School Sustainable Practices “El Paso del La Danta” Images
In the first of our blog series on “Heroes”, talking about real people who affect change for people and planet, we feature Jose Medina. Jose, otherwise known as “Chema”, and his wife had a vision for a school in sustainable practices in their adopted country – Costa Rica. It is inspirational for many reasons, but mostly for its emphasis on empowering young people to become community change-makers. I asked Chema about how it all started, the success they have had, and what their future vision encompasses.
Motivation to Set Up “El Paso de la Danta”
– School in Sustainable Practices
For Chema it all started in NYC in 1972, while he was studying Anthropology, Semiotics, and Statistics. At this time MIT published the “Limits of Growth” by petition of the Club of Rome. This was the world’s first report on the condition of the planet. It’s premise was that the earth’s interconnected resources – the ecosystem in which we all live – most likely could not support the contemporary rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100, even with advanced technology. Sadly, the situation today seems to not only echo this premise, but plays it loud and clear in full surround stereo.
An Alternative Way of Life
Having taken this warning seriously, Chema became convinced that an alternative way of life was the only solution. Eventually he found himself in Costa Rica. Going back to Spain to explain his decision to his family, he met his wife and happily, they both returned to Costa Rica together to pursue their “alternative way of life”.
Chema had always imagined creating an ‘Arts and Vocational Crafts School’ and together they combined it with the then new concept of sustainability. By 1992 they had bought a farm and started to put into practice their projection of a ‘sustainable way of life’. During this time, Chema was hired as a consultant by the Neo-Tropical Foundation (Fundación Neotrópica) which is a nonprofit Costa Rican organisation dedicated to promoting “activities that affect the economic and environmental assessment of natural resources and the fair and equitable sharing of environmental goods and services”.
Empowering Young People
Through this work on sustainable development programmes in rural Costa Rica, he realized the need for educational programmes to empower young people. It was then 2006. By 2009 local community leaders had approached Chema. They asked questions about the 2008 economic crash. His warnings that eventually this would happen for a while had come true. And it is then that they all came together with the idea of making the school as a truly ‘grass roots’ initiative.
“El Paso de la Danta” became a school based on sustainable, regenerative practices, and arts and vocational crafts. Some subjects are mandatory while others are on a selection basis. On the pilot programme they presented:
- biological farming
- ecological constructions
- natural economics
- holistic health
Here is Chema talking about the project (in Spanish – English subtitles).
Great Results and Programme Development
The pilot was a very smooth operation with great results. On a developing program they would add other disciplines such as music, dance, and theatre. In addition, earth crafts such as wood working, bamboo, ceramics, weaving, metallurgy, and animal husbandry would be the primary subjects. The purpose is not so much that they learn these disciplines. Key is that it empowers the students to return to their communities and become role models. Thereby affecting a multiplying effect.
The idea is it to further develop a domain designed village around the school where students, teachers, faculty, and support personnel will live there with their families. It is their own model but inspired by Montessori, Waldorf, and Shchetinin’s schools as presented by Vladimir Merge.
Obstacles to Development of a “Village School”.
The biggest obstacles to further development, according to Chema, are the financial ones. The original programme was mostly financed by donations from local businesses, neighbours, and of course themselves. In addition, the original pilot project began from their own home, which is large and could accommodate twenty students comfortably. However, a bigger developed project would require a sizeable initial investment in infrastructure, dormitories, classrooms, tools, staff housing, salaries and and so on.
Chema envisions the financing of the the school, to start with, as a yearly allowance by patronizing groups or individuals and donations from those that would want to be part of the project. But after a prudential period, the village school would be financially independent. How would that work? It would produce its own resources, food, crafts, soft technologies, and services to the bio region in which they would be marketed. And at the same time, it would be a model of a working sustainable practices village for other communities to explore so as to develop their own.
An Organically Grown Model – Sustainable Practices Village
As of yet, Chema and his wife have not been very successful in obtaining initial financing for infrastructure of the village project, mostly because of potential financier’s restrictive conditions and requirements that they feel will impede the project. An important part of the project is that its development would be greatly influenced by the students themselves, which means it can take unexpected turns. They set the foundations and the school grows on it own – dynamically and organically – with supervision. In this concept, management is kept to a minimum and the leadership is based on three integrated groups; the council of elders (formed by local community leaders ), a school instructor council, and a student council. This is their vision. These groups would meet periodically and upon request of any of the members groups while overall supervision is done by the Association, which are the legal entity, by law the must meet at least once a year or upon request by the administrative board.
Chema and “El Paso de la Danta” – School for Sustainable Practices are open for suggestions and participation. Right now they are only doing seminars, until they find the adequate financial resource. It’s a truly admirable project that deserves consideration. What better mission than to empower young people in their communities? True heroes are people that follow their own vision to create something better than we have today. Don’t you think?
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