Changing My World, Again (or Why The Journey Made Me Leave Embercombe)

Bye Bye from me! March 2014

Bye Bye from me! March 2014

Back in 2007, I encountered Mac, Joey, Suzie Mumme and Emma Brown at Be The Change conference in London. For me it was ‘love at first hearing’ and soon to be ‘love at first sight’, as it has been for so many others and the start of over 6 years of employment and a totally enmeshed life. They told me about Embercombe and I was there 3 weeks later.

One weekend visit in December was all it took. I was totally smitten.

On Friends Weekends in those days, everyone was left to fend for themselves, bringing a bag of ‘food to share’ and trusting in unreliable postcodes and unfamiliar taxi drivers.  I was one of just 9 attending that Friends weekend. At my insistence, wanting to walk into the place that felt so special, the taxi dropped me off at the top of the track.  Sadly it was the wrong track and I found myself 2 miles up the road at 11pm at night, rucksack on back, navigating dark lanes noisy with pig grunts without a phone signal or map.  Some exhilarating time later, I breached a steep muddy lane, to be greeted by a fierce, “Who goes there?” from a red-pyjama-clad figure with hair and beard streaming in the wind.  I had arrived. Joey was waiting for me, with honey vegetable soup on the stove in the cabin.

Shortly after, the role of Director of Development became mine after volunteering to help Mac with an Embercombe stand at, of all incongruous places, the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show.

My first working day came in May. Mac picked me up from the station and as we drove through Haldon Forest and onto site, everywhere was clean, green, bright. “My favourite season,” said Mac. I could only agree.

Joey’s caravan was vacant and instead of the yurt my friends were expecting to find me in, it became my Embercombe home. So began a year and a half of ‘weaving together the city and the country’, travelling regularly between my home in gritty North London and rural South Devon.

In London, we organised ‘salons’ where we invited interesting and engaged people aboard the Volharding, generously moored in St Katherine Dock.

Back at Embercombe, we hosted London corporate sustainability professionals and my old eco-activist network for Climate Conversation Weekends that mixed people up and generated the Climate Story Tellers group, who still share their stories with each other today, five years on. Some have gone onto become an Ambassador for Embercombe, some stay in touch despite moving to Australia and all of them are working on amazing projects.

I remember treating the Stone Circle with caution and respect and it was several months before I visited it. My patience was rewarded and during a Story Telling Weekend, a stone shared its own story with me, of the permanence and connectedness of all life here – the same material in the rock being bound in the dead plant nestling next to it, and also in my own skin. It was only later that I heard Mac tell the purpose of the stone circle, to provide the eye of the dragon of Albion and so enable the awakening of its people.

Joey taught me the importance of joining in and experiencing life for myself, not just being ‘out there, saving the world’ . He inspired me to really start living life, rather than standing on the sidelines of it, trying to influence other people.  I owe my motherhood to this lesson.

Embercombe in summer was where I grieved the passing of my independence: pregnant, carrying buckets of water across the parched garden, over and over. Spilling water, eyes streaming, saying goodbye to my old self.

It was a fantastic place and the perfect season to be carrying a child. We were looking after an old gypsy caravan and for a precious few nights I slept on its red gingham pillows, out in the meadows. I slept so well, Johannes was sent by the Core Team to come and wake me to join our meeting.

Embercombe brought me to live in Ashburton and gave me a new community. On New Years Eve 2010 it witnessed my wedding with Andy and Doro’s blessing day. The Embercombe family looked out for us whilst Andy’s first kidney transplant failed and through the scary year of his being ill and the euphoria of his second transplant.

And all through this time our influence has grown: we run many more programmes, partnerships and enormous Friends Weekends. Mac speaks to bigger audiences and his and our reputation as a source of inspiration for living with deeper values is growing rapidly. To deliver this we now have a team of 13 paid staff not 5 and there are generally 20 volunteers living on site instead of two. We have an exciting new Ambassadors programme and a talented coterie of Associates.

Last year I realised how much I was struggling to meet my own, and others’, expectations of my role and to deliver all that it had become in only a part time hours. I decided to take The Journey for a second time and take stock of my situation.

