Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Be aware, act and care!

This blogpost is written by Greenhouse member, Christine Cutajar, who attended a seminar in Zemun, Serbia on Sustainable Development concepts.


A cold fresh November morning welcomed me to Zemun in Serbia where I eagerly looked forward to the seminar. Throughout the 5 days we covered several concepts with regards to sustainable development through the various presentations, guest speakers, and activities. In this blog I will mention those particular ones which struck me the most.

As the participants represented different types of organisations, mainly those working for human rights and a few from green organisations I found it great that the link between sustainable development and human rights was mentioned by Aleksandar Jovanovic in his presentation. I believe that sometimes our western culture leads us to perceive this divide between what are our human rights and what is good for nature, while we forget that we are also part of it. This reminded me of what Paul Hawken says in his book Blessed Unrest, where he explains the following: '' the division between ecology and human rights is an artificial one, that the environmental and justice movement addressed two sides of a single larger dilemma. The way we harm the earth affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat the earth'' (p. 2). In fact, the result of major environmental problems are seen by some as the result of anthropocentrism, where people think they are superior to nature and are entitled to control and exploit it as they please.

The philosophy defined as deep ecology is indeed addressing this problem by adopting a holistic view of the world where every living thing in nature is seen as interlinked and dependent upon each other. All life in the world is appreciated and has the right to live and flourish. In this approach humans are viewed as being one of the many parts of our environment and the world, rather than being at the centre of the universe. The presentation then touched upon the concept of de-growth which advocates the exact opposite of commercial and materialistic development. A decrease in consumerism and dedicating quality time for the family, friends, community, art and culture will lead to more happiness and well-being. To achieve this one does not need to give up anything, but rather need to adopt simplicity in their everyday lives. In my opinion, there needs to be a shift in one's focus and thoughts by being more courageous to ask 'why' and 'how', and finding ways of improving one's life through critical thinking rather than living a comfortable life.

Another concept which I found very inspirational, was that presented by Ms. Tanja Azanjac who spoke about motivating and supporting citizens to become active citizens. Ms. Azanjac explained that it is important for people to be able to see and recognize the problematic situations around them and also to find their role in it. The question then remains ''How do we sustain and support citizens?'' She mentioned the successful story from her experience working with youth in Serbia, which was very encouraging. Ms. Azanjac also showed us a theoretical model, entitled 'The circle of courage' which is focused on a need-based approach as opposed to a right-based approach. This means that organisations need to be aware that they are addressing the needs of the volunteers they seek. It is also important to make concrete actions to build know-how and skills of motivated people. This is explained further through the 4 stages within 'The circle of courage'. Ms. Azanjac's presentation is included with this blog to explain the model visually. The first is the need for a citizens to belong. Organisations need to ensure that their activities as well as approaches to citizens are welcoming and generate a sense of belonging. Once the person feels this, then he will also feel comfortable to open up and show her/his skills where s/he also has a chance to master them and improve. These will make the individual feel important through his/her responsibilities and successful actions. The person can then fulfil his/her need to be generous by using the skills to help in different areas which interest him/her. Finally this experience will lead the person to become independent and start taking initiatives on their own. Thus, they become active citizens.

Besides having learnt from the presentations and group work in the seminars I also had the opportunity to meet fantastic people in the group, some of whom became my good friends from whom I have also learnt something during my stay. The seminar also led me to reflect further and realise more that our ethnocentric view of the world can very often lead us to focus very much on our human rights and less on our responsibilities in this life. I truly believe that as citizens we should adopt a deep ecology approach to life and place a lot more emphasis on our duties and less on benefits. This shift in our mindset can then lead to more sustainable lifestyles.

To conclude I would like to mention my appreciation for the efforts made by the people coming from Belgrade to show the rest of the participants a touch of the Serbian culture. During the seminar I felt that the organisers made very good use of resources and I was happy that there was very little use of disposable waste, such as the use of glasses to drink from rather than plastic ones. I think that for future seminars it would be a good idea if this was explained to the participants to increase awareness on such issues. Another idea I would like to express is that throughout the seminar participants would be required to be responsible consumers in their actions. For instance by using recycled paper and making sure to show participants that the papers used will be going for recycling.

Finally, I would like to sincerely thank Greenhouse for giving me this great opportunity, as well as ADAE in Serbia for being great hosts and having organised the seminar.

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