CHOOSING THE FUTURE WITH ERASMUS+

Article by Tatjana Lavrova

If you are interested in finding out how to get Erasmus+ support for your projects in the European Union, how to find partners abroad, how to organize events in the covid-19 era and how to restore connection within yourself and to the world around you in nature, then this text is for you.

Participants of the project ‘Networking for Sustainability and a Green Youth’ are completing and submitting their first international youth projects aimed at sustainable development within the framework of the new 2021-2027 Erasmus+ program. The training itself took place at the Ängsbacka Course and Festival Centre in southern Sweden from April 7 to 12 with the financial support of the European Union Erasmus+ program. The training was attended by 35 people from 10 EU countries.
I received an email with an invitation to take part in it from the Estonian Association of Eco-Communities (MTÜ Eesti Ökokogukondade Ühendus). There are similar organizations in all countries and usually they have their own mailings with offers to participate in various educational events at home and abroad, to which everyone can subscribe. I filled out a short questionnaire and a week later I found out that they were waiting for me in Sweden.
The training in which I took part was organized for representatives of eco-movements, eco-communities, eco-centers and youth organizations that work for a healthy environment, support various methods of sustainable development, study and teach the skills of regenerative agriculture, or in other words, permaculture (this is a generalized a term for sustainable farming practices that mainly involve building soil, retaining water, and combining many different types of trees on the same land).
I will tell you more about the participants later, but the training was coordinated in cooperation with Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Europe, whose members share ideas and information, transfer technology and develop cultural and educational exchanges. Their website (www.gen-europe.org/) is a useful resource for those interested in developing resource-saving technologies, finding like-minded people, volunteering on an eco-farm, becoming a participant in eco-training, etc. Thus many of the training participants were members of this network.

What is Erasmus+ ?

Erasmus+ is the educational, training, youth and sports program of the European Union. The current program budget for 2021-2027 is 26.2 billion euros, which is almost double the previous period, which lasted from 2014 to 2020.
In the current period, the Erasmus+ program pays great attention to social inclusion, a turn toward green and digital technologies, as well as the participation of young people in promoting democratic values. Erasmus+ supports the priorities and activities defined in the European education area, the digital learning program and the European Skills Development Program.
Erasmus+ offers opportunities for mobility and cooperation in the field of preschool, school, higher and vocational education, training, adult education, youth and sports. The activities described in the projects can be aimed at both young people and specialists working with young people. The program is administered by the European Commission and the Executive Agency for Audiovisual and Cultural Affairs (EACEA) and has a representative office in each EU country. Outside the European Union, government agencies represent the program in the education sector. The European Commission allocates funds to local agencies, and they spend it based on local targeted needs. Agencies also offer assistance to grant applicants from the time of submission of a project application to the end of the project term and work closely with other organizations. The official representative of the program in Estonia is Erasmus+ ja Euroopa Solidaarsuskorpuse agentuur. Offices in other countries can be found at this link.

Training in the midst of covid-19

Despite the coronavirus crisis, life goes on, people meet, projects are written. Organizing a face-to-face meeting of 35 people from ten countries, even in the midst of restrictions, was doable and our hosts, the Ängsbacka Education and Festival Center, offered great hospitality to guests from Bulgaria, Germany, Holland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, France, Sweden and Estonia for five days. This is how they provided security for us.
Before entering Sweden, the participants had to pass a test for covid-19. In Sweden itself, masks, social distancing and the use of an antiseptic are advisory in nature. The host country made sure that all public areas have appropriate social distance markings on the floor and that disinfectants and masks are prominently displayed. At the very first meeting, the training participants agreed on additional security measures – volunteer duty officers were selected who aired the common room every 45 minutes. In addition, everyone gave their word of honor that in case of illness they would immediately inform the organizers about it and go to quarantine in a solitary room.
We were also divided into groups, and each took patronage of order in any one zone – this was called working meditation, something like meditation through useful work. For example, I helped disinfect door handles in the area where the participants lived and in the common areas. Before leaving, mass testing of the participants was organized at the training site, which saved both time and money.