The week brought me insights into where I’ve come from, the history of my recent forbears, the struggles they faced and how I stand on their shoulders. How they would want me to make choices that make me happy and bring me fully alive…this resonated with other messages I had received, from a stone in the Stone Circle and from the rock in the Kents’ Cavern, as well as my teachers on the programme.  I also got to see how my choices to date have been so influenced by my concern with how you see me. It’s been your impression that counts, not my experience. God, that was painful. So ultimately, I came to really realise that it’s down to me to take care of my experience here on this beautiful planet. And that by taking more care of myself, I’ll be making more contribution to the whole that any of my old hard work striving to ‘change things’ ever could. Because I realise it doesn’t end there and that the more I take care of me, the more I have to give away, the more I can cherish everyone and everything around me. And the place to start is to cherish myself.

So that’s been my personal history in this magical place. Like many good Journeys, the impact took a while to root but the message of my Journey week in March finally penetrated in December and I realised I love this project and its people but I don’t believe my own purpose is to manage databases, social media, year planners and marketing campaigns. And that is what Embercombe needs right now. My love of telling stories and connecting people and finding ways to make exciting synergies happen kept me satisfied in the role for a long while. But right now, Embercombe can’t provide the space for me to spread my wings and be all I can be.  So, trusting that the Universe supports our unfolding when we dare to let go, I’m stepping into the unknown to see what awaits.

The first project I took on at Embercombe was to create a music album, ‘Notes for The Journey’. I crowdfunded it and so every CD sold makes a direct contribution to Embercombe. I realise that 6 years on, the words I wrote on the cover speak directly to my years in this precious valley and to this point in time in particular. It looks like I have found the resolve to offer my gifts.

Back cover of CD

Back cover of CD

An enormous and heartfelt thank you to all the Friends, volunteers, apprentices, associates and staff of Embercombe who have made my time here so stimulating, enriching and funny.

You can listen to the tracks on the Notes for the Journey CD  here.

free teleseminar

HELP! TANTRUMS!

Free Teleseminar for parents and professionals in the field of education
delivered by Zsuzsanna Egry, certified Parenting by Connection instructor
18th of November 5pm (Uk local time)

Our otherwise sweet child drops herself on the ground, cries her lungs out, and shakes her limbs in trance… for some kids it happens in a shop, for others when getting dressed, or when having to leave the playground. What is common in these situations is that we, the parents, live the carousel of feelings : shame, anger, desperation, exasperation, powerlessness etc.
We may try to ignore, shout louder, threaten or bribe our child out of the tantrum, but even if our attempt works for a while, the success is shortlived, as our child – more often than not – starts the same scene all over again.

Why do children cry and tantrum, and what can we, the parents do to help them (and ourselves) with the difficult feelings? How can we handle tantrums in a way that does not erode, but on the contrary, strengthens our relationship with our child so we come out of it with a deeper sense of trust and connection?

This is a free call offered in English by our Hungarian partner in the “Soft Skills – Empowered Parents” Grundtvig Learning Partnership project, of which Embercombe are the UK partners. We are funded by the European Commission’s Lifelong learning programme. For more information, contact:
Joanna on joanna@embercombe.co.uk
or Tim on timhall@embercombe.co.uk

Zsuzsi Egry is a certified Hand in Hand instructor, living in Hungary. She graduated with an MA in English and travelled, volunteered and lived in Swaziland, France, the USA and Ireland before becoming a mother of three young children, presently 8, 6, and nearly 2 years old. Her own challenging and difficult experiences that she has encountered since the birth of her children led her to find the Parenting by Connection approach, which she now gladly shares with others, so that they too can transform their family experience from struggle and survival to a lot more fun and deep satisfaction.

Them and Us: Our Shared Values

At Embercombe we are often asked why we engage with ‘Big Business’ when ‘they’ don’t share our values.  Our answer is that we don’t believe in ‘us and them’. Last week, we met Common Cause, a project which seeks to understand the role that our values play in influencing our individual behaviours and that of organisations and wider society. Common Cause gives us the tools to understand that it’s not a case of having different values, but that the priority we place on our values may be different. We all know people who work in big businesses; you might even be one of them. Surveys show that our values are likely to be shared.

