GCFP GOES TO VENEZUELA
Preface: This report is prepared for the members of GCFP as an acknowledgment of their generous support and financial contributions, and for the record of the activities of the organization.
To facilitate perusing this document, the following references are given:
To keep you abreast of the outreach work that is being done, and to once more explain some of our policies since, from time to time we hear questions about it, especially from new members regarding our interest in the Venezuelan process. It is seen by some as delving into political issues and not in keeping with the spiritual purpose of our community. However, we see everything in the universe as interrelated and the mechanistic approach of separation and specialization as contrary to the holistic viewpoint.
We do not participate in partisan politics but social policies have a strong effect on the human condition and can be a determining factor as to whether a human being is drawn to a spiritual or a materialistic lifestyle. We aspire to participate in bringing the Law of God upon earth and helping to create the conditions for a spiritual environment that will offer support and encouragement for those who feel attracted to the spiritual life. Thus we cannot ignore social issues but rather must lend our hand and work with those who are moving in that direction.
Aside from the partisan politics and the inevitable errors and wrongdoings of the Venezuelan process, the main thrust seems to be in agreement with our position and with the Essene Gospel of Peace of Jesus Christ which we invite you to read at http://www.theessenechurchofpeace.org/essene_gospel_of_peace.htm.
Jesus' concern and focus is on helping the poor and destitute and teaching the foundation of a spiritual life, a healthy body – temple of the spirit. Our obligation therefore is to live a healthy lifestyle and wherever the conditions are present to do so, we must be there.
What must be understood is that political awakening of the citizens is necessary in order to be able to discern whether the social policies being implemented are in agreement with natural, spiritual and cosmic laws or not; in order to be able to call on the politicians who have been entrusted with the responsibility of governing the country.
Now the story of how our Venezuelan sojourn was the result of a combination of events not sought by us, but determined by circumstances.
Twenty years ago, one month before Iris "Kali" Alvarez moved to the U.S. She met Ana Delia Gonzales, a spiritual master from her hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela. She had founded the Rosacrucian School of Maracaibo and after having been invited by Swami Sivananda to India she founded the Divine Life Society of Maracaibo. Mrs. Ana D. Gonzales passed in 1997. Her niece Estela came to Washington, D.C. in 1996 at the initiative of her aunt to stay with Kali in order to assist her in settling down with her new growing family. At the beginning of 2011 Estela, who had visited our ashram when she was in Washington, DC and learned about our connection with the Sivananda tradition called to ask for support and guidance in reviving the Divine Life Society of Maracaibo to honor the wish and memory of her aunt.. She gave the name of Cristina Locatelli, who was willing to take the responsibility but needed help in the ways of yoga and how to go about running the society. Cristina had attained a high degree in the Rosacrucian order. We agreed and asked for the legal status of the Divine Life Society. It took some months for the papers to get here.
In the meantime Alfredo Sfeir Younus founder of the Zambulig Institute (you probably remember him as Alfredo, who has visited and lectured many times at the ashram) called from Chile, asking us to collaborate with him in his master plan for the South of the Border American continent. This plan consists of four parts: Trees for Peace, Greens for Peace, Recycle for Peace and Bees for Peace. He asked us to take responsibility for Greens for Peace starting in Venezuela with the gardening aspect of the Women's Self Reliance Program. So we, with Rose "Mirabai" Lord, director of the Women's Self Reliance program accepted the invitation. This meant a continuation of the program that started in Guatemala and carried to Bolivia and Haiti with hands on teaching, and Africa using the virtual advantage of technology.
Shortly afterwards we received an invitation from Dada Maheshwaramanda, founder of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela, who was organizing the first global conference of Prout, Call for a "Solidarity Economy and Ecology." Dada is a monk from the Ananda Marga Organization from India. We have had good relationships with them for more than 20 years. He is the author of "Beyond Capitalism" which explains the Prout proposal for a new society. The conference was scheduled to be held between the 7th and 9th of July 2011. That determined the dates around which our trip to Venezuela had to be established.
Almost simultaneously Clara Rodriguez of the Venezuelan Embassy who a year back or so had initiated the proceedings to take the WSRP to Venezuela called us to invite us to a meeting with an indigenous representative from the tribes in Maracaibo. They were very interested in having the Women's Self Reliance Program taken to their people. By this time it seemed pretty obvious that the trip should include a visit to Maracaibo, both for the Divine Life Society revitalization and the Women's Self Reliance Program.
An intensive Teachers Training Course was considered necessary to give The Divine Life Society a good start and plans got underway.
Then the first awakening came, it was that the WSRP for the Greens for Peace project was not going to be initiated in Caracas where the Prout conference was being held but rather in Puerto La Cruz, an eight-hour drive from Caracas. The second one was that the project with the tribes in Maracaibo could not happen in that time frame so, we ended up in two different locations.
