With mixed feelings I arrived in Ecodorp Zuiderveld (Nijmegen, NL). Here everything was prepared for the last meeting of 15 participants of the GEN-WESEEN project. WESEEN is our short name for the exchange project between Eastern and Western European ecovillage networks, set up by GEN Europe with support by Erasmus+.
Upon arrival, we have the pleasure to get to know some newcomers and a warm reunion with the people I have come to know and appreciate so well over the past 2 years. Some of them I dare to call friends now. But probably we will never see some of them again.
Hence the mixture of joy, happy expectation and sad feelings, which I also detect in the others. We were welcomed by the Dutch hosts with a nice quiet house concert.
As with the previous weekends and work weeks, a lot of hard thought, work, organization and planning went into it. We made the evaluation of more than 2 years of exchange and cooperation. And – in addition to the valuable connections and networks within the 6 country platform – on top of the most visible results, many unexpected or less striking realizations came to light. The collaborations between the national associations have been strengthened and broadened, they run more smoothly and new connections were made and initiatives set up.
A few examples. BelgEco, the Belgian network of eco-communities, has risen in its start-up thanks to this background of contacts. The Samenhuizen Open Day is now shared more widely with our northern neighbours. And we are building a permanent collaboration platform, on the one hand between the Netherlands, Belgium and France (GEN-WE), reaching out to Luxembourg and possibly Germany. On the other hand, a collaborative network is emerging between Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary (GEN-SEEN), reaching out to Serbia and possibly other countries in the region. Incidentally, we participated in the ‘conception’ of yet another project proposal between the 6 partners involved.
Between the work sessions we were able to enjoy the warm welcome, care and culinary arts of our Dutch hosts. We were also treated to a diverse cultural programme. We were shown around the Ecodorp Zuiderveld, and also visited IEWAN, an eco-community with the largest straw bale construction in Europe. Another trip taught us more about the history of the city of Nijmegen.
In the evening it was party time, we enjoyed a Dutch trio that performed Eastern European folk songs, an extra treat for the participants from these countries. The last evening there was a free podium , where the people from our group could get to know better and enjoy our diverse cultural backgrounds. And we tasted Belgian and Spanish beer, and tasty snacks.
All in all, this entire weekend was a wonderful and productive end to two fruitful years of intensive collaboration. New connections and networks have been created or strengthened throughout this project. Both differences and similarities have brought us closer together. I myself learned a lot in that time, found a lot of inspiration and hope, and above all, it changed me deeply, more than I expected.
And aren’t these the essential ingredients of the eco-communities themselves? We learn and grow as individuals and as a group. We do this through information, example, experience and connection, and we give it back to the world.
Luk, BelgEco, October 2022