Two weeks ago, our small delegation from Olympic View traveled with some friends from Unión Victoria to the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán for a two-day workshop on permaculture. This was my fourth time at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute (IMAP) but each time I’m there I learn so much!
Permaculture is a fairly new term. First coined in 1978, it originally referred to a permanent or sustainable way of practicing agriculture. It’s central principle is to work with, rather than against nature. This requires a careful observation of the natural patterns of growth, decay, and flows of energy within ecosystems. These patterns are often quite different from the flows of energy and tremendous pollution and waste generated by the industrialized agriculture to which we have grown accustomed.
By the 1980’s, those studying permaculture began to apply what they were learning to the design of human habitat, social systems, and the material products upon which civilizations depend. Today, permaculture concerns itself primarily with sustaining the earth and its people. Toward this end, it looks for surplus energy and materials that can be recycled into the systems from which they come.
Our friends from Unión Victoria have several challenges handling their own waste. Since there’s no sanitation service, plastic bags have begun to litter the landscape. Without a sewer system, families are constantly digging new latrines to manage their personal waste. When we saw how IMAP turns waste into fertilizer and garbage into building materials, our brains started thinking of how this could transform life in the village. The most concentrated forms of energy don’t need to be taken away. They can be cycled back into the system and the community can find alternative products to replace the things which are hardest to recycle.
Have you ever noticed how it’s always easier to see problems and solutions in the lives of others? I think Jesus commented about that somewhere… Immersing ourselves in the culture of rural Guatemala reminded me of the temptation to try to change others without first looking within my own self for the changes that I need to make. What does permaculture have to teach us about changing ourselves? Continue reading »