Practical benefits

All participants in the training contribute in varied ways to environmental protection. Some were ecocenter founders, some lived on eco-farms, some moved out of town to eco-communes or ecovillages; some, living outside the city, work in previously acquired specialties online or in some other way, some have mastered or are mastering new professions and areas related to sustainable agriculture (permaculture), some, like me, live in the city, but work in the field of nature conservation. The training participants are united by concern for the future, the desire for harmony with nature and the desire to pass on their knowledge to others. Today, as they can and know how, they lay and strengthen the foundation of sustainable development in their own fields. Technologies can serve humanity and nature and we all need to apply them more wisely for a better world.
The training helped us not only to write youth projects within the framework of Erasmus+, but also to start discussing their ideas and find partners from among the representatives of various organizations present.
It is important to say that the Erasmus+ program, among other things, actively supports the involvement of people with fewer opportunities in projects. These can be both people with disabilities and, for example, representatives of vulnerable social groups. I represented at the training the international movement Let’s Do It, World Cleanup Day and the STEP program for young people with disabilities, who, for example, belong to a vulnerable social group due to difficulties in finding a job, lack of education and stigmatization.
Thanks to participation in the training, I found partners who agreed to accept STEP participants in their educational projects. If these projects are selected and funded, young people will be able to visit other countries, immerse themselves in a different environment, and gain useful practical communication and work skills. And this is only a small part of what awaits them. I hope that such an experience will not go unnoticed and will help them in their personal development.
Of course, participation in international exchange projects is useful not only for people with fewer opportunities, but for the widest range of people. New acquaintances, a new environment, like-minded people, the opportunity to spend a lot of time in nature, studying its structure and applying knowledge in practice inspires and energizes me for months ahead. There is a synergy effect when 1 + 1 = 3. As they say, it’s better to see it once than to hear about it a hundred times. The doors are open to everyone.

Eco-perspectives

Since I took part in the training for the so-called green organizations, I will touch on the prospects for eco-direction. Today, centers of nature education and all kinds of green initiatives around the world are becoming more and more in demand. Why? I think the most important thing is that they can really help change the destructive course that humanity has taken since the industrial revolution, and preserve our planet for future generations.
Each of us either causes damage or causes benefits through our actions. Today, everywhere we are faced with the destructive results of anthropogenic impact on the environment, which in turn harms us ourselves. We simply cannot continue to destroy the world around us, as we have done so far! At the same time, intimidation will not help the cause. For sustainable environmental results, people need inspiration, knowledge, and opportunities to gain and share new creative experiences and good habits.
The transformational effect observed by the participants of such projects is largely due to the new balanced environment, where, surrounded by nature and people who are looking for, finding and strengthening themselves, everyone can honestly and non-judgmentally look inside themselves and feel what really drives them.
Will the one who has love in their heart and harmony in their soul, barbarously destroy their own home and themselves? It seems that we tend as a society en masse to act from a deep inner deficit in love and acceptance, suffer from a lack of harmony, lose or abandon ourselves, and strive to compensate for this with money and things. By and large, we have become consumers but potentially we all are creators. Veiled aggression towards ourselves and overt aggression towards the surrounding space leads to the destruction of ecosystems and ourselves.
A person who is in contact with themselves, their feelings and their inner strength is a creative and happy person. Such a state is available to everyone, and it is in cooperation with nature that we receive a link to this deeper fulfillment.

If you are looking for partners…

In conclusion, I will briefly tell you about the organizations that were represented at the training. Perhaps, after reading the description and familiarizing yourself with their web-pages, you want to invite them to participate in your future project, volunteer to them, or find other ways of mutually beneficial cooperation.
I wish you inspiration, perseverance and great opportunities to create the future of your dreams with Erasmus+ and like-minded people around the world!

