30 Jun 2008
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Bags of Colour
Beth Shepherd introduces her ideas for a project she is running in Sri Lanka.
Bags of Colour is a business project that I am developing in Sri Lanka as way of promoting sustainable and ethical living. ‘Bags of colour’ is a collection of eco friendly shopping bags made from hand dyed cotton and woven on a traditional handloom machine, in bright and bold colours, made using minimal electricity and made in the homes of women in local areas, working towards providing jobs for skilled women and families who are in need of an income.
I am current out in Sri Lanka pursuing bags of colour; I had the idea while I was here at the beginning of this year, whilst I was over doing voluntary work as a photographer. The idea came to me just as I was leaving the country. I had become so inspired by the beautiful colours of Sri Lanka and from the wonderful brightly coloured handloom fabric that I discovered, and in light of the recent awareness of the damaging effects of over use of plastic bags, I decided it was an idea I was willing to pursue. I also was overwhelmed by the poverty here and the desire the many people have to change their lives, but there is a lack of opportunity for them to that, so it seemed right to have the bags made by local skilled men and women in deprived communities and to provide them with an opportunity, and to bypass big companies and factories, but to give the people the chance to make them in their own homes when they want.
I have always felt very passionate about recycling and have never understood why so many bags are continually used, when there are always alternatives. I thought that by making the bags wonderful bold colours that really make a statement and with information provided with each bag about the woman who has made it, and how it is helping her and her family directly people may take more of an interest in using alternatives to plastic bags. As I believe it is a cause worth taking seriously, to be proud to make a loud statement, and work towards creating change.
At present I have one woman working with me on the bags, she is the wife of a three wheeler driver in Colombo, who has helped me a lot during my time spent here, and he is working with me on sourcing fabrics. We are working at the moment to produce our first lot of bags, and will then begin to look for other women to offer the opportunity to. I am also working with some local NGOs to find skilled women or men who can make the bags, and will be heading down to the south and south east of Sri Lanka to meet some people working on textile projects with women affected by the 2004 tsunami.
I am also working with a friend of mine who has set up a very inspiring project here called Emerge which provides hope and opportunities for teenage rape survivors. I worked as a photographer for the charity earlier this year and have since used my photography based on the colours of Sri Lanka to create a collection of greeting cards with a percentage going to Emerge. We are currently looking for shops to stock the cards and possibly people to invest in the project to get it started.
I will be here for a few more weeks getting things off the ground, to find out more information or to order bags please visit my website at www.bethshepherd.com where you can also view my photography, collection of greeting cards and follow my story, with my photo journal and blog.
Environmentally friendly and ethical shopping bags
Bags of Colour
Fun, bright, ethical, and environmentally friendly
Bags of Colour is a collection of handloom cotton reusable shopping bags, made using minimal electricity and in the homes of people in rural villages, to promote sustainable and ethical living.
If everybody reused their plastic supermarket bag just once it would reduce the amount of bags produced by half’.sounds hopeful!
But what if you replaced that bag completely with a bag that has been made using minimal electricity, has been made in the homes of people in deprived areas therefore providing them directly with a much needed source of income to help them build a better future for themselves and their family, oh and it was made in the boldest brightest, loudest colours, because life should be fun, and if you believe in something enough make a statement!
Made using from hand dyed cotton which has then been woven on a traditional foot powered handloom machine; these bags are then sewn in various homes by women in poor areas of Sri Lanka. Each woman is paid a good price directly for the bag she produces and she works when she want, and act as self employed.
To check out my bags and to find out more about Bags of Colour please visit my website;
The Rubbish Diet
Karen Cannard tells us about her website and a great idea for a Zero Waste Week.
“It’s called The Rubbish Diet and started out to record my progress at attempting a Zero Waste Week. The challenge was successful in that all I threw out was a plaster and since then my family’s household waste is still on about a carrier bag’s worth each month.
I now use the blog to profile positive stories about what other people are doing. I have also helped others reduce their waste by 50%. One family whom I am mentoring is attempting their own Zero Waste Week in September.
The Rubbish Diet and feedback from readers is all about positive encouragement, highlighting what can be done in a positive way. Where frustrations exist, these are presented with humour.
