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"The Rainbow Caravan for Peace" by Josh Trought published July 2004

La Caravana Arcoiris por La Paz: A Story of Adventure and Realization

My name is Josh Trought. My home is an organic farm in New Hampshire named D Acres. The farm project hosts apprentices and work traders in an attempt to develop a sustainable farm system and provide a realistic learning center for acquiring organic farming and sustainable living skills within the culture of rural New Hampshire. Despite my prior experiences in community living, during the first five years of the project, I learned that the most difficult part of sustaining a farm system is not the demanding physical labor but instead the non-physical labor; the interpersonal, the spiritual, the commitment to the group, the land and rural community. To learn how to address these non-physical elements of a group project more successfully, I decided to travel to other philosophically similar communities to view and interact first hand.

Towards this end, I enrolled in a course on sustainability presented at the Gaia ecovillage near Buenos Aires, Argentina. During this course the students and habitants interacted and personally experienced the triumphs and dilemmas of community life. I discovered that Gaia and the students were experiencing many of the same quandaries that we were encountering at D Acres. On the physical plane, a positive cash flow can grease the wheels of an organization. Money can increase the material standard of living. Extra-organizational revenue and investment can provide the inhabitants with greater opportunities for diverse food products, medical care, and amenities that are comforting. The goals of a project can be accelerated by extra-organizational financial investments in labor and infrastructure, but long-term will not be the determinant of success.

The non-physical dilemmas of a community are not as easily notated on the balance sheet. I will attempt to present a brief list of the reoccurring dilemmas that group projects face. First, it is time consuming and energy intensive to recruit and retain experienced long term members for a project of this nature where income is low and hard physical labor is expected. The media, the general public, friends, and family can support the project but long-term day-to-day commitment is difficult to achieve. Also within a group, there is always some disenchantment about the hierarchy of decision-making and division of labor. Those with greater levels of personal and financial investment may feel disrespected while new members may feel their input is ignored. Personality clashes and disagreements over the day-to-day specifics can escalate to the detriment of the project. While all members can agree to the mission of a project, the physical and emotional work required to manifest this vision can drain the energy of the group.

Steps Towards Solutions

One of the workshops offered at Gaia dealt with consensus decision-making. This process provides a powerful tool to deal with these non-physical dilemmas. The workshop was facilitated by Alejandra Balada, a sister of the organizer of the course. Alejandra spoke of an enduring project that she was about to rejoin. The project was a mobile ecovillage that was currently in Ecuador. I saw a South American HBO video on the group and over the next two weeks realized this group would be my next stop.

Alejandra agreed to my company for the next five days as we traveled between Christmas and New Years. We spent over 100 hours in seven buses without sleeping in a bed. We arrived in Olon, Ecuador to a magical scene. A giant circus tent was erected directly on the beach with rainbow flag proudly mounted from the top post. Two colorfully painted school buses and a scout vehicle augmented the base camp. Tents, laundry, dish washing station and theatre props created a maze of activity. Solar power provided lights and music for the circus tent. Jugglers, fire artists, clowns and stilt walkers from many countries interacted as the day's duties of cooking, cleaning, and preparing for theatre presentations transpired. This provided quite a special place to watch the sun set over the Pacific and await the Gregorian New Year.

La Caravana Arcoiris por La Paz (the Rainbow Caravan for Peace) is an intentional social project, composed of a group of people from different parts of the World. The caravan has been traveling the Americas since 1996 in a changing number of vehicles developing and implementing workshops, conferences, audiovisuals, performances, training, artistic, and cultural events.It is a registered NGO in Spain. It was conceived at the Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico in 1995. The point of departure for the caravan was the ecovillage of Huehuecoyotl in Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico. Huehuecoyotl was founded in 1982 by many members of the "The Illuminated Elephants Traveling Gypsy Company". The original bus that is the heart of the caravan, Mazorca (corncob), was donated by Bea Briggs of Wisconsin. The group intended to travel seven months to the destination of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. After almost seven years and 13 countries they are currently in Peru.

The mission objectives are diverse but interrelated. The group endeavors to support and serve as a bridge to connect cultures, movements, organizations, bioregional networks and individuals from around the Americas, fostering among them a better ecological consciousness, a healthy and harmonious life in relationship with Nature, as well as self-management, peace and sustainability for local communities, with profound respect for the Earth and all the living creatures that inhabit her. The caravan functions as a Living and Learning Center that contributes to the creation and the empowerment of information networks and initiatives that implement activities related to these objectives.

An objective is to learn from ancestral indigenous cultures and defend them. Acknowledge their customs, territories, spiritual beliefs, protect their places, routes and sacred centers, inspiring them to maintain their basic values and to establish links with other ancestral communities and other non-indigenous projects with similar purposes. The caravan is model of mobile sustainable ecovillage, which promotes community life, arts, spiritual growth, all on the basis of respect and understanding as a way to bring peace. In this manner, the experience acquired by its members will contribute to the creation of future social leaders with consciousness and spiritual non-dogmatic sensibility. In addition the group intends to promote, support, rescue and learn sustainable alternatives to development, new and traditional, related to the use, protection, and improvement of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources.

