15 April 2012

Gratitude for Willing Workers

We have accomplished much in these first few months of the year, projects spiraling from projects, constructions leaping up pulleys, harvest jars filling shelves. And in every successful project we owe immense gratitude to the friends and family who have stopped by to lend a helping hand, stayed to build something greater than we could accomplish individually. In addition to our normal summer guests, this summer we trusted in the arrival of three previous near-strangers who quickly became our good friends as they willingly came to help us in our work, volunteering their abilities while learning and living a different way of life. It´s a volunteer movement called WWOOF-ing, which is an acronym for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. We are not actually affiliated with the movement officially, nor have we had any prior experience with soliciting or supporting such volunteers, but had heard of the concept as is the nature of our social circles, especially in the realm of permaculture. Apparently there are volunteers young and old traveling all over the world trading labor for room and board among small and large-scale farming communities where the idea is to create an exchange of knowledge on organic farming and/or sustainable living practices.
Our volunteer friends had all traveled throughout Chile and Peru at official WWOOF sites, one of our friends also volunteering a couple of years in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. All three had interesting stories from their experiences having live and worked among so many diverse groups. Not all their experiences were as rich as anticipated in terms of cultural and informative exchange. Being treated as less-than-equal than permanent members of the community was a common experience, or being asked to do a laborious task alone instead of learning a skill by working alongside knowledgeable craftsman, reducing the apprentice to a status of indentured servant, greatly inhibited the exchange of pertinent knowledge and experience that a volunteer is so enthusiastically seeking that they willingly offer their labor as payment. These very tales are the reason I have never previously considered volunteering myself or even soliciting volunteers. I would not like being treated as a slave-laborer, nor would I like to command someone to labor for me.
But when we got to talking about what kind of activities our friends had enjoyed, they had much to praise: working with people, learning skills and practices by example, enjoying the fruits of their labor in communal meals, becoming part of a group and seeing their collective work materialize into finished products, exchanging ideas and stories, and in general having an adventure. They spoke of beautiful places, interesting architecture and designs for human-scale technology. An afternoon conversing with our guests filled my mind with creative ideas from faraway communities I may never actually visit. These nomadic volunteers brought us more than helpful, skilled labor, they brought a landscape of innovation that other groups of large and small human settlement are currently experimenting, living from, and reinventing in similar and adaptable ways to what we are doing. I never knew, I had only imagined and hoped that groups like us were rising up everywhere. Now I have had the chance to hear eyewitness accounts and to know that not only are we not alone, but perhaps we have much to contribute in the current exchange of knowledge and ideas; certainly we have much we happily can learn. With our volunteering friend guests we finished the last coats of mud and also limed the second-floor walls of our workshop, possibly learning more from them than we could every teach. And we raised wall frames and a roof over an extension to our house in days rather than in months, definitely learning more of an appreciation for building with wood than I would have expanded my imagination towards had I been working alone.
We have always been well-accompanied in our journey with friends and family guests lending us support and help to bring in harvests, lift beams, mix mud, or plant trees. It is exactly this web of support and love which has allowed us to flourish in our forest, inspiring us to keep growing and dreaming and building. But it is a humbling and rarer gift to receive prior strangers by chance in your home and to have them offer all that they can to help you in your path, even hauling wheelbarrows of clay or mixing buckets of lime, because they want the experience, because they believe in a different way of seeing the world and how to relate to it, because they want to learn and share and inspire and someday build something similar. In the end in everyone who has ever helped us, we recognize one another as part of the same essential human impulsion toward freedom and creativity. We share in our work and we share in our celebrations, and are bonded by our shared experience. Our sincere gratitude to all our friends and family who have helped us shape our world in Los Brujos. May I someday have the same opportunity to offer my help and especially muscle-strength in your own unique paths and projects.