I hope it is of interest. It can be found at www.therubbishdiet.blogspot.com
Getting Transition Training into Schools.
Marrianne Griffin has a vision to get Transition Town Training into mainstream education.
” I used to teach geography in secondary schools. I remember telling a class of 1980s geology ‘O’ level pupils that the Middle East had huge resources of oil yet limited resources of water, which would surely lead to conflict. I also started asking my pupils then what was made of plastic & also what else oil was used for apart from fuel, and to remember what had been used before all these things came into our lives.
In the last decade I have been anxious to see the government start preparing these young people for Peak Oil transition, by introducing many forgotten practical skills into the curriculum ~ not just in primary schools and KS3 in secondary schools, but as on-going education & training for all ages and also in universities and colleges. Reading the Transition Handbook, I am relieved that at long last someone is taking all this seriously and starting to gear up local government to take some responsibility within the community for reskilling the population. But I feel we need to be educating teachers in this, so that they can teach the school children the skills they will need in the future, and in doing so involve the parents too. It needs to be a national initiative, like it was in the 1940s during wartime.”
Be The Change
Below are excerpts from two interviews featured in the book Be The Change: Action and reflection from people transforming our world.
“We wanted to create the first free university in sub-Saharan Africa. Everybody thought we wer
e absolutely crazy.”
Taddy Blecher was about to emigrate from South Africa, when he realised that if everybody did that, the country could never develop. He stayed and joined CIDA, a Community and Individual Development Association that was teaching children in townships to meditate. The startling successes of this programme left brilliant young adults with nowhere to go on to after schooling. They weren’t qualified for any jobs, and higher education was financially out of reach. So Blecher and his four colleagues from CIDA created a virtually free university, from scratch, for them and others like them from all over the country, providing an excellent business degree and vocational programmes. The individual students can now get good jobs and lift their families out of poverty, and the country has a larger, more highly qualified workforce for its greater economic transformation.
We started CIDA City Campus in Johannesburg in South Africa in 2000, as the first free university in sub-Saharan Africa. We wanted to prove that you could take somebody who at 12 had been sniffing glue on the streets, and that individual could become a chartered accountant, a merchant banker, a stockbroker, something enormously aspirational in society. But over and above that, that they could be a happy, well-adjusted human being, who’s passionate about life and really has a contribution to give.
CIDA is the first free university in sub-Saharan Africa, or virtually free. We charge about ¬£25 for the first year, which includes tuition, books and materials. In years two, three and four we charge about ¬£10 per month. In South Africa, a good education is enormously expensive, so we’ve tried to make higher education accessible to the poorest of the poor.
We’ve been going for seven years, and about 3,500 graduates have come through our degree and vocational programs. Those students between them are now earning ¬£154 million in annual salaries, about ’11 million, and those were kids off the streets. If you take the net present value of those earnings over a 40 year period — I’m an actuary so I’m always working out numbers — its about ¬£4.5 billion, ¬£370 million, that will go into the hands of the poor over the next 40 years. So it’s very exciting.
CIDA’s first incarnation
Before we started the university, for four years we taught Transcendental Meditation to 9,000 school children in inner city schools, in Alexandra, Soweto and Davyton. Their pass rates went up by 25 per cent across the board, across over 100,000 school results. We tracked 12,000 students in a control group, and their marks dropped by 1 per cent over that same period of three years. We had incredible results, and students who had been addicted to alcohol and drugs started to go clean. Every week there would be stabbings in the schools, and in one of the schools, there had been eight suicides in two years. After we worked with these kids, teaching them to meditate, it all stopped. We had these incredibly beautiful results and it was the most magical and amazing time of my life, seeing this transformation through nothing other than teaching people how to be the change within.
We then started to find that of these 9,000 school children, many of them had come through school and would end up on the streets, with no money. The universities are expensive, so they’re excluded from public higher education. They didn’t really know how to start businesses and they weren’t able to get any kind of reasonable job, and so these beautiful, amazing, fantastic young people would just end up walking the streets for six months or a year. They’d come back and see us and say, ‘Could you offer us a job?’ We’d say, “But we got you through school, that’s the magic ticket.” We quickly realised that it’s not the magic ticket, it means very little. The Millennium Development Goals talk about universal basic education. It’s important, but it’s only a building block. We’ve got tens of millions of people who’ve got a high school leaving certificate, but so what? Across sub-Saharan Africa, they’re unemployed.
