Work, play, inspire: School of Sustainability meeting in Slovakia

23 November 2017

“You’re attending a member group meeting? Big deal! Let me see the agenda…wait, what? Energiser? Buddy time? You must be kidding me, this sounds more like a play therapy session than a serious meeting!”

Thus spoke recently a colleague of one of the attendees of the Friends of the Earth Eastern and Central European groups gathering in Slovakia. And while we are not inclined to question the soundness of our organisation, here are three reasons and three testimonies to point out how special this meeting was, indeed:

  • The content: This was the first ever meeting of Eastern and Central European member groups and also included colleagues from Bankwatch. For their Western companions, it was thrilling to learn about the topics and focuses of their work, organisational peculiarities and especially their “post-Soviet trauma”, as it was defined in a presentation. We heard a lot about a “back to nature” trend, but also about distrust of democracy and different (even linguistic) concepts of activism or mobilisation.
  • The setting: Imagine an ancient cottage in the countryside, renovated in a joint effort by various locals, dedicated to pedagogic, ecosocial and care events, community spirit shining in every room? That’s our venue, the EcoCenter, 3 hours away from capital Bratislava and already at the end of November entirely covered in snow. What better refuge to strengthen ties and craft solutions together?
  • And, of course, the ludic methods used in the meeting, inspired by School of Sustainability. For instance, in initial presentations, participants did not talk about countries, but about their friends or family members: Grandfather Soviet Union, elder lady Bulgaria, tech-addict teenager Estonia, warrior girl Ukraine, millennial Russia, the disparate cousins Slovakia and Czech Republic and their whole clan. In collective enactments, we let our work ambitions grow, flourish and entwine like trees; a panel was set in scene as “People power TV” show; and the most common challenges were visualised as urgency graphs.

Juraj from Priatelia Zeme/Friends of the Earth Slovakia, our host, concluded: "It’s great to discuss common challenges and opportunities of various Eastern and Central European environmental organisations, to find out how we can learn from the Western European countries and vice versa."

Zane from Zemes Draugi/Friends of the Earth Latvia said: "This was a historical meeting. We have seen how unique our organisations are, how many commonalities we still share and how we can give Western European colleagues the opportunity to get to know us better – all this will certainly strengthen the network."

Katia from Russian Social-Ecological Union/Friends of the Earth Russia stated: "Being used to more formalized ways of giving presentations and having Q&A sessions, sometimes we don’t pay so much attention to listening to each other’s feelings and establishing connections on a more personal level. The School of Sustainability methods presented in the meeting are a great way to create the basis for future collaborations and to find mutual beneficial solutions. I am inspired and looking forward to be part of the project in the near future."

What can we say? The play therapy has apparently been a total success!