The good news revealed by Common Cause is that the more we discuss and focus on the reasons for our values, the more likely we are to see them as important. Research shows a discernible difference in the importance people place on the values they have explored in depth, some months after they did the exploration.

When someone visits Embercombe or listens to our founder, Mac, speak, they have an opportunity to focus on their own ideas about a sustainable society and consider the reasons why this is important to them.  If this has a positive effect on their values, doesn’t it make sense to ensure that amongst our diverse audience are some of the people from the corporate world?

This meeting with Common Cause was courtesy of the students from the Economics for Transition MA at Schumacher College. Richard Hawkins, Director of PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre) visited to discuss the principles and science behind Common Cause.In their own words: “More than ever, we now realise that working towards a sustainable society is about much more than environmental sustainability. A sustainable society doesn’t just consume less, recycle more, use renewable energy and take the train. It is also more community-focused, less prejudiced, more equal, and happier – because it values people and the environment.

Embercombe is offering a new leadership course for businesses this Septemember: The Heart of Leadership.

 

Heart Listening

toni and joannaCommunication  – how to do it better, how to get more of it, how to get less of it (!) – is on everyone’s lips here at the moment. So it was a fantastic co-incidence that Joanna Watters had offered to run a session in ‘heart listening’ for our long term volunteers and staff today. Supported by Toni Spencer, she ran a session to enable us to get present to ourselves. It was fascinating to hear Joanna explain how much we long to to be touched by our lives, but yet are scared of the feelings that this brings  -  so we both want and fear it. It rang true for me. And this place of ‘embodiment’ is a great place from which to start our communications with each other. Over lunch afterwards,  I was introduced to Emma and Keian from The Princes Trust who are doing work experience with us. Emma explained how she’d been moved by Mac’s words this week, that she loved just hearing him speak. I was able to invite her to imagine herself speaking and coming from a space so connected with herself that people would listen to her in that way too…and thanks to Joanna’s work with us this morning, I was so present to myself as I told her, she ‘got it’ and was really moved by this vision of herself. And so the impact from our Heart Listening rippled out.

Joanna Watters delivers Sustainable Parenting sessions at Embercombe and runs our Summer Camp for families. Her website is thisbeautifulwork.com.
Toni Spencer runs Eating the Hedgerow Reskilling Workshops at Embercombe. Her website is theferalkitchen.com

 

 

All about The Embercombe Building Company

Phill Ireland is a busy man, so I’m posting his words for him – this is the accompanying piece to Ally’s story in Rehabiliation via The Building Site: Ally’s Story.

Phill Ireland founded the Embercombe Building Company with the intention to provide opportunities for young people who might otherwise face barriers to employment due to their personal history. A commonsense approach to sustainability, reducing transportation, diverting products from the waste stream wherever possible, building well, harnessing natural light, keeping things simple and low-tech and taking a hands-on, can-do attitude to new designs are the hall marks of Phill’s approach to sustainability.

Phill says “We give young people who are ex-offenders and recovering drug addicts a second chance to lead a fulfilling life.  They gain skills and support through sustainable building apprenticeships, personal mentoring and the challenge of training in extreme sporting activities.  The challenge of extreme sports is crucial as it provides a very challenging alternative to the bravado associated with drugs and violence, whilst also helping to reconnect the participants with themselves through nature.

We work on numerous projects within the UK.  The diversity of projects has included the Chelsea Flower Show through to sustainable flagship developments and social housing projects. Our aim is to substantiate Embercombe’s core principles, within a sustainable business model, which helps rehabilitate and up-skill individuals as they learn trades on projects such as the one you see here.

We attempt to strike a dualism between sustainability, and the reality of operating within society as it stands today. This project demonstrates the debate in every block; stone; grain of sand and bag of lime.  The oak for the frames has in fact been felled from the woods here and was raised on the 3rd September 2012.  The foundations consist of PFA (recycled fly ash); 80% recycled blocks; crushed hard core from our demolition projects; stone salvaged from old buildings; recycled bricks from our refurbishment project on an old Victorian Manor and recycled slates from other demolition projects we are involved in, and so the list goes on.

