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Gaia Education (GE) - an international NGO with headquarters in Scotland - has been pioneering community-based educational approaches to sustainable design and development. Founded concurrently with the launching of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) 2005-2014, GE has been developing unique curricula and pedagogy drawn from the precedent of the educational experiences of eco-village models around the globe. With a 10-year track record in forty-three countries on five continents, GE programmes are conducted in settings ranging from tribal and traditional communities to intentional eco-communities, from urban slums to universities and R&D centers. GE educational programmes equip students of all ages and cultural backgrounds with the appropriate knowledge, skills, and critical thinking tools necessary to design a society which uses energy and resources with greater efficiency, distributes wealth equitably, centers autonomy within local communities, and makes quality of life, rather than open-ended economic growth, the focus of future thinking. Learners become change agents capable of playing active roles in transitioning their existing communities and neighbourhoods to sustainable and regenerative practices, lifestyles and infrastructures.
The starting point for this paper is concern about the impactful effects of industrial food systems, based on large-scale, energy and resource-intensive, agribusiness enterprises operating at a global scale. In this context the paper introduces and analyses a series of regional Project-Based learning initiatives taking place in the Global South, developed within the framework of UN Sustainable Development Goals that address the standard three dimensions of sustainability - environment, society, and economy -with culture added as a unifying fourth dimension. These capacity building projects conducted with partners in Bangladesh, Senegal, India and Sicily support communities to transition from the input-intensive agriculture introduced by forces of globalisation to locally-sourced, agroecological food production systems featuring the revival of indigenous knowledge and cultural traditions. In this process, regenerative whole systems design practices developed in the North are introduced to villagers in the South to complement and augment indigenous knowledge and cultural traditions in an effort to achieve food sovereignty and ameliorate the damage done to ecosystems by climate change. The GE model engages local communities in the spirit of participatory action research, working together to find low energy, low cost, creative and innovative solutions to local problems. The GE model uses a holistic, non-reductionist approach to education, weaving together social, ecological, economic, and cultural dynamics to produce a living synthesis that can result in long-term ecosystem and community health and well-being.
The paper concludes by examining how GE programmes create learning environments for villagers in climate-vulnerable regions that foster meaningful, actionable knowledge. This knowledge promotes food sovereignty through the sustainable potential of community-based, locally-sourced food production systems, featuring the linkages of social, ecological, and cultural dynamics.
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