The Selva Chi Outdoor Experiential Education Centre
Selva Chi aims to protect many species by creating a small sample of their natural habitats; of these, most importantly, there is one species that is seriously endangered through the loss of its natural habitat; this species is Homo sapiens, humanity.
Our modern habitat is a reflection of our mentality and this habitat we are forming further imbalances our mentality. While the modern world has provided us with many conveniences in life it seems it has cost us dearly in terms of what is deeply important for us, namely it has robbed us of leisure time and opportunities to be with loved ones and friends; it has robbed us of a healthy ecosystem that can provide us with healthy food, water and air; it has even robbed us of a healthy identity, because we have lost much of our deep bonds with the Earth, other species and our very own communities. More and more we are suffering from isolation, ironically because we live in crowded towns and cities, removed from natural places where there is room to breathe. In the early seventies, a simple pop song pinpointed the source of the mounting problems in the world. The main line said “What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there is just too little of.”
What does it mean to increase the amount of love and well-being in the world?
This question was the starting point for establishing Selva Chi and this foundation. All the following were considered to be the effects of love but not necessarily love itself: service, sacrifice, protection and the best approximation, education. The definition of love is not an action but a state of being. It is oneness, but a much clearer understanding is integration. The middle of a potato is one with the whole potato, but in being so loses its own identity; where as the inner layer of an onion has that same oneness but retains its individuality and semi-autonomy. This is a far more noble kind of oneness because it recognizes a degree of freedom and therefore a high sense of respect by choosing to be one (although choosing disconnection eventually leads to self-destruction). This corresponds accurately with biological definitions. Consider the parts of your body or the parts of an ecosystem: they can each be sustained at least temporarily in isolation, however when integrated into the whole system they exist effortlessly and most healthily and happily. Life comes from love and love is integration.
So, to heal the world the most imperative action seems to be the reintegration of the human mind and spirit. This means learning in a way that helps us understand the integrated nature of reality and by bonding with the other layers of our selves within and beyond our skin.
There already is a component of education that serves this purpose beautifully although until now has been used relatively sparingly in education systems, this is known as Outdoor Experiential Education or simply Outdoor Education. The Selva Chi campus already described is designed to facilitate this kind of education. There is a diverse range of activities that a participant can experience during a five-day camp in Selva Chi. Let’s look at some of the general types of activities Integridad programmes will deliver:
Observation games and exercises: These could have a scientific aim such as looking for footprints on the forest floor; it could have a creative aim such as the collection of flowers and leaves of different forms to express an artistic message, or it could be inspired by the excitement of some kind of treasure hunt.
Meditation Exercises: to promote tranquility, bodily awareness and control, reflection skills, empathy, or the imagination, these activities are very useful. They are often part of another kind of activity such as when the group reaches a rest point in a hike, prior to starting a creative exercise or following a period of stargazing or storytelling.
Exploration: This has many forms, from leaving the group to explore an area with supervision at a distance, to hikes and treasure hunts. Even searching for food in the food forest or building materials in the materials forest are treasure hunts.
It allows the participant to gain self-confidence and helps establish cognitive and emotional bonds with the place, generating a sense of freedom and joy.
Touch: Touch to the skin is probably the most profound sensation a human can experience, and the most essential to aid in defining reality. So touching is ensured in exercises such as submerging into the sea or stream waters, climbing a tree-trunk, modelling clay, weaving fibres and walking bare-foot in the garden.
Team and Personal Challenges (physical, intellectual and spiritual):
Challenges are most important for people with a negative and enslaving mentality. Many of these activities are designed to overcome fears and increase self-confidence. Some place the participant in situations never before encountered and require lateral thinking practicality and logic. Many of the team games strengthen friendships and communications skills.
These activities start with a problem or goal and limited resources (eg. A rope, wooden planks, a bucket, a piece of paper and pencil). Participants are given limited time to resolve the problem or achieve the goal. The members of the group have to organize themselves, discuss logistics and coordinate their plan to achieve their goal. The game sometimes requires that participants adopt another identity, human or non-human, which adds a lesson of empathy and understanding.