Over 1,000 cubic metres has been excavated from the site and separated into clay and shillet.  This is being mixed with straw to create the cob walls.  You will see that a large proportion of this building is built from re-directed landfill.  In other areas, we have had to compromise by using plastics, mesh and steel in order to fulfil current Building Control Regulations.  Other areas which are not green are the diggers and dumpers on site; these are being used to create the cob walls, foundations etc.  In an ideal world this would all be completed by hand, however, the financial implications and physical toll mean this is not sustainable.”

Copyright: Embercombe Building Company.

Read more about The Linhay

Rehabilitation via the Building Site: Ally’s Story

If you visit the site of our construction project, The Linhay Landbased Learning Centre, you’ll read two notices: one tells you the story of the Embercombe Building Company (EBC), the other of one of their employees, Ally. Its a moving account of a life that was bleak and now full of hope and love. Since you may not have an opportunity to stroll up to the site gates anytime soon, I asked Phill Ireland, the MD of EBC to share it with you:

The Embercombe Building Company: The Biography of Ally

I am a 39 year old man called Ally.

I was assaulted aged 5 years and as a result I was put into care.  I was in care for approximately 1.5 years, and then went to Southbrook.  I was here for 4 years until the age of 11.  From the age of 11 to the age of 21 I went to 37 different foster parents.  Unfortunately to fight my past I turned to drugs, alcohol and crime.

The first time I experienced prison was in a young offenders centre, I was 17. I was sentenced for 8 months for burglary which was to pay for my habit, which at the time was amphetamine.  I did not realise at the time but my life was to spiral out of control.  I served my 8 months and was released and went back to my foster parents.  Again, my foster parents changed and I got into more trouble stealing cars again to subsidise my habit.  Again, I went back to prison.

I reached 21 years and my brother took me in.  He looked after me, gave me work, but most of all he gave me a chance which I was so desperate for.  I tried to hold my job down and stay away from trouble, but because of my troubled past, yet again I turned to crime and drugs.  I used the drugs to mask my past.  All I had wanted was a normal life and a nice family unit.

I was convicted of fraud at the age of 24 and was sentenced for 8 years.  I served my Bird as they call it inside by turning to heroin.  I was told it would make it easier and it was so easy to get inside.  This would be the biggest mistake of my life.

I came out of prison at age 32 and tried to lead what I would call a “normal life.”  My nephew had given me work painting and decorating which I loved, but my heroin addiction had taken hold of my life.  I could no longer hold my job down.  I was signing on and pretty much homeless now as none of my family wanted to know me, so I was staying wherever I pretty much could get my fix.

I used to pass a salon in Exeter every day and got talking to a girl called Emma.  It turned out we had known each other for years.  I asked her if she wanted a drink sometime and she said “yes”.  She did not know about my habit, but I’m sure she chose to ignore it and did not want to judge me, but just help me instead.

In the meantime, I had got hold of some subutex which blocks heroin; I used this as an attempt to get off this awful drug.  I had had contact with my mother and she said as long as I stay out of trouble and away from drugs she would have me home in Woodbury.  I went home and tried to get my life on track.  I gave Emma a call to see if she wanted to meet me, we met up and have not been apart since that day.  I was desperate to find work and Emma had a client that had a recruitment agency and knew a little about my past.  My number had been passed to her and in May 2011 I got a phone call asking to work putting tents up for a kid’s summer camp.  I was so excited; this was when I was introduced to the Embercombe Building Company’s Managing Director.

From the moment I started working with EBC I realised they would not judge me, although I was ashamed that they did not know about my addiction to subutex to keep me away from heroin.  I wanted to say something but worried I would lose my job.  In September 2011 I went to my sisters to do some work on her house or so that what Emma and I told everyone.  I had actually booked myself into Cedars Rehab in Exeter for one week to kick this habit once and for all.  I went to Rehab and stayed and was extremely ill.  I came out and was literally climbing the walls for about 4 months.  Not sleeping, hallucinating, mood swings and extreme sweating – it was hell.  The things that kept me going were my job and Emma – knowing I still had them.

