake of economic growth.
I started to look for ways to turn those feelings into positive change and action. A close friend recommended me to take a Permaculture Design Certificate course at Phangan Earthworks on the island Koh Phangan in Thailand. Without hesitation I signed up for the august 2013 PDC course given by Rhamis Kent. A few months later I arrived in Thailand.
The PDC course felt like coming home. Permaculture’s ethics reflect my personal ethics and its principles are applicable to every aspect of life. I have become convinced that permaculture is the way out of the ecologic, economic and moral crisis we find ourselves in. Permaculture needs to gain more mainstream attention and reach a critical mass so we can all work together to create a happy and healthy future, for ourselves and the generations to come.
Right after the PDC course I volunteered for Bring the Elephant Home (BTEH), a NGO run by my friend Antoinette van de Water. BTEH works on conserving and restoring the habitat of the rapidly dwindling wild elephant population in Thailand. While planting trees and building dams, we brainstormed about her latest venture: the world’s first permaculture project for elephants. BTEH wants to establish a field centre in the Thai province Kanchanaburi, designed and managed by permaculture principles. Through research, education, community participation and practical action, the centre will develop permaculture solutions for the problems that are threatening wild elephants.
It will also serve as a catalyst to raise awareness about permaculture. BTEH currently attracts about a thousand volunteers per year. The field centre, as a permanent base, will give BTEH the capacity to attract a lot more people to come and learn about conservation issues through a holistic approach based on permaculture. The project is expected to launch mid-2014. Even though BTEH already has a steady number of private donors, its permaculture project needs extra funding. The big question is: how to raise those funds?
TRUNK TO TRUNK
Under the name of Trunk to Trunk, I am going to hitchhike from The Netherlands, across Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, to Thailand. In every country I cross, I will actively participate in permaculture projects by volunteering. My goal is to raise € 10.000 (approximately $ 13.500) for BTEH’s permaculture education centre. I will use a variety of fundraising tools, such as crowdfunding and sponsorships.
During my journey, I will search for answers to two important questions. How can permaculture contribute to solving the problems elephants are facing, such as lack of biodiversity, deforestation, drought and human elephant conflicts? And how can permaculture make our own lives more healthy, happy and joyful? Through working with and talking to permaculture experts, local people and children, I will try to find answers to these questions. Upon arriving in Thailand, my findings will be documented in a booklet for children, to be used as teaching material at BTEH’s field centre. Because international schools already support BTEH, it can invite local schools to join educational events for free. These will reach thousands of young Thai students and their families.
The name Trunk to Trunk refers to the mutually beneficial relationship between elephants and trees/forests. Elephants are vital gardeners: they spread large quantities of seeds over many miles, provide countless piles of manure for new trees to grow in, create networks of trails for other animals, and maintain clearings for grazers, who are on the menu of carnivores. Being a keystone species, elephants play a crucial ecological role in the forests they inhabit. Trees in their turn provide elephants with a variety of food, conserve water and preserve soil so that other edible plants can grow, and improve air quality. BTEH works on protecting both elephants and their habitat. In the last few years, more than 325.000 trees have been planted. Because every threat elephants are facing, can be retraced to one issue: deforestation on a gigantic scale. Without trees, elephants have no way to survive.
My journey will start mid February 2014. During the months to come I will set out my itinerary, work on building a network, get in touch with projects on my itinerary that offer opportunities to volunteer and learn, and look for sponsors and crowdfunding platforms.
More information about Bring the Elephant Home can be found at www.bring-the-elephant-home.org. The Trunk to Trunk blog will be online soon.
October 26, 2013
|Permaculture Design Certificate|
|Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course|
|Teacher: Rhamis Kent|
|Location: Koh Phangan, Thailand|
|Date: Aug 2013|