The participants of the Erasmus+ training in Ängsbacka

Bulgaria, Green School Village is a non-profit association established in Bulgaria with the aim of harmonious personal development and sustainable community life. The organization brings together architects, urbanists, marketers, cultural specialists, etc. The team focuses on permaculture, natural construction and continuing education. https://greenschoolvillage.org/

Estonia. NGO Kids Outdoors started the first outdoor kindergarten in Estonia in 2014 and today has 30 kids and 5 full time teachers promoting outdoor education, sustainable development and benefits of unstructured free play. They have also shared their experience in national and international seminars (Nordic Council of Ministers funding) and in a university pedagogics course, organized and hosted workshops for kindergarten teachers and education enthusiasts and are planning to practice more outdoor education in Estonia. https://lapsedoue.com/meist 

Estonia. Step-programme promotes the increase in occupation level among the youth aged 15-26 who have committed administrative or criminal offenses and neither study nor work at the moment. The STEP programme helps these individuals go to work or study. The STEP programme is the only programme in Estonia at present that helps youngsters who have committed crimes to get a job. www.step.ee

The World Cleanup Day (started in Estonia) is one of the biggest civic movements of our time, uniting 180 countries across the world for a cleaner planet. World Cleanup Day on 19 September 2020 united 11 million people across 166 countries. All these environmental heroes came out despite the challenges of 2020. Since 2018, World Cleanup Day has brought together millions of people for the biggest waste collection day in human history. In 2018, 17.6 million and in 2019, 21.2 million environment heroes joined in on an epic 36-hour green wave of cleanups across the globe – beginning in New Zealand and traveling around the world before ending in Hawaii. https://www.worldcleanupday.org/ 

Estonia. Small Footprint. Väike Jalajälg (Small Footprint) is located in Mõisamaa manor Estonia since 2014. They believe that the creation of new and sustainable life is possible through practical everyday life experience, by living and working in an intentional community. The members of Small Footprint are connected by a common understanding of the sustainable operation of community through all four aspects – ecological, social, economic and worldview. The purpose of Small Footprint community is to promote sustainable values and community lifestyle. Developing interpersonal relationships based on trust and cooperation is also very important for them. https://vaikejalajalg.ee/en

Estonia. Pahkla Camphill Community. Pahkla Camphill Village was founded in 1992 and has ever since tried to create a living environment that fosters the development of skills and abilities of adults with special needs. This is done through participation in the village activities such as household work, stable work, handicraft workshops, gardening, etc., giving everyone the opportunity to feel appreciated and a valuable member of society. A lot of the activities revolve around the farm, offering a range of opportunities for meaningful and fulfilling engagement. In the creamery cows are being milked and milk is being processed into cheese, yoghurt, cottage cheese and sour cream. https://pahklack.org/home/ 

France. Grain & sense, created in 2019, GRAIN & SENS is a place of life and activities whose common desire is to find a fairer way of living, of cultivating the land, of educating, of achieving oneself within a collective project. It is in Ardèche, on the Lavenant estate, comprising 15ha of meadows and woods , including a majestic beech groove. Today 10 adults and 4 children live together on an Ardèche estate and are developing several projects: https://www.grainandsens.com 

France, The EcoFairly association, created on October 14, 2018, aims to educate the population in an ecological and sustainable way of life; the promotion of eco-responsible behavior for a change in consumption patterns; the development of knowledge in eco-construction. Since its creation EcoFairly has been actively working to forge international partnerships to implement its action. https://ecofairly.org/

Germany. Eco-village Sieben Linden has existed since 1997 with the aim of introducing a holistic and sustainable worldview while minimizing the ecological footprint and maintaining a high standard of living. The village is home to 100 adults and 40 children. Form of organization: cooperative. https://siebenlinden.org/de/start/

GEN Europe is the European network for ecovillages and sustainable communities with a vision of a conscious, resilient and sustainable Europe where ecovillage and community values and lifestyles are widely adopted. GEN Europe is part of the Global Ecovillage Network: an ever-growing network of thousands of regenerative communities and initiatives that bridges cultures, countries, and continents through its five regional networks and its international youth branch, NextGEN. https://gen-europe.org/about-gen-europe/who-we-are/ 

Germany. Community ZEGG – Center for Experimental Social and Cultural Design. Throughout the year, the center hosts trainings, seminars, workshops and festivals. The community has 100 permanent residents. All workshops and festivals are examples of small communities where participants can experience the essence of a holistic approach to life. https://www.zegg.de/en/

Greece. The Hives project is a civic social entrepreneurship project targeting three main areas: culture, education and the environment. We are closely associated with EU youth policy and promote youth mobility through programs such as Erasmus+. https://www.hivesproject.eu