The starting dates also changed, the PROUT Global Conference leading the way. Kali and Vyasa (both Spanish speaking) took the responsibility of attending the conference to present the project you all know, "Aparigraha a New Economic Paradigm for a Culture of Peace". We were invited to stay at the premises of the Institute, but Carolina a valued member of our community happened to be in Venezuela at that time to take care of her mother who was to have back surgery, and invited us to her apartment since she had gone with out her family and could use the company and so we did. It was the perfect setting for our hectic program, the necessary touch up of the presentation based on the conditions and audience that we assessed and even time for a personal spiritual orientation.
The organization of the conference was excellent. Two panels were held every morning each one made of a moderator and the four presenters who would be offering workshops in the afternoon. Each presenter had 15’ to introduce his topic, and the audience had the opportunity to ask two questions to each presenter after all had done their intervention. This format of total exposition of the themes allowed each person to decide which workshop to attend since they were simultaneous in most cases. These plenaries were held in the main Auditorium with a capacity for 600 people, on average was 2/3 full.
Our presentation was very well received with an attendance of 30–40 people including Dada Maheshwarananda, the only other delegates from PROUT USA, and people who had approached us after the morning presentation asking if there was an Aparigraha working group in Caracas and that they would be interested in delivering the message as we had suggested earlier. We collected their e-mails and have sent all the information for them to use at their convenience.
Our workshop was early afternoon Saturday the last day of the conference so we had to rush to the airport to catch our flight to Maracaibo. You can click here or use this URL. The audio is in Spanish but the transcript can be accessed in English.
This trip was anecdotal to say the least but there is no place for that in this report. We can mention one detail we arrived to Maracaibo at 4:30 a.m. and the students registered for the TTC where already waiting for us. Since time was at a premium because we had to return to Washington at a set date, we had set a tight schedule starting at 5:30 a.m.
We were driven directly to the studio where the program was to be held. The reception was very warming and in very good accordance with Yoga traditions.
At lunch break with went to Kali’s sister house who hosted us for the time we were there, to drop our luggage, and refresh ourselves. The program went on from morning to evening for the three days we were there.
It was a group of 17 beautiful souls. More were interested in participating but space was limited and even for these 17 it was tight. Nevertheless, it was exemplary to see how happily they accommodated even though sometimes they would bump into each other, and Kali, who taught most of the classes, had to get out of their way.
The goals were accomplished; the new governing board of the society was established with Kali as the president, Purna - Cristina as Vice-president, Rama (the owner of the studio) as Secretary General, Sita (his wife) as Treasurer and Kunti – Estela as Secretary. These spiritual names were given to them at their request.
All the students decided to become members of the Society and a plan for action was established as their initial mission.
This initial mission will start after three months of regular practice as a group. With the training received of the basic routine of Sivananda style of yoga and taking turns to teach for mutual evaluation, correction etc. they will be ready and go into areas of financially deprived sectors of the population to teach free Hatha-Yoga classes as a first step in raising the level of consciousness of the participants.
This process of consciousness-raising that will start with the Hatha Yoga practice integrates the five principles - proper breathing, proper diet, proper exercise, proper relaxation and positive thinking with meditation, both at the theoretical and practical hands-on levels, ie. quality of food, etc.
Additionally, a video of the Sivananda Basic hatha-Yoga routine will be prepared and distributed, free of cost, to all TV channels who commit to show it on a daily schedule so people can practice at home. Aparigraha was also presented to the students so it becomes part of the work of extension along the lines of their socio-political and spiritual consciousness raising.
The members of the board were left with the responsibility of the legal aspect of the society, registration of the new board etc. Everybody received a certificate given by Shanti Yoga as having received the basic training for instructors of yoga.
The farewell was as sweet as the welcoming. They had prepared themselves a certificate of appreciation framed in wood made by one of the students who is a wood artisan, beautiful bajhans were sung and hugs and kisses were abundant. They gave Kali a yoga mat signed by all of them.
The link is for a video they made after our departure http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHeIeACnp08
We left on time to receive Kali’s friends from her childhood at her sister’s house and pack up to leave for the airport at 4:30 a.m. the following morning.
We didn’t have the opportunity to meet with Mirabai as would have been our desire, both for difficulty in scheduling and her own challenges in her trip as she recounts.
On July 11th Rose "Mirabai" Lord traveled to Barcelona, Venezuela to make Sattwic Peace Gardens (our version of the Square Foot Gardens) with school children, their teachers, parents and caregivers.
Our work was in an area where three cities come together – Barcelona, Lacheria and Porta La Cruz. The population of the three cities combined is about one million. We worked at seven locations.