To this day all the staff at EBC has stuck by me, not judged me, but helped me no end.

I cannot thank them enough and Embercombe and all the people that I now work with.  If it was not for them I would not be where I am now.  I have my driving licence back, my own work van, I am married to Emma and I have got the best job I have ever had.  I have been given a chance and I cannot thank the MD and the EBC staff enough and this comes from the very bottom of my heart.

copyright Embercombe Building Company.

For more information about The Embercombe Building Company

For more information about The Linhay Landbased Learning Centre

Parenting is Deep Activism

I’m in the middle of doing a long-distance course on Parenting as a Spiritual Practice with Miriam Martineau of Integral Parenting – which is brilliant. Tonight I’ve just been listening to an inspiring talk Miriam gave in which she talks about Parenting as Deep Activism – parenting for evolution – raising children who can evolve our culture. I certainly recommend a listen. http://nextstepintegral.org/integral-parenting-interview

Isnt Growing Your Own Food Outdated, Idealistic and Too Much Like Hard Work?

The Kitchen Table Conversation Cafe
In April, Embercombe and The Kitchen Table catering team from Totnes offered a Conversation Café, inviting people to join in a meal and a structured conversation on the topic:
Isnt growing your own food outdated, idealistic and too much like hard work?”
The evening was hosted by Embercombe and Suzy Edwards and Jo Clarke set the tone for the event by offering their different perspectives on the topic. Over 60 people attended and a fascinating discussion was had around the 10 tables, using a talking stick to aid the process.
Here is a summary of the case for “yes, it is outdated, idealistic and too much like hard work”, as presented by Suzy on the night:
Why would we bother?
Obviously eating fresh vegetables is nice. And satisfying if you have grown them.
But it is romanticized, fetishised even by eco-nuts. ‘The land’ is the in vogue word to use for you’re your plot, vegetables are no longer a proper 4 syllable word but cosified to become ‘veggies’ and allotment waiting list times are regular dinner party conversation amongst the eco-cogniesenti.
Glossy weekend magazines give vegetable garden porn and so does prime time tv, with a back-to-back diet of garden make-over programmes showing us the Changing Rooms version of vegetable cultivation.
The home improvement stores want you to B&Q do it but by the time all the right kit is bought, those darling runner beans will cost the equivalent of caviar.
What’s going on?
1) Growing vegetables fits in with the ‘organic lifestyle’ trend. Its fashionable amongst 30 and 40 somethings of all political persuasions and great for yummy mummy one-up-manship at the school cake sale. “Did you make this carrot cake yourself? No of course not. Dave made it and I grew the carrots…”
2) Some people actually think they are striking a blow for ethical farming by growing their own.

