This article is written by Claudia Gómez-Portugal in the scope of the Stream towards Degrowth. As a Mexican activist and promoter of social change she founded the organization SAKBE - Commons for Social Change and the Free Learning Communities for Life Initiative - and commits herself to developing communication strategies for social change, effective participation, learning networking and community revitalization.

To build and nurture sustainable communities:

One of today’s most important challenges is to build and nurture sustainable communities. Current environmental, social and existential crises, among others, increasingly lay bare the unsustainability of the global development model. In order to face this systemic crisis we have to recognize the need to create new structures and forms of organization that integrate learning processes into all our life dynamics and contribute to the paradigm shift from being predators of life to being sustainers of life. Today, free learning and education for life are key elements of the progress towards knowledge societies that are able to effect coherent changes according to diverse contexts and needs and to achieve a sustainable present in which we can recognize and regenerate existing connections and relationships with the earth, society and our inner being more harmoniously.

Building new structures and organizational forms that integrate a type of learning that is centered on the regeneration of life is fundamental. Beyond the concept of sustainability, recognizing our interconnectedness involves the construction of sustainable communities and knowledge about how we sustain such communities and life in community—starting from working in particular contexts and between peers. We urgently need to learn how to be community, and being community, learn how to sustain life, as entities who are part of it.

We are an organization that currently devotes much of its efforts to building and nurturing the initiative "Free Learning Communities for Life". The initiative seeks to create propitious contexts of learning in form of a commons —for both children and adults— around the reflection and action on recovering the possibility to learn and live on this planet. It takes up the approach of education for life that focuses on the need to understand how life is sustained and how we take part in this sustaining process based on the multiple and varied ways in which we live — thereby recognizing ourselves, in relation to and in cooperation with others and with nature. As Satish Kumar states, we cannot live apart from each other; we need each other. The journey of education is to learn how to work together which is the great challenge facing humanity.¹

What we are doing:

Learning for Life is a new work line for us that has become essential both for our organizational concept and for our innovation strategies for the commons — learning, communication and knowledge as a condition for change. We work with families, local actors, people interested in deep ecology and free thinkers through three dimensions: action, dialogue and reflection, and build community. For the first, we organize lifelong learning practices focused on two actions: creating community orchards and discovering life in the region (bioregionalism).

For the second, we are generating a discursive proposal through the dialogue with different activists, thinkers, initiatives and organizations related to free learning, alternatives to education and the commons paradigm. We organize cinema debates with kids and parents about related topics, and we are about to start exchange reflection sessions between people from the learning communities in three regions (Tepoztlan-Morelos, Mexico City and Cuautitlan Izcalli-State of Mexico) together with the Universidad de la Tierra² in Oaxaca.

Finally, in the dimension of building community, we have created a learning community in Mexico City and we are setting up a second one at Tepoztlan-Morelos. So far we have organized two encounters of "Free Learning and Education for Life" in which we have started our own orchard. These encounters are meetings for exchanging ideas and knowledge on how to care for the interest and desire to learn, how to offer to both ourselves and our children the possibility to learn in freedom and dignity, how to encourage new forms of conviviality and solidarity organization, how to cultivate joy of life and how to relate to life differently.

SAKBE Commons for Social Change focuses its efforts on reclaiming and regenerating the commons and on building sustainable communities. We work on the agenda for social change around local empowerment, collective construction, free learning and effective participation. Since 2007 we have collaborated with institutions, civil and social organizations, local communities and indigenous groups in order to improve the quality of life and to strengthen democratic participation in environmental and social issues related to post-development, climate change agendas and emerging public policy.

We start from the premise that information, transparency, access to information- and communication technologies, analysis-based participation and collective construction are factors that are closely related to the ability of people to make changes and build new conditions and contexts. We assume that many of the changes that must occur in societies emerge from recovering the organization of life through knowledge sharing, networking and alliances with common goals. And we believe that one of the key moments in any process of change occurs when different groups develop proposals and set spaces for reflection, decision making and action that allow them to improve their living conditions.