We’ve got a political democracy, but we are very far from an economic democracy. There’s an inter-generational poverty where the children of the poor stay poor. If you were the child of a wealthy person, you’d come out of school, your parents would send you off to any university, you’d get a great job, and you’d be set. But the child of a poor person cannot do that. They might have just as much ability, they certainly have just as many dreams and aspirations for their life, their families and their communities, but they have these obstacles in the way that they don’t know how to get past. So we decided in 1999, after doing a little pilot project, a self-development project in Alexandra and Soweto townships, to try and create the first free university in sub-Saharan Africa.
Being the change
‘I think I kind of fell into it. A few years previously, I was about to emigrate, and then at the last minute I decided not to, because of the crises we were facing in the country. I thought, if we all run away from the country, what kind of a country will we have? So in 1995, I gave up being an actuary and earning R1.3 million a year, about ’90,000, and joined CIDA. CIDA was teaching Transcendental Meditation in communities, and I really believed in what they were doing — helping people to find themselves and to manage stress and to use more of their potential — and I asked if I could join them. Once we started on this work, it just got so addictive. I think when you start to see that you can change the world, it impacts back on you again. It’s like throwing pebbles in a pond, the ripples go out and then they come back again. You change yourself, you start to change other people, and the ripples come back to you to affirm that this is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever done. It gives you so much meaning in your life, and then you just want to do more, and do more and more and more. You end up spending your whole life thinking, ‘What more can I do, how more can I change myself, change the lives of others, have more integrity, have more love, more power, more ability to do good?”
“I’ve been enormously inspired by people like Gandhi and Maharishi, who brought out Transcendental Meditation, and Nelson Mandela, these great people in the world that show us that it is possible to overcome all odds and all obstacles, and that it is completely possible to create a better world. If you know that, how can you live a little life any more? You can’t, it’s just not possible. And I really believe that if you grow yourself, it’s like you open up the box, there’s no way you can push yourself back into a little box again. Life would be so cramped, and what more is there to do than to love, and to serve, and to find the meaning of it all — I could never go back any more, ever again, to being on a little treadmill, taking care of myself and my own selfish interests. There’s no happiness in that. There’s only happiness, I believe, in serving. So in a way, it’s the most selfish thing you can ever do. You should have to pay to have this much growth and fun and love and dignity in your life.
Man was not born to suffer, we’re just not using our potential. We’re using only about 5 per cent of our innate human potential, psychologists tell us. I see it as a great calling to help people develop more of their potential, so we don’t have to be 5 per cent mothers or fathers or sisters or brothers, husbands or wives or teachers and so on, but 10 per cent or 15 per cent or 20 per cent, whatever we could get to, to build a much more enlightened, loving, humane and creative society. I firmly believe that’s there’s a solution to every problem, it’s just a question of awareness. However wide our awareness is, that’s from where we can pluck the solutions. The broader our awareness, the broader our ability to find solutions to our intractable social and economic problems in the world. So I completely beli
eve that change has to begin within; education has to begin within. Instead of just being outside in, where you learn a whole lot of facts from outside of yourself, it should be inside out and as you change yourself from within, transform yourself, you will transform the world. There’s no other way to change the world in a sustainable way. If we can make every tree in the forest green, then the whole forest will be green.
Nothing is more powerful than your own dreams. The only truth you can ever hold onto is that little voice inside. No one else can hear it, and it’s so silent that if you’re not very quiet, you will not hear it yourself. But that little voice is guiding you every step of the way, that absolutely true and straight compass, on what you should be doing. The vast majority of people are not doing what they really believe in, they’re just trying to pay the bills and put their kids through school and things like that. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m not saying it’s simple, but if you listen to what you know to be true, you will be protected. There’s a wonderful quote about how the universe will support you. “Jump, and the ground will rise up to meet you.” And life is so exquisite, so beautiful, so infinite, that to just give it away is like throwing away a diamond. So know who you are as a human being. You’re one of a kind, no one else can do what you can do. You’re a critical part of the jigsaw puzzle, so it’s vital that you stand up and do whatever your duty is in life. Only you know inside what that duty is.
