Author: Victoria Schou, landscape architect. Denmark
The medieval village of Torri Superiore is a small jewel of popular architecture located at the foothill of the Ligurian Alps, a few kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea and the French border, close to the coastal town of Ventimiglia. Originating in the thirteen century, the village is structured in three main bodies with more than 160 rooms, all connected by an intricate fabric of stairways.
Its complex structure has often been compared to a fortress or a labyrinth, perched on the mountainside. The village has been entirely restored and is now open to ecotourism, for courses, meetings and programs of environmental education, and offers an accommodation for stays and vacations. It is perfect for people interested in getting to know Ecovillage Life and looking for a holiday in a natural environment full of suggestions. This was the place, where the training for ‘Young Leaders for Sustainability’ took place.
This training course was made for current and aspirant youth workers to learn tools to work with young people in ecovillages and sustainable projects. Participants from Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia, France, Finland, Sweden, Greece and the Netherlands came with the motivation to become young leaders and developing their leadership skills.
The first days we had an introduction to group facilitation and we explored ourselves in relation to the group and different leadership styles. We have been introduced to different tools to work with groups of young people, especially related to life in ecovillages. After having had these theoretical lessons we got to put our new skills into practice during sessions of groupwork, where the goal was to facilitate a workshop ourselves. The participants had many fun and interesting inputs on what to facilitate a workshop on and how to structure it. We split in five groups with , and the topics of the workshops ended up being: ‘The Jounrey from Fear to Love’, ‘Finding your Personal Gift’, ‘Shadow Work’, ‘Menstruation’ and ‘Lunch’. These topics were prepared as workshops for sharing knowledge and experience from one participant to the other. During one and a half day of groupwork, the workshops were discussed, prepared and refined, so that we were able to hold space for each other.
Tools for holding space
Sociocratic methods of decision making were used to create a safe room for everybody to be in. The first day measures for Covid19 was discussed in the group, where everyone could share their thoughts and feelings on the topic. Some of us were so touched in their heart by restrictions and the urgency, that we were crying and shouting. This is the truth we live in and we see it better to express our feelings, than to suppress.
Together we are going through the process of accept, holding space, letting everyone be heard. While we wear a mask, when we speak, sanitize our hands after touching and keep distance of each other. We are living together, sharing our inner thoughts and feelings, when there is no room for touching or embracing.
We have learned skills in communication, facilitation, leadership and entrepeneurship during this training for sustainability. Lucilla is the local Italian woman living in Torri Superiore, taking part of the training as a co-facilitator. She is experienced in facilitating meetings in a positive and efficient manner to serve the association or organization to the best.
Jasper Keus from Finland has expressed himself about what the training has helped him to understand:
“For me the experience was very eye-opening. I found people with willpower and knowledge for solutions to the world crisis and ways to make them more possible. I found hope. Now I can connect with people who I know have made an effort to understand each other and themselves. People who are capable of facing conflicts and accepting our differences. It’s making us capable to work together.
We lived together for a whole week. It was special to share our backgrounds and experiences while using the tools we were gaining from the training.
I’ve learned a lot with leading and facilitating a group and I will definitely put these things into practice. I’m willing to learn more and go deeper into the art of leadership.”
Conflict management and communication
One of the main components of the teaching was how to handle conflict and communicate in a group, but also with your peer people. Communication at the basis is about how we exchange information with each other. Our values and our personality are recognized through communication, which can happen through three channels: verbal, para-verbal and non-verbal. If there is a duality in any of these three, there will be a miscommunication.
When a conflict arises, it will cause an emotional reaction between the people involved in the conflict. These feelings will be disagreement and discomfort. The discontent is rooted in the fact that there are two arguments going against each other, which is what the conflict arises from. Two different expectations of what was needed and requested creates the disagreement. This situation can create discomfort and our feelings will be hurt, sad, angry or disappointed. As a facilitator it is important to be able to recognize and distinguish what disagreement evokes emotions and analyze the situation from a more objective point of view. In this way a resolution to the conflict can be found when both parts are heard and understood from the basis of this understanding.
A big part of the learning was as Jasper expresses not only done in the formal training sessions, but also during lunch and at the jam after dinner. In this way we got to know each other and create new relations across Europe. I personally feel the courage and wonder of what we can do as a group. We have the common mindset that we want the change to happen through personal effort. If we all do a little in our place in the world, together we can change the world. I have learnt to step up in front of a crowd and tell the story I want to live.