The Ecodharma Centre, a Triratna retreat centre in the Spanish Pyrenees, is providing funding and training to help activists in the Ukraine, Russia and other ex-soviet bloc countries.
In partnership with the European Youth for Action Network, the Ecodharma project is bringing a dozen community organisers from eastern and central Europe to its centre in Catalunya to take part in one of its Sustaining Resistance-Empowering Renewal courses.
“It is hard for many people in western Europe to understand the difficulties faced by people trying to do social and environmental work in countries like Ukraine, Armenia and Russia, amid social unrest and increasing political repression,” says Lou Hemmerman, one of the Ecodharma team.“Last time we ran a training for people from the region we gained a lot of insights into the day-to-day struggles of organisersthere. It is hard for them to stay inspired and healthy facing such tough odds.”
In recent years, says Lou, the political climate in many of these countries has been drifting towards the right, with ethnic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies on the increase. “As part of our Social Learning and Empowerment trainings, the Ecodharma project has been able to give young activists there the opportunity to step out of pressing difficulties for a short while; to find space to recharge, reflect, and to gain new insights and skills for renewed and effective engagement.”
Over the last three years the Ecodharma Centre has been combining Dharma-based approaches with participatory education approaches to community and activist training.
“In May we bring activists from 12 central and eastern European countries to join us on the course which will help them share experience and develop approaches to their work that is more personally sustainable and effective,” Lou explains. “Meaningful social action and movement building takes time. Amidst real hardship the rate of burn-out, increasing cynicism and despondency that activists can experience seriously undermines the work. Our trainings have been developed over several years to help change that, so people can stay creative in their work and remain involved for the long haul!”
The team now includes facilitators in three countries and they are currently developing ways to further the spread of the work. This autumn they will run the first “training the trainers” workshop to help pass on the skills and experience they have built up over recent years to grassroots networks. At the same time they are exploring new avenues of funding to build more capacity for this much needed and valued work.