Nothing is fixed and anything is changeable. You can look at the most intractable problems that seem so completely unsolvable and you can solve them. Just drops of water can dissolve the hardest rock over time, and so it is possible for us to create a safe and prosperous, and healthy, wealthy, successful, happy world. Even if you can do it in the life of one person, it’s worth it. You start to see, “Gee, I did help that person, and their life has changed’” It inspires you. Every day I see our students coming back. They’ve come from nothing, and now they’ve built a house for their parents and brought them out of poverty and they’re putting their brothers and sisters through school. They’re happy and fulfilled and their eyes are shining, their lives have meaning and purpose, rather than being just empty and dull and self-hating. This is deeply inspiring, deeply inspiring. People inspire me, people who fight against the status quo and go for a better future. It’s never easy, but you know what? You’ve got one life and so many years and you shouldn’t waste it.
When I was at school, I always thought history was something that happened to us. But now I know that we can change history, we can change the future. Every one of us has the right, the God-given right, to change history in the direction of what we want it to be.
‘To confront our dysfunction around money, own it and transform it is one of the most powerful things we can do to make the world work.’
Lynne Twist has long been a global activist, in many arenas. A particular field of interest is finance. She been a fundraiser for many organisations, raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and she founded the Soul of Money Institute to help individuals find peace and sufficiency in their relationship with money. As a director of the Hunger Project, with the mission to end world hunger, she travelled to some of the poorest places on earth. More recently, she co-founded the Pachamama Alliance, a non-profit organisation that seeks to empower indigenous people to protect the Amazon rainforest, and to bring their wisdom to the rest of the world.
Wealth vs. abundance
I work with a lot of really wealthy people on their relationship with money, and they for the most part aren’t happy. For the most part, they’re dysfunctional, they’re confused; no one relates to them authentically because they have so much money; they think everybody is trying to get something from them. They become fearful, there’s a lot of drug addiction, a lot of alcoholism, a lot of problems in some of our wealthiest corridors and families. I’m from the United States, the wealthiest country in the world. Our wealth has blinded us, we’ve lost our soul. Not permanently, hopefully, but we’re confused by our wealth. That kind of wealth or that kind of abundance, in a mindset of scarcity, actually turns into excess, which is what’s filling up our landfill.
The kind of abundance that I think is healthy is that which flows from the appreciation and recognition of the exquisite experience of having enough, and that is so fulfilling that it turns into a sense of true authentic abundance, true wealth — the word wealth comes from well-being. That’s true abundance; the abundance that often we talk about when we use that word is more stuff, more money, more treasures. That actually isn’t that satisfying, and people who are already in that position, to the person, can tell you that it’s not what life’s about.
I tell them to give as much as they can away. I tell them that they’ve been entrusted with resources that aren’t really theirs, that they are the trustees of it for the moment and they’re privileged to make a choice for all of us to send it where it will do the most good for the most people. So I do a lot of fundraising, inviting them to engage in philanthropy, which heals a lot of that dysfunction and can be miraculous for people who are swimming in excess and flooded with more than they need. And that’s true for all of us; it’s true for you, it’s true for me, it’s true for anybody reading these words. We all have more than we need, and to express that abundance or that overflow in a way that makes the world a better place is such a fulfilling part of life and such a great privilege. You start seeing yourself as a flow-through; money comes through us like water. For some people it’s a little trickle, for other people it’s a rushing river, but it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to everyone or no one; it’s meant for the universe. And if it’s a little trickle, you get the opportunity to send it to where it can do the most good, and if it’s a huge flood the same applies. Either way, it will nourish your life in the world to do that.
It’s from the world’s poorest people that I’ve learned these ways of looking at things. If you’re lucky enough to travel in places like Mozambique or Ghana or Senegal or Botswana and you are invited into a family’s home, they may have what you and I would call almost nothing, but it turns into a meal, it turns into a banquet, it turns into dancing and singing and music. It turns into the most bountiful situation you’ve ever seen, and it’s their way of seeing it that you’re inside of, not the material amount of a chicken or some beans or a banana. People who have fewer resources are not confused about sufficiency. Those of us who have massive excess are confused about sufficiency.
