The Ulex Project: An UpdateOn Mon, 30 July, 2018 - 14:46
It is now almost a year since the Ulex Project - an education centre which offers capacity building and training for social movements across Europe - was launched by Ecodharma. Located about 40 kilometres from Ecodharma Retreat Centre, at the edge of a Catalonian village in Spain, Ulex is more physically accessible than the wilder, more mountainous Ecodharma. The building, a renovated farmhouse, can accommodate about 15 to 16 people as well as 2 to 4 facilitators.
We take a look and see how it has been going this first year.
What is the Ulex Project?
The name ‘Ulex’ comes from the Latin word for ‘gorse’ - “a thorny-evergreen flowering shrub, with a high capacity for regeneration and resilience.” While Ecodharma offers courses, events and retreats which “support the realisation of our human potential and the development of an ecological consciousness honouring our mutual belonging within the web of life” making explicit reference to the Dharma, Ulex offers a more secular space, while also being particularly aimed at helping European social movements to develop.
Ulex are currently developing new work to support resilience for activists working in countries which are suffering from the push-back from the far right against progressive values (focusing particularly on Hungary, Poland and Turkey). Their general social movement training is currently working directly with partner organisations in most European countries.
Ulex’s work ranges from understanding inclusion and diversity to movement level strategic thinking as well as regenerative activism. Sustainable activism and managing burnout have increasingly become an important part of capacity development for activists, and Ulex are on the forefront of designing appropriate courses based on identified needs for activists.
The Flavour of the Courses
The Ulex training centre’s programme embodies a three tiered approach in all its training:
We take an integral approach – combining personal, inter-personal and political transformation. We look for systemic responses to systemic challenges – building movement capacity for social justice and ecological integrity. We deepen reflection and strengthen connections for personal and collective empowerment.
The team who run the Ulex Project are all Dharma practitioners (though not all from the same Buddhist tradition) who have a strong collective meditation practice and many of whom worked in Ecodharma previously. Having found that ‘eco’ excludes activists not directly involved in tackling the ecological crisis, and ‘dharma’ excludes those who are not practising Buddhists, the Ulex Project aims to find a way to navigate between this language, and offer Dharmically inspired content to a broader audience.
As part of their courses views are interrogated - particularly those that affect the ability to advocate for justice. Mindfulness and references to the Brahma Viharas are also included, exploring how to resource participants, both personally and in their groups, to carry on their work.
The First Year
Ali Tamit (a facilitator with ‘Resist and Renew’ and a member of End Deportations and Plane Stupid) recently attended a Sustaining Resistance workshop in April / May. ‘Sustaining Resistance’ is a training for trainers to support activist-trainers to develop and deliver trainings on sustainable, grassroots activism. This was the third Sustaining Resistance training for trainers; previous iterations have inspired and supported work across Europe.
Ali wrote in a recent article about the course:-
Why did it [the training] work when other trainings have got stuck in the conflict..? I don’t think there’s a formula for this but I think it had to do with: the space and time to work into the questions and our experiences, feeling trust and being held by the facilitator and each other, a willingness from people to engage in difficult conversations, and the facilitators shifting gears consciously in terms of size of group discussions or whether to stay ‘in the conflict’ or get meta and ask ‘OK, so what’s happening here?’
The first year’s programme at Ulex has finished with a training called Thinking Diversity Radically. The year has been a big success, attracting more than 200 people from more than 20 countries, with more courses aimed at helping the development of pan-European, sustainable social movements, lined up for this autumn.