I’d argue nothing could be further from the truth.
3) Some people think they are improving their ‘resilience’ to future food shortages. Really? Most people play at their allotments and have not idea what it would take to actually feed their family. And right now, they have little incentive to do so, because the monotony of the diet they would have if they tried would have their children wailing for turkey twizzlers sooner than you can say ‘Bootiful’. (Note for people under 30: this reference based on old adverts for Bernard Matthews turkeys).
It is certainly shocking that in 2005, the UK was the largest net importer of food in the EU. 50% of our food is imported and 70% of that is from Europe. For an average UK citizen, 23% of our carbon footprint is our individual food consumption. One of the evidently lovely Seedy Sisters here in Totnes wrote this: “As I see it, every spinach leaf I grow is a drop of blood not spilt overseas in my name, going to war to get oil, in order to fuel an irresponsible food culture.”
Is growing your own really the antidote?
Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall have a better idea of what it takes to over-turn an irresponsible food culture. High profile campaigning, garnering top level political and societal support. But that didn’t save them from the disgrace of Delia coming out in favour of industrial farming methods in the Daily Mail – her view seems to be, the poor people can’t afford good food, so let them eat factory farmed rubbish. Nor did all that visibility towards Tesco shareholders get one of the bigger ones, the Church of England, to come out in favour of cruelty free farming as mandatory for Tesco products. Nice company you keep, Rowan…
But this is the point – there are powerful vested interests out there that will keep our food supply carbon rich and nutrient poor. And a few muddy allotment holders waiving their Guardians aren’t going to change that.
What about the other side of ethical? The grow-your-owner may bemoan how the water of some sub-saharan country is going into exported mange tout and the growers are being poisoned with feel they have struck a small blow of victory by growing their own. But it isn’t going to stop Zimbabwean mange-toute being on the menu of every Weatherspoons in the country.
And as for resilience. Is the annual runner bean and courgette glut known to most home producers really going to stave off riots outside the supermarkets if supply chains breakdown? I don’t think so.
And maybe we can say it’s about economy?
Food price rises affect less wealthy families hardest. The poorest 10% of UK households spent 15% of their expenditure on food in 2005-06 (after which food prices increased significantly), a figure that was just 7% for the richest 10%. This is because low income consumers spend proportionately more on milk, eggs and bread – staples that are hard hit by food price rises.
Well, if you’re unemployed and really poor, perhaps you do have some time on your hands to grow some food. If you’re wealthy and time poor because of your high salary career, then not so likely. If you are wealthy and you don’t need to work, then obviously you’re a candidate. If you are anywhere in that ‘squeezed middle’ then you are going to have to make some tough choices with your lifestyle. In most professional careers, who has the time or energy to be ‘out at midnight in an april shower collecting slugs in a jam jar’ to quote the Seedy Sisters once more. I’m an example of a child who lost a father to his allotment, spending Sunday morning with my face pressed to the front door waiting for him to come home for his roast dinner. Looking back, my dad wishes he’d cared less about putting his own sprouts on the table and more about playing with his kids. And with a presenteeism work culture (that’s leaving your jacket on the back of your chair overnight so the boss thinks you’ve just nipped to the loo when he pops his head round the door at 11pm ), job insecurity, the need to work harder just to stay still as inflation raises prices all around us and the number of people having to do the equivalent of 3 jobs as those around them are made redundant – do our nurses, teachers, factory workers, dairy farmers, car mechanics, social workers, environmental health officers, arts administrators …. all the people doing jobs we value in society, not to mention the parents as I referred to just now – do they really have time to reduce their household bills, improve their family resilience, and do their bit for climate change and reducing fossil fuel dependence by growing more than a gro-bag of tomatoes and eeking out the grow in the pot Basil from Sainsburys? And what about providing enough food for their sick or elderly relatives? Is that their responsibility too?
Isn’t all this one more thing to make people feel guilty about, second best about? Another stick to beat the working man or woman, when they are faced with smug comments in the glossies: “Oh we hardly ever go these days since we took over our neighbours garden..” whilst opening a bag of climate controlled pre-washed salad.
If environmentalists are serious about food, they need to get out of their wellies, leave their cosy cliques of grow-your-owners and realize they are living in a bean-trellised ivory tower that most people can never aspire to. If we are to have a sane food culture that respects the people that eat it as well as the people that produce it and the soil that supports it, we need solutions at scale, from community supported agriculture schemes to decent procurement policies by all government institutions and a radical shift in culture by the supermarkets, away from giving us the sop of a name of the farmer on the bag to a culture that supports farmers and takes food security and ecology seriously.
But we wont get that from cosy seed swaps and holing up in the potting shed.
This article is a personal opinion and does not represent the views held at Embercombe.

A counter viewpoint was offered by Jo Clarke, head of land based learning at Embercombe, but this is not available in writing. To learn more about Jo’s approach to growing and the positive impact exposure to this has on children, visit http://www.embercombe.co.uk/education.
The Kitchen Table – Concious Catering: http://www.thekitchentable.org.uk

To read an article written by The Seedy Sisters: http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/content/growing-your-own-food-%E2%80%93-life%E2%80%99s-not-always-beach

Jo spends time learning and sharing with the Maasai

My visit to David Mairwa and his community in Maasailand south of Nairobi was an exploration of how we may be able to help them grown their own food. Traditionally, a nomadic pastoral people they have little or no understanding of horticulture.