At each location we did a power point presentation about the gardens, made one or more gardens and did a composting demonstration, starting them on their way to making their own compost. The power point, Sembrando para La Humanidad, (Gardens for Humanity):a project of Global Coalition for Peace, was previously translated by Beberly Valesquez from the English version developed by Rose Lord for local presentations. We left a CD with the powerpoint at each location.
In addition to everyone helping with the installation of the gardens and the composting demonstrations:
Chelo Nogueira arranged and coordinated the visits to the local schools and group homes. Patricia Castillos did the power point presentations, translated questions and answers between the participants and Rose Lord, and transported us to all the locations. Carlos Barisonzi was our photographer; and Maryann, one of the university students, rounded out our enthusiastic and hard-working team.
On Tuesday morning we visited the elementary school, Celestino Armas. There was a mix of boys and girls at this school and the children we worked with were in the 5th grade. The intention of the teacher was for the children to learn this gardening technique so that they would be able to teach it to the younger children during the coming school year. The teacher raised the question of how to save the seeds for future plantings. She has had some gardening experience and is determined for the gardens to be an ongoing project.
On Tuesday afternoon we visited Fundacion La Tortuga, the headquarters for the leading ecological NGO in eastern Venezuela for the service of scientific research, conservation of coastal/marine ecosystems and islands of the country and the education of the people. Here we met the university students who volunteer at this center and will be teaching the gardening process at elementary schools in the area. They have been planting many different types of vegetable and herb plants in two-liter and one-gallon plastic bottles. Here we planted three Sattwic Peace Gardens. They will be planting five additional gardens in a circle around an ornamental garden in the center, to form a garden mandala.
On Wednesday morning we went to Francisco Salias school, a much larger school than the previous morning. Right next to this school was another large school. There is apparently a lot of rivalry between the two schools which has broken out in violence on many occasions.
At Francisco Salias we worked with school children, some staff people at the school and several mothers who had come to participate. The children were on vacation but had come in specifically for this event. There were some banana trees planted on the property adjacent to where we put the gardens. The principal of the school joined us towards the end of the gardening demo and even planted some of the seeds.
On Wednesday afternoon we installed container gardens at La Tortuga and did a presentation about biodynamic preparations for the volunteers.
On Thursday morning we visited Casa Hogar San Jose, a school and home for girls whose parents could not take care of them. This facility is managed by Catholic nuns and is beautifully kept. The girls seemed happy and well cared for. There is a large field on the property which could accommodate many gardens and/or fruit trees. There are a number of mango trees of several varieties around the perimeter of the field and mango is apparently a mainstay of their diets. We mentioned to the head sister that the field could accommodate many Sattwic Peace Gardens or larger gardens but she said that they would need more help before they could take on any more work. Patricia said that she would look into getting her some volunteer help to plant and maintain the gardens.
Our Thursday afternoon destination was Casa don Bosco, a home for boys, mostly street kids from the barrio. We met a young woman who goes into the barrios and encourages these boys to come to Casa don Bosco where they are given decent clothes, a safe place to sleep and an education. At first the boys seemed disinterested and even a little hostile, but they warmed up to the subject and when it came time to make the garden, they were really into it. When we had finished putting the garden in, several of the boys came up to us and offered to work as volunteers on future gardening projects. This was most gratifying, especially considering the level of their own need.
Friday morning took us to another boy's home, this one was
located in the country and required about a one hour drive to get there.
On the way we passed small groups of very poor looking houses. Two of
these "neighborhoods" were situated on large dumps where
garbage was burning. The houses bordered right on the dumps and it was
later revealed that the people who lived there live off what they can
scavenge from the dumps.
Friday afternoon brought us back to the neighborhood where we had done the public school demonstration on Wednesday morning to meet with a women's group called, Consijo Comunal Chuparin. This group is affiliated with the local Lion's Club. They didn't have a spot for a garden but each of the women brought containers from home to plant seeds which, when sprouted, they would transplant to their yards. The meeting site was just a little square at the corner of two busy streets. A canopy was set up to house the equipment and show the powerpoint and although it was hard to hear Patricia over the noise of the traffic, they were very attentive, asked many questions and took notes. The teacher from the public school was also present and reported to us that our presentation and demonstration had made a great impression on the children at the school, many of them planning to go home and make a garden for their families, even planning where they would get soil and manure to fertilize the gardens.
We were consistently asked about seed-saving. Teachers, parents and even some of the children wanted to know how they could produce and store their own seeds, leading us to believe that this very important subject should be addressed in another visit to the region.
By the end of the week, another full week of presentations and demonstrations had been scheduled, resulting from the people who had been in attendance spreading the word about the Sattwic Peace Gardens. I have great confidence that "the team" will be able to teach the gardening method after their intensive week of "training."
The Team: Chelo, Carlos, Patricia, Rose Mirabai, Maryann