One of the things that one of my teachers, Brother David Steindl-Rast — the great Benedictine monk who studies the distinctions of gratefulness — has said to me, is that there are two branches of gratitude. One is gratefulness and the other is thanksgiving. Gratefulness is when the bowl of life is completely full but not yet overflowing. In fact it’s almost bowed at the top, it’s so full. That’s the experience of the great fullness of life. When you’re in touch with the great fullness of life, you’re one with the universe, you’re one with God and you’re one with everything, all creatures. When the bowl starts to
overflow, you move into the other branch of gratitude, which is thanksgiving. When you’re in thanksgiving you’re thrilled that there’s an other, because all you want to do is give and share and contribute and serve.
And when the container of life is just about full to overflowing, often in the consumer society we go out and we get a bigger container, so that it never actually ends up overflowing. We never have that experience of overflowing abundance because we just keep getting a bigger container to fill things up in, like a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger closet. The joy comes from the overflowing, from that moment of enough and then overflowing. People in situations of poverty and oppression often have their container a more adequate size, and so it overflows more frequently, and that gives a sense of joy and appreciation and abundance. Also they’re not as confused as we in the affluent world are by the consumer culture, which is filled with messages that tell us that we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough, and we’ve got to have more. They’re not as confused by that, they’re not exposed to that as much as we are. So they’re saved a little bit from that, although it’s coming their way. Indigenous people, in particular, appreciate what’s actually there, and in appreciating what’s actually there, there is this sense of absolute overflowing abundance.
I think that abundance is miscast in today’s culture. Some of the messages that are in popular culture can be misunderstood and can sometimes be spun in a way that it makes it look that all we all want is more stuff, more money, more wealth. I don’t think we really want that. I believe what we’re really looking for is sufficiency. Sufficiency is really, profoundly satisfying. And that’s when the universe meets your needs or you meet the needs of the universe. It has no excess in it, no fat, no overflow; it’s actually the perfection of the universe and that’s what people really, really want, in my experience.
The Pachamama Alliance is a gift in my life, giving me the opportunity and privilege to work with the indigenous peoples in the rainforest of the Amazon and to disseminate and honour their wisdom, to make it available to other people, and then to change the dream of the modern world which is really what being the change is. The work of our Awakening the Dreamer symposium programme is to create and bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet. This symposium is now being delivered all over the world and is growing rapidly.
I think there’s a real transformation taking place in all arenas of the human family. We have been in a 500-year period of dominance, the indigenous people say, and obviously they would say that because they have been dominated. And they say we are coming into a new 500-year period, a pachacuti they call it, of balance and light. And in the pachacuti of balance and light — and this is my view, they have not said this — I feel that what’s becoming available is people’s voices are being heard at every level. We’re moving from a world organised by privilege to a world organised by community. And the word community means coming into unity. So I think we’re coming into a world where community is the ethic, rather than hierarchy. I think we’re moving into a world that has a completely different order and there’s this wisdom that’s coming from the collective rather than from our own individual voices. That’s the new dawn of our times; that spirit is speaking through the human family now, and I think that’s what we need to listen to.
‘My core belief is that my life is an instrument; it doesn’t belong to me, and I have the opportunity to use it for the highest good. Another core belief I have is that love is the most powerful energy in this world, there’s nothing more powerful. Fear is not the opposite of love, it’s the absence of it, and love will always overcome fear. I had the great privilege of working with Mother Teresa for some time in India, and she and Gandhi both talked about love in a particular way. There’s a beautiful quote that says, “The unadulterated love of one person can nullify the hatred of millions.” I totally believe that that’s true. For me, love has an immense and profound power, and it is the central ethic of my life. I can give and receive love in every encounter: in the interaction I have at a stop-light with someone who cut me off; at the grocery store; in every meeting. And I don’t mean to be sappy, I mean love, which is profound, it’s tough, it’s hard work. That to me is the way through; that’s the path. That’s the prayer of my life.
Be The Change: Action and reflection from people transforming our world consists of a series of inspiring interviews conducted and compiled by Trenna Cormack and published by Love Books, ISBN 978−09555−213−00, ’12.99. It’s available now from all good bookshops and at www.lovebooks.co.uk and www.bethechange.org.uk
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