Greece. Cob is engaged in natural building and bioclimatic architecture, which provides enormous environmental and economic benefits. Participants take a structured approach that focuses on the use of natural, local, carefully selected or even recycled materials, simple tools and methods. It also focuses on energy, food, crops and, more generally, anything that can make our footprint on planet Earth easier and more equitable. www.cob.gr

Holland. The Dutch Eco-Settlement Network (EcodorpenNetwerk, GEN-NL) was founded in 2015 with the aim of bringing together community initiatives, sharing knowledge and experience and working together. There are about 40 initiatives in Holland, about 12 of which are members of GEN-NL. www.ecodorpennetwerk.nl.

Italy. Borgo Basino is a vibrant learning community combining education, networking and wellness on a small multi-functional farm, a center for agricultural innovation. www.borgobasino.org

Italy. Giardino della Gioia is an ecovillage that promotes a careful and respectful attitude towards nature, natural life cycles and all living things. The ecovillage was established in March 2011 in the magnificent location of Gargano in Puglia. Here they study and apply the principles of permaculture, hold events, welcome volunteers and like-minded people. www.giardinodellagioia.it/en/home-en/

Italy. Associazione Kora was founded in August 2015 to promote social and cultural awareness for its members (mainly youth) through outdoor life, socialisation opportunities, nutrition and sustainability. Kora is situated in Passignano sul Trasimeno in the educational farm “La Buona Terra”, where it collaborates with other entities who have their activities on the farm. https://associazionekora.it/

Iberian Ecovillage Network RIE (Red Ibérica de Ecoaldeas) is among the oldest networks of ecological community projects in Europe. Currently the association has 37 members in Spain and Portugal, mostly consisting of ecovillages, intentional communities and sustainable settlements. RIE has been active in the field of youth and adult education for more than 20 years, and it takes a distinct stand for an open source approach to knowledge and education: already in 2012 an innovative, interactive and participatory IT-platform was created for community projects to share tools and solutions. RIE develops network tasks, diffusion of sustainable models, training in best practices and green innovation. In 2017, young members from RIE started collaborating with other young people from different ecovillages and sustainable projects in Europe and together they created a network of young people and youth workers called Yes To Sustainability, whose aim is to open the doors of European ecovillages to young people. Since then, RIE has collaborated in several youth exchanges and youth workers mobilities both as coordinating and sending organization, and in several KA2 projects. (ecoaldeas.org)

Slovakia. Zajezova is a widely spread village consisting of settlements belonging to the municipality of Pliešovce in the county of Zvolen. The greater part of its original inhabitants has gradually moved away during the second half of the 20th century. From 1991 several NGOs have started to be active in Zajezova – their focuses being traditional handicrafts, folk architecture and environmental issues. https://zajezka.sk/en/onas 

Spain. Molino de Guadamalsí It is a small community and laboratory of community living experimentation that started in 2005 is part of the Global Ecovillage Network. It is located in the southern most point of continental Europe in front of Africa in the straight of Gibraltar. Tarifa (Cádiz) Spain. It has a wide variety of small demonstration constructions
https://www.molinodeguadalmesi.com/

Spain, eco-village Valdepielagos. The project started in 1993. There are 30 houses of two floors and a basement, with land of 750 square meters with gardens. The heating works with solar panels through underfloor heating with the support of a gas boiler. The houses have been made in bioconstruction with bioclimatic design. https://numundo.org/center/spain/ecoaldea-de-valdepielagos

Sweden. Charlottendal’s farm is a small ecological community with six households using alternative energy and sewage technology, a handful of yurts and buses, and a Waldorf kindergarten. The purpose of Charlottendal is to develop different types of activities on a small farm, with a permaculture perspective that integrates animals, gardens and nature with social and educational aspects. http://charlottendal.se/ 

Sweden. Ängsbacka is a Course and Festival Center for personal and spiritual growth located in the beautiful deep forests of Värmland, Sweden. Ängsbacka supports people in their paths to sustainable development, well-being and harmony. For over 20 years Ängsbacka served as an internationally renowned source of inspiration and meeting place where tens of thousands of people have participated in our events, courses and volunteering programs. https://www.angsbacka.com/about-angsbacka/

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