Learning and living:

How can we reclaim the possibility to learn and to live on this planet?³ And in this sense, how can we live and work with a greater purpose?4 The way we learn is closely linked with how we live. We learn while we live and we decide how to live on the basis of our learning; if there is a lack of genuine learning we no longer choose how to live. If we want to release learning we have to reclaim the possibility to learn - which requires learning to be integrated into every aspect of life.

In order to boost a paradigm shift, learning has to be understood as a commons, recognizing that education is constantly evolving into the learning of a society by doing; society as a collective and living entity that continuously generates new learnings, ideas and knowledge through the exchange of interests, motivations and needs. Current education systems — although they are meant to teach about life and work— are set outside of a real environment, and are based on curricula that are largely the same whether for a small village or a major world city. This homogenity separates education from the flow of life and limits a real learning that responds to genuine interests and required changes.

Real learning cannot be understood in disconnection from life; free learning is the learning of life. Recovering the possibility of how to live is intertwined with a holistic approach to life, assuming that we are all connected and participate in the weave of life. In this sense, the Free Learning Communities for Life initiative seeks to integrate free learning into family life and into a community environment on the basis of the regeneration of life, starting from the premise that no change will be possible unless we take responsibility for our own dynamics in every aspect of our lives. Its conformation arises as a participative process of free learning, based on the collection and exchange of ideas and the creation of new knowledge.

Systemic proposal:

What do we mean by sustainability of life, and what are the new structures, forms of organization and new commons that are required? How can a new organization help establish a more harmonious relationship with life? How can we face up to educational and non-educational systems that are dissociated from the web of life and promote competitiveness and individualism in direct contrast to collaboration and cooperation in networks?

For Fritjof Capra, the basic pattern of life is the network by which all relationships and connections are supported in continuous collaboration. He points out that ecosystems are living networks of organisms; that organisms are networks of cells, organs and systems; that cells are networks of molecules; and that wherever we see life, we see networks. Capra suggests that living networks in human societies are networks of communications which, like biological networks, are self-generating. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning which give rise to further communications, and thus the entire network generates itself.5

Learning is an active element of society. When the integration and participation of a large number of people is involved, a community it is capable of generating new knowledge; and since communities participate in knowledge or knowledge societies, it is capable of generating the required change from these contexts and its own needs in the face of the major challenges of today. UNESCO recognizes that emerging societies will have to be societies in which knowledge has to be shared in order for them to remain conducive to human and life development: “A knowledge society must ensure the sharing of knowledge as a common good, and must be able to integrate each of its members and promote new forms of solidarity with the present and future generations”.6

The conformation of Free Learning Communities for Life seeks to prove that the initial exercise of sustainability is based on the creation of small learning communities centered on a holistic vision; that the construction of the community itself is an initial learning process to regenerate life; that recovering this possibility — as we grow and learn in relation to others — is the beginning of a new common structure that can contribute to the conformation of an education for life. Friendship is the starting point for the sustainability of life and the generation of new structures; it is an engine of interconnection and generation of networks; it is the first step in any undertaking or project. Like the network, it is the pattern through which we move beyond individualism, indifference and the state of anomie.

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¹ Satish Kumar, “You Are, Therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence”. Green Books Ltd. 2002. One of the most important educators of the twentieth century, and a representative of the deep ecology and a new education for life, founder of Schumacher College and Small School, editor of the British Magazine Resurgence.

² Gustavo Esteva, “Unitierra, the Freedom to Learn”.

³ Gustavo Esteva, Activist promoter of post-development and founder of the “Universidad de la Tierra”.

4 John Holt, “Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better”. 1976. One of the main promoters of free learning and education without schooling.

5 Fritjof Capra, "The Web of Life”. Featured thinker who integrates science, spirituality and concrete actions for social change. Director and founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California.

6 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, “Towards Knowledge Societies. First World Report”. 2005.