Experiential Learning recognises and celebrates the fact that we learn best when our hearts, our heads and our hands are fully engaged, together. Experiential Learning is an ongoing process of transformation which enables participants to become aware of themselves and how they relate to the world around them. It is rooted in peer learning; building relationships, confidence and capacity between individuals and between communities of practice. Experiential Learning is essentially, learning through practice rather than through theory alone, and so it is an antidote to the "expert" syndrome which tends to govern industrial models of learning. Experiential Learning enables and encourages peers to challenge and inspire one another, and to take a stand for what they believe is just.
Through our global network of partners we have developed two potent learning experiences in Botswana and in the Colombian Amazon and supported the development of others.
Botswana: experiential learning and African customary law
Together with a group of peers, Gaia supported what became known as "the Botswana Experience". This process takes place in a traditional 'lodge', Ngwenyama, and is led by two sangomas (traditional healers). Each year, since 2003, a group of 20 leaders from mainly African countries spend five days living in a traditional way. They learn about African customary law, reflecting on the impact of the industrialisation and on their own commitment to pioneer African pathways of dealing with the challenges facing the continent.
At the heart of this experience is the recognition that African traditions, like other indigenous societies, acknowledge that humans are part of a larger Earth community of other species and dimensions of consciousness. As such, humans are accountable to the larger community of life to ensure that they do not disrupt the dynamic equilibrium which maintains the conditions for life to evolve. Diverse African cultures have developed complex ways of complying with the laws which govern life. These are built into their customs and norms, and are regularly affirmed through the celebrations and rites of passage which accompany the changing seasons and the course of peoples' lives.
The Botswana experience laid the foundation for the African Biodiversity Network to support its members to go back to their roots, to work with Elders and to revive traditional ecological knowledge and systems of governance. Most importantly, a new confident leadership is emerging - people rooted in their rich heritage and identity, respectful towards their Elders and communities, and committed to building an African movement for change which adheres to the laws of Nature, our source of life.
Click to read an interview with Fassil Gebeyehu from the Institute for Sustainable Development in Ethiopia. Fassil took part in the Botswana Experience in 2003 and talks to Gaia about the profound impact it had on him and his work with communities thereafter. Visit the Botswana Experience page to find out more about the process and reflections from other previous participants, and watch the film A Story Worth Remembering: Unearthing Africa's Identity.
The [Botswana] process deepened my understanding and consciousness of the relationship between Nature and human communities. If you separate these two elements the whole fabric gets disintegrated and there is total collapse. Nature is like a manual for us to read from. The environmental calamities and the climate change devastations are all as a result of us losing that balance with Nature
Daniel Salau, Kenya
Colombian Amazon: Elder-led processes to strengthen cultural identity and ecological governance
Since 2004, Gaia has organised an annual learning exchange for small groups from the African Biodiversity Network to visit the Colombian Amazon, to experience how indigenous communities there have revived their traditional ecological knowledge and practices and rebuilt their distinct cultural ways. The Elders have led this process of regeneration and, together with the communities, adapted their governance, health and education systems to respond to the current context. The participants witness the approach of Gaia Amazonas and the COAMA (Consolidation of the Amazon) programme in working with communities to strengthen their indigenous territorial rights and ecological governance.
These exchanges opened up a dynamic intercultural dialogue between Africa and the Amazon, which inspired African participants to adapt what they had learnt in their own countries.
Now seven African countries have pioneered similar processes led by Elders which are successfully reviving African ecological knowledge and practices, once thought to be buried forever.
This way of learning, which reflects the Amazonian approach to reviving traditional ways, affirms that working with Elders to revive bio-cultural knowledge is a protent way of building ecological and community resilience.
Visit the Colombian Exchange page to read reflections from past ABN partners who have visited the Amazon as part of this experiential learning process. Also read an interview with Tetu Maingi from Porini Association in Kenya. Tetu visited the Colombian Amazon in 2005 and shares his lasting memories and learnings from the experience.
The experience in the 'malocas' (communal houses), listening to elders, was so enriching. That is how the seed of community dialogues, which we call Community Ecological Governance, started for us in Venda.
Mpatheleni Makaulule, The Mupo Foundation, South Africa