By: Allan Stíobhaird (first published in Uttryck Magazine)
The Syrian Initiative Craftsmanship Ecovillage (SICE) aims to solve migration problems, empowering segregated peoples and integrating them into Swedish society by giving them the tools to pursue a sustainable lifestyle together with native people.
Independent of the rat race
A newly formed NGO, involving a group of Syrian refugees, has taken up an initiative to make use of their asylum in Sweden – they are aiming to build an ecovillage. The principles of an ecovillage are to be intentionally and progressively sustainable. This means to simultaneously solve economic dependence, social anxiety and environmental mismanagement that widely results from the rat race. But in this particular case, it is a solution for people who aren’t even granted entry into the rat race.
The intention of an Ecovillage is to provide as much of peoples’ needs as possible from the locality. Although labour intensive in the beginning, the use of permaculture methods in food cultivation mimics the ecosystem, allowing for the intensive, expensive and environmentally damaging inputs, found in conventional farming, to be avoided. While the board members of the project are searching for land, funding and developing the village design, a group of refugees in Dalarna are using their time to learn permaculture and eco-building techniques. When permission to build commences, the team will use their own labour and use mostly recycled and local materials (clay, straw, wood) to build. Straw-bale houses are very warm and their clay walls allow for breathability, reducing the need for ventilation heat loss. Using urine separation toilets, piss will be purified and used as fertiliser for cultivation and shit will be turned into biogas to provide for heating and cooking fuel.
From war to peace
The project initiator, Fayez Karimeh, studied and worked as an engineer in the environmental sciences for many years, restoring ecosystems and building renewable energy solutions in his home town and countless projects as far as Japan. He left Syria in 2014 during the war and has lost many friends and family members from his home village. He began with a mission before the war and has now come to Sweden with even greater purpose. Fayez had strong connections with The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) before the war, and it was they who housed him for one month in Turkey and another half year in Portugal before he came to Sweden with the ambition to build Ecovillages across the country.
Building freedom from within
Many of the project actors are currently situated in refugee camps far from towns around Sweden. Although their hosts are doing their best to stimulate them, camp life has become quite like a prison for many. They cannot work. They are far from their families. And while it is permitted to travel anywhere in the country, they need to return to the camp in order to be housed and fed. Isolated from all the services and social activities we take for granted, and without the money to pay for transport, many of them are now eager to find more freedom within these constraints.
Freedom: individualism vs. solidarity
Starting an ecovillage is a daunting task, even for affluent Swedish citizens. Besides finding materials, skills, money, land and planning permission to build it, an ecovillage requires dedication and agreement between all of its members. Today, it is easy to be tempted to take an individualist path in life. All you need is a bit of money and you can be on your way to satisfy most of your needs. But there is one priceless need left unfulfilled in rich nations, and it is being substituted by just this individualist consumerism. That is, solidarity.
Individual freedom to make one’s own choices is often confused as being compromised by the idea of things involving collective effort. But a vibrant community spirit should always recognise the value of individual privacy and freedom of thought. Where our thoughts seem to have run ‘wild’ in this apparently civilised society, is that we think so independently of one another that we cannot agree on simple common sense actions such as creating sustainable local economies together – economies that can offer us more freedom than ever before. The greatest barrier to achieving this is people’s willingness to step outside of their comfort zones. It is ironic. In times of old, we were forced to achieve great feats through necessity. Now that we have the ‘luxury’ to achieve what our ancestors never could, we are impaired… or so we think.
Building on our roots
In physical practice, “building an ecovillage is the easiest thing anyone can do”, says Fayez. “My people in Syria have lived in ‘natural’ ecovillages for thousands of years”. People have been doing it since the dawn of our species. Believe me, once you pick up a shovel and get to work, you’ll realise how much easier it is than crouching at a desk. You get out in the fresh air, good exercise and see the results right before you. New pioneers can prove the Ecovillage model to the world, the ecovillage, permaculture and transition movements will spread. They have grown fast since the 1990s and are starting to connect with the masses.
Shit jobs, debt & expenses
If you still want to live up to the expectations of society, it is possible to live both ecologically and superficially. Ecovillages offer an old way of living combined with modern comforts, technology, knowledge and enterprise. It is a more advanced way of living in modernity. Members of an ecovillage can of course choose to work outside of the village. To solve for needs beyond the locally produced food and energy, however, SICE intend to develope social enterprise from within the village. By working together, people have fun and save a lot of time and effort. Why do you have to do so many things independently and individually spend time and money on individualist consumer products and a lifestyle that supports an unsustainable society? The answer is you don’t. But you must be willing to step up to the challenge if you want greater freedom.
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Masters