Since 2016 the project “Yes to Sustainability“ organizes international Youth Exchanges and Training Courses which take place in different Ecovillages and Communities all over Europe. The aims of these events are based on the ERASMUS+ program guide: promoting civil engagement and awareness for democracy, creating international networks of young people and the diffusion of sustainable solutions for the urgent challenges of our time like increasing social inequality and the exploitation of natural resources.

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From June 5th to 17th, 25 young adults (between 18 and 30 years old) met for a youth exchange in “Tempo di Vivere“, an italian Ecovillage, parts of RIVE (Italian Ecovillage Network) located in a small mountain village of Emilia-Romagna region. From Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands 5 participants from each country joined and almost tripled the number of its usual inhabitants. The program incorporated talks and workshops by community members. The title of the exchange “Empower yourself with the Circle Way” is a reference to Tempo di Vivere way to manage their community day life. By meeting Manitonquat and learning from him this methodology of community building, the community members shared their deep knowledge with their young visitors. 

The Circle Way reaffirms the essential practice of taking a seat on the rim and turning to one another to uphold racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and environmental justice. This project reminded me the importance of the circle. Everyone is equal, there is no hierarchy, just pure respect, love and empathetic listening. Respect is not something you win or acquire or make the others do, respect is a human right and it belongs to everyone!” says Anna Maria Galani, Greece

“Listening Simona of TDV words the third day, – the creation is a circle-, wasn’t like hearing something new… it was like remembering a wisdom that was already inside me, but that was covered by bad experience and unhealthy social structures. It is the knowledge of unity, of the human strive to be in a circle. The need of deeply listening, watching, touching and understanding. The need of being heart, seen, touched, without being judged. Additionally, the group gained theoretical and practical experiences in producing self-made natural cosmetics, taking care of an elementary agriculture garden and decision-making with sociocratic methods.” says Lea Brade, Germany

“In this alienated world of grey emotions and subordination, sitting in a circle and sharing from the heart is a revolutionary act. No one is on top neither below, we all look to each other as companions of this journey, of this life.” says Adriana Garcia Aparicio, Youth Leader, Spain

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Further parts of the program dealt with non-violent communication, permaculture, introduction to sociocracy, international dances and a lot of community building activities organized by the group leaders and the project manager. 

“To learn about sociocracy as organizing and decision-making method was important and I decided it is something I want to continue engaging in.” says Eva Bengert, Germany

Group leaders are participants – from each country one – who got involved earlier in May, to take part in creating and organizing the project. Nicoletta Benfatti, the Youth Exchanges project manager, from RIVE, is the creative head and organizer of the project.

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Each day for two hours everyone was part of a working group. Here, the participants supported the community in their daily activities: cooking food for the about 35 temporal and permanent inhabitants, gardening, constructing two solar showers and wooden meditation-benches, as well as cleaning the communal spaces.

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“I was surprised and amazed by the idea of community that the ecovillage managed to share with us, showing an alternative way of life based on respect, personal growth, deep sharing and so much happiness. In a very few days I was able to create a powerful connection with other 24 European young people despite language and cultural differences. To me, the most beautiful result of this youth exchange was the possibility to meet a lot of different people and realizing we are all peers and we all have the same interests and dreams. It taught me that it’s possible to create an international network of sustainability, a community that shares ideas and experiences and grow together.” says Simone Cesaro, Italy

Highlights were three artistically created evenings: international dinner with amazingly creative theatrical performances of the national groups, an open stage for talents and finally an evening to introduce ERASMUS+ and the Community to people from the surrounding area who are interested in communal living or getting to know Tempo di Vivere.

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“We formed a really close group. Lots of stories, idea’s, fun, laughter and tears were shared. A community on its own was growing. We learned a lot, worked together with the people from the village and also shared with them our knowledge. There was some time to make nice walks and to visit the nearby waterfalls for a refreshing swim and of course we played a lot of games together.” says Pascal Gelling, The Netherlands

Like in every group process there has been ups and downs. Within the core team we were grateful for each piece of feedback and tried to integrate it. Daily rituals of the morning circle were helpful to gain feedback: time for personal “Check-in” and a box each for love-letters and announcements. Altogether, people showed a huge enthusiasm for this kind of community experience, the willingness to listen to each other and creating a trusting atmosphere which enables to encounter each other authentically and with all emotions.

“I have learned many different skills especially those related to the emotions and how to be able to interpret them and let other people help me with them or just listen to them. This kind of learning is not taught at school or university, and it is very important for our society, young, adult or old, it is never too late. I could never thank enough the community for their openness and kindness.” says monica Adan, Spain

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After thirteen days, every one leaves with new friends and the feeling of immense gratitude for the warm welcoming and support the community showed each and every day.

“It was very inspiring experiencing another way of living far away form the crowded cities, the pollution and the noise. Where  everyone cared for one another and we all communicated deeper. Self development and self esteem strengthening was also a result of the the way we lived together, cooperating in everything not expecting something in return other than a smile, the happy eyes of the person a touch or a hug.” says Aggelos Zoupas, Greece

“Thank you so much Nicoletta, Youth leaders, TDV, Yes to Sustainability to create this spaces of freedom, to can be ourselves.” says Sonia Manso Herrero, Spain

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There isn’t nothing that together we can’t do! (Manitonquat)

AHO!

Written by Nicoletta Benfatti, Erasmus+ Youth Exchange project manager, and Rouven Lipps, Youth leader from Germany

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Find a lot more personal experience from this Exchange in our blog!