Greetings from overcast Bern. It has been another wonderful week here at GESA. We started off the week with discussions on spirituality in environmental justice issues with great speaker (Alastair McIntosh) from Scotland. Listening to Alastair reminded me of reading Wangari Maathai’s book ‘Spiritual values for replenishing ourselves and the planet’. We had other discussion of environmental justice issues led by Ashish Kothari from India. He presented some very interesting case studies of communities taking their destiny in their own hands and defining their development objectives.
Ashish also talked about a website they have created that showcases inspirational community driven initiatives in India. These include alternative schooling (we are all in agreement that the education system is in need of serious reform, right?), self community mobilization among the ‘untouchables’ who are oppressed by the caste system (a restoration of people’s dignity and confidence) and community resource governance initiatives. You can read more about these projects here. We often hear more about what is not working and get preoccupied with a gloomy analysis on how bad things are and all the good initiatives get swallowed in the negativity. It is heartening to know that there are people who are thinking and doing things differently.
We also got to tour the food ways of Bern and visit projects that are engaged in some very innovative work to reduce food waste. For example there is a company that buys all the rejected food (according to EU standards) and cooks meals which they then sell at subsidized prices. Later in the week, we visited the Swiss Development Corporation and had a very interesting discussion about Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). These are supposed to succeed the Millennium Development Goals(MDG’s) when the world meets in Paris in September 2015.
There were some very well thought out critiques from our end e.g. Goal no 1 is to end poverty. One of the participants asked why we are preoccupied with poverty instead of working on reducing wealth if the challenge we face in the world is too few wealthy people/countries and may poor people or countries. Another critique was that the SDG’s are not keen on upsetting the status quo. There are no any strong measures to prevent exploitation of the poor or the environment. We are entrenched in a predatory capitalistic system that benefits few at the expense of the many. Up and until when we can have a honest conversation about that and concrete actions to address that, gross global inequalities will continue to be an issue. There cannot be an end to poverty when the economic system we have is sustained by poverty i.e. extract from the poor, get fabulously wealthy and then tell them that you are helping them develop.
At the end of thee week we had a very interesting session with another summer Academy group that is dealing in food sovereignty (having decision making powers on what to grow, where,when, how etc) issues. We also talked about the land grabbing in the global south. I was stunned to hear the facilitator mention that 80% of the land that Switzerland depends on is not in Switzerland. It is in other countries. This then leads to the question – what is a country or a nation state? If, say, Switzerland benefits from Ghanian land, why shouldn’t a Ghanian live in Switzerland without going through the whole de-humanising process of acquiring visas or being labelled as illegal immigrant? I use Ghana as an example because we all love Swiss Chololate but cocoa does not grow in Switzerland. It grows in countries like Ghana and others. How many Swiss people have ever seen a cocoa plant? or even know what it takes to grow cocoa? It is not too difficult to see that there is something very wrong in this world on multiple fronts.
I must say I am really enjoying this learning experience and looking forward to next week and beyond.
Yours most sincerely,
Gloria Kendi Borona