These women have organised themselves to help to develop the four acres of grassland in the local school. Everywhere there are piles of animal manure that is not being utilised, so here I am running a compost-making workshop with them.

Over three hundred children in the local school eat maize and beans for lunch and with this initiative instigated by David, they will be able to grow the much needed vegetables.

The big question is how do we support communities like this to develop a sustainable agriculture that is not dependent on continuous aid.

A fuller account of the content and context of my trip will appear on the blog in due course with more photos.

The Peace Chiefs

This article was published in the Qi Global 2011 Conference Magazine.

The Peace Chiefs’

an article by Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, a key-note speaker at the 2010 Qi Global conference in Singapore

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JchSac-VP0

I sit in almost complete darkness. Only the flickering light from a small open fire provides hints as to my location. The room is no more than two metres by two metres, yet there are nine of us in this room. Wood smoke blankets the air above us and my eyes smart as they adjust to the darkness. On the tiny fire a pan of cow’s milk warms – a gift from our hosts to me and my friend Wandia Muinde. The floor is earth, the walls are earth, the roof, a matted collection of sticks, grasses, and other materials gathered to make this small shelter earn the name of ‘home’. The Masai family who live here experience on a daily basis what it means to be poor. Even as I write this article the drought afflicting West Africa tightens its grip, commodity prices continue to rise, and an ancient way of life disappears. Written on the hard-baked earth of this single village, in the eyes of the young mothers holding their babies, and in the glare of a sun that grows ever hotter, is a story calling us to action.

Last March I came to Kenya to join a gathering of senior managers from one of the world’s largest international banks. One hundred and twenty of the bank’s most senior executives gathered to explore, debate, and pledge a new component in their strategy. To set a goal that for many may understandably invite an instant, involuntary, and cynical response. They have pledged, and are now implementing, a global plan to develop financial products inside the bank’s core business that will significantly assist many of the world’s poorest communities to work their way out of extreme poverty. The bank’s CEO outlined his vision for their company to become a ‘force for good in the world’ and spending several days in his company, I understood that he meant it. Operating in the avaricious and intensely competitive world of international banking, he will understand that concern for the world’s poor will not win him a fatter bonus. Whether a banker or an environmental activist, it takes courage to speak opinions at variance with the cultural norms of your own community.

I was one of fifteen facilitators working for a UK based social enterprise that is making real impact at the top of many very large business organisations towards the aim of influencing positive, values-based leadership that will benefit all stakeholders especially the poor and disenfranchised.  The bank’s CEO had engaged this organisation to advise and assist them on this journey. Now, some months later, I had returned to Kenya on my own account to advance some trading ideas I’d developed with Wandia that might build greater sustainability into a number of fragile and very poor communities. Crouched in the tiny home of a Masai family in Narok, on the edge of Kenya’s Masai Mara, I witnessed yet again how so many millions of our Earth’s people live …….. and die. I find myself in a place of profound paradox. I love my life. I wake most days vibrantly happy to be alive. I know what I love and I love a lot. My life is filled with meaning, and laughter accompanies me most days. I am not wealthy on any terms understood by our developed world’s standards, and yet I have what so many chase for a lifetime and fail to touch. Love fills my life and my cup is indeed overflowing. Juxtaposed with this, I am viscerally aware of the suffering experienced by countless millions of people, and the violent and mindless destruction we are inflicting on the Earth, every day for countless years past and, if we don’t change soon, countless years forward. Embercombe is very fortunate to have a very positive and mutually rewarding working relationship with WWF International. I assist in the delivery of WWF’s One Planet Leaders Programme in Lausanne and more recently in Singapore. Concerning what is happening in our world environmentally and socially, I am informed. If you don’t know, let me tell you. It gets worse. Positive thinking is fine providing it doesn’t preclude the truth, and the truth is that while there are many thousands of inspiring and extraordinary projects bringing hope to millions, the engines of economic progress are destroying this garden planet at a rate so relentlessly fast that the bio-systems of Earth are now under serious threat. Emerging from this is a question the answer to which still eludes me. What will it take to bring the countless millions of good citizens populating every country around the world to their feet? Taking action, demanding change, insisting that our leaders do what all leaders should do, serve the needs of their people and protect the future of our children. It is not the cruel and self-serving actions of despots that will decide our children’s future. It is the passivity and complacency of those who are comfortable, educated, and diligently pursuing the limited goals of our affluent society. It is easy to blame others but this will not change anything. We are the problem and we are the solution. Real applied wisdom is changing what needs to be changed before we have to. 