Personal Expression and Works of Interpretation
Here the participant is obliged to reflect on her/his values, identity, heritage,
hopes, reasons for being grateful and much more. These are opportunities for internal exploration and sincere communication.
Service and Compassion works
Latin America in general has had a history of ethnic conflict and rivalry; there is a strong sentiment of “us and them” right down to the level of neighbours. This lack of trust impedes collaboration and acts of kindness that allow people to believe in people, it impedes community.
When children interact, they bring the behavioral patterns of their parents and that becomes the social interaction lesson they learn. After demonstrating the importance of individual respect in our camps and other activities, we strongly promote, in fun ways, how to be kind and serving without expected reward. To the surprise of many youngsters, these activities turn out to provide the deepest sense of joy.
Apart from task groups serving each other by harvesting and preparing meals, we have random acts of kindness games and competitions and some camps go out into the community to help brighten up people’s day, and help them too believe in people.
These activities teach a sense of self-worth and independence as well as new skills that generate usefulness, purpose and prosperity, making work very satisfying. These activities could be in the form of harvesting natural materials and the elaboration of handy-crafts or constructing a tree-house, or agricultural or reforestation practices, or the creation of new knowledge through measurement, collection and interpretation of data of many kinds.
Competitions and Challenges
These are very powerful and emotional learning and bonding exercises. We place emphasis on a attitude to understand the true purpose of any competition that goes far beyond winning a trophy. If practiced optimally these challenges facilitate focus, discipline, determination and faith at personal and interpersonal levels; collaboration, purpose, inspiration and empathy at a social level and an intertwining with the physical elements at a universal level. In competitions, the only losers are those who do not participate.
Similar to other challenges activities, orientation games have the added element of orientation using a geographical or figurative map and compass or the creation of such to achieve a goal. These often include a lot of adventure, lateral thinking and confidence-building.
Orientation, observation, self-confidence, perseverance, emotional bonding with nature and much fun are some of the lessons of our activities that have things or information hidden. They use clues to discover and solve puzzles while in open spaces rich in sensations.
Friendship Building Games
These include games that require teamwork, organisation, and support. There are often elements of expression of feelings, acts of courage and caring resulting in co-achievements and better understanding of others.
The sensation of reaching a goal through collaboration creates a consciousness of power in unity and generates gratitude and respect amongst the members.
These are usually small discussion groups followed by some kind of artistic expression to present to the other groups on the camp later in the week. The members share feelings and opinions about topics that are often difficult to express or rarely shared, in a listening, trusting, and respectful setting. Physical exercises such as a simulation, meditation or practicing stillness may be included. Topics may deal with honesty, family bonds, personal dreams, drugs, sexuality, cultural differences, equality, violence, the environment, the future, the purpose of life, even “Who am I?”. These stimulate the practice of stepping out of one’s normal assumptions and discovering shared and special human qualities. This is the only way to overthrow the restrictions of social conditioning and allow authentic personal growth can occur.
To sleep surrounded by nature provides an incomparable sense of freedom and wholeness. Anyone without fear or preconception is compelled to fall in love. It simply teaches us how to enjoy being part of the great organism.
As described in the Arboretum section, the biological infrastructure is mostly in place and growing, however there is still considerable construction to be realised. An amphitheatre and the student dormitories are yet to complete.
The Need for Experienced Teachers and Teacher Training
The Success of this project will not be in just the protection of this wonderful facility, but in the end the dedication of a number of individual educators who are needed to convert this novelty in Ecuadorian culture into the standard paradigm of the everyday lives of Ecuadorians. This is the great challenge now.
The Primordial objective of any teacher should be to lead the learner to believe that the greatest joy in life is discover, learn and understand: about oneself, other people and nature for all three are reflections of each other.