The members are as diverse as the mission but interrelated as well because they join aware of the mission. Over the seven years almost 300 people from more than 20 countries have been members of the caravan.People of all interests, ages, races and religious affiliations learn and create sustainable living habits and community building skills. The variety of skills shared in the group changes on the basis of the talents of the people present at any given time. The talents include singing, dancing, juggling, puppetry, acting, painting, and ceramics. Experts may include, drummers and other musicians, theatrical producers, costumers, alternative energy, bioregional construction, and nutritional specialists.

Decisions in the caravan are made by the participants. There is an established hierarchy to the decision making process. There are currently three types of membership: visitors, aspiring members, and crew. The visitors are short-term passengers required to contribute a modest financial contribution and physically participate in the day-to-day operations. Their ideas and opinions are welcomed during consensus meetings to which they are invited but their decision-making is limited. The aspiring members have a long-term interest in becoming crew members. The may impart opinions at the group meeting but are limited in their group decision making capabilities. This system gives precedent to the established crew of the group. These "pillars" have thoroughly demonstrated a sense of belonging to the group, responsibility and commitment to the project and its mission. This is a group that is attempting to create a better way to make decisions, based on consensus and guided the the experience of the older members. The goal is to erase hierarchial relationships, acknowledging the limitations that newer people might have and improving communication tools to create just agreements.

The infrastructure of the caravan currently consists of two school buses, a scout vehicle, and a trailer. The buses are equipped with a commercial scale stove, water purification system, and storage space for the audiovisual and records of the caravan. There is a 500-person capacity circus tent that provides space for theatre, workshops, and community interactions. The buses are equipped with solar power and have the capacity to transport the theatre production equipment and the personal belongings of the crew. Generally the caravan searches for a base in the proximate localidad before setting off on the road. The base consists of a secure location with sufficient water. Prior camps have been the centers of indigenous villages, university campuses, abandoned schools, municipal buildings, and private homes.

Who Pays For This?

The expenses of the caravan are paid in a number of ways. At times all that can be asked is to pass a hat after a performance or donations of food. The members also contribute fees establishe based on their status with the group. The group raises funds from other organizations, NGOs, private companies and individuals. Group developed products such as recycled and natural handcrafts, music, clothes, and other services are marketed. Also workshops and conferences are designed to pay at least the cost of the operation. Marketing of audiovisuals produced by the group is being explored as an avenue to receive revenue. As with many such operations there is rarely enough money to cover modest costs and the crew sees few amenities.

Day to Day

Life on the caravan is an adventure. Day to day living with creative folks from all walks of life, with distinct ages, experiences and language abilities can be exhilarating and tedious. The group is exposed to breathtaking examples of Mother Nature. Successful theatre presentations end with choruses of applause and hugs from every child in the square. Members have the opportunity to live and work in indigenous communities. Lifetime friendships and loves are the norm. But at times the members are physically exposed to hardships such as mosquitoes, dubious food and water sources, varied hours of meals, lack of bathing facilities, lack of personal privacy, etc.. These hardships are common for the people of the regions but can be a shock to volunteers not accustomed to this reality. Participants come from diverse financial backgrounds. Some travelers are accustomed to living amply with less than $20 week and the associated amenities while others might be hard press to live without a budget of at least $500 a week. Within this web of personalities, backgrounds, talents and experiences are also the underlying differences in culture north and south, Spanish and English. The rhythms, sacrifices, ethics and personalities of the group can vary greatly over time depending on its current participants. What holds the people together is the mission, the belief that as a group you can help this world be a better place for future generations.

The caravan is always interested in potential new members and the return of experienced members. Currently they are implementing a training and refocus period every three months to introduce new members to the mission and allow the old members a period to stimulate the creativity that can dissipate after months on the road. The caravan is interested in people who have the financial means to share in costs and willingness to work a minimal of 4 hours per day. The group allows no contraband, such as illegal drugs. People with life experiences and sustainable skills are welcomed particularly those trained in theatre working with children, alternative energy, eco-construction, motor vehicles maintenance and biodiesel technology. To learn more about the project, please contact www.lacaravana.org or info@lacaravana.org

Lessons Learned

My trip to South America was a personal success. I learned about my country and myself. I have established great friendships and acquired knowledge about how people survive without cash in hand. I am continuing to learn about community, perceptions of success and disappointments. I feel that people must feel committed to the established mission of a project to be successful. Then they must work and interact with commitment but also need the freedom to come and go to achieve their personal goals. I am reminded that interpersonal respect at all levels of a community hierarchy is a necessity for successful living. I see that people take on different levels of participation perhaps by nature, and that there must be agreement on that level of commitment and the minimum required by each project. Above all I realize there is a need to set guidelines. Although I detest rules, there seems to be a need to set parameters for interactions, and to established interpersonal boundaries for people to work in communities with a mission. These guidelines need to be presented and understood by all the participants and there must be established techniques to deal with conflicts. The development of communities and projects has no set formula. It takes time, sacrifice and difficult moments to arrive at arrangements and agreements that function. We are only human but we can succeed with good intentions and effort.


Josh Trought

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