So, where does this leave us? Angry, numb, disempowered, or determined, inspired, and purposeful? This is a most extraordinary and potentially wondrous moment in history. We are offered a gift of inestimable value – the chance to make choices that will give us everything we have always longed for. The chance to set fear aside, along with the burden of negative disempowering beliefs that whisper their malicious untruths. The chance to turn the TV off, quit the job that has been tearing at our heart, cease chanting the bleak consumer mantra, and go on the journey that will bring us home – to ourselves. Each one of us has gifts to deploy. In almost all cases we underestimate those gifts and by colluding with our fears in this way we massively reduce what we might have achieved. At Embercombe, after a great deal of thinking, doing, making mistakes, and creating successes, we see it a bit like this.

 

  • Search your vision. Never give up. Search your vision and then renew it continually for the rest of your life by never ceasing to ask questions, seek new experience, and step out towards what you most fear and love.
  • Know yourself, know your people, know your Earth.
  • Develop your potential – joyfully, powerfully, vigorously.
  • Heal your wounds. Do not ignore them. They grow more powerful when left to fester in the dark.
  • Find work that you love, that fulfils you, and that brings you enough for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
  • Keep good company. Find and create friends whose values you respect and who are willing to tell you what they see, even when this is un-welcomed by you.
  • Learn about your own culture. Study it. Be brave enough to stand by what is healthy and robust while challenging beliefs, traditions, and assumptions that hurt people or nature.
  • Compile your own success criteria. Use any of those generally applied in our society and you’ll very soon be betraying your original intentions.
  • Resist becoming too comfortable. It will rob you of your passion.

 

As some of you will know I often speak about the experiences and insights I gathered when mentored by a group of mixed-blood Native Americans. Recently I’ve found myself speaking more and more about the Peace Chiefs. These chiefs sat in the council circles of the tribes. They were warriors who were trained in the arts of war, had demonstrated their courage in battle, and then taken the radical step of setting their weapons aside and choosing the way of peace. Their discipline and path was not an easy one. They sought to embody their pledge to peace in every aspect of their lives and in every way that they participated and contributed to their people. It does not require much imagination to picture the courage that this pledge must have exacted. At a music festival I was speaking at in southern England earlier this summer I met a Peace Chief. Her name is Jo Berry. Jo’s father was killed by a terrorist’s bomb in 1984 at a political party conference. Unable to comprehend the motivations for such an extreme act of violence, Jo eventually went to Ireland trying to find the IRA activist that had set the bomb – the man who had killed her father. Two and a half years later Jo and Pat Magee began the work that has occupied them ever since. They travel to some of the most violent and dangerous places of our world offering what they have learned in an effort to bring healing. To bring peace.

Perhaps more than anything I’ve realised that no matter which side of the conflict you’re on, had we all lived each others lives, we could all have done what the other did. In other words, had I come from a Republican background, I could easily have made the same choices Pat made.”

Jo Berry

I believe that we are called to do the same thing. We are called to be Peace Chiefs. Thankfully, most of us have not had to endure what Jo Berry has experienced. Yet, we have our own story, and every story has it’s own quota of disappointment and pain. The Masai village that I visited with Wandia calls us to be Peace Chiefs. The courage and commitment of one international bank’s CEO calls us to be Peace Chiefs. The laughter and beauty of our unborn children calls us to be Peace Chiefs. You call me to be a Peace Chief, and I call you.

 

Mac is the founder of Embercombe – a small valley on the edge of Dartmoor National Park in the UK where a small group of men and women are working to achieve the following mission:

To touch hearts, stimulate minds, and inspire committed action for a truly sustainable world.”

www.embercombe.co.uk