Nepali Women’s Permaculture Teacher Training Story
My journey to Nepal was transformative and incredible. I was deeply touched by the beauty of the people, and power of the spiritual sites. Here are some of the stories and photos from the Nepali Women’s Permaculture Teacher Training, taught by Raya Cole (US, Living Ecology) and assisted by Padma Koppula (India, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives), and Prabina Shrestha (Nepal, Sunrise Farm). The course was hosted by Woven Earth, inspired by Michael Smith (US) and Sri Aurobindo Ashram (Nepal).
13 women attended, from very diverse backgrounds. Some were well educated in English and working in business, some were teachers at the ashram, a few had permaculture farms, and a couple were village farmers whose first language is Tamang. The course was designed to empower new skills in teaching permaculture through practice, to build connection and comfort among participants (crucial to positive learning experiences), and to give all the background on how to run courses. It was an incredible success. The first signs of those goals appeared by the end of the first day. I already had them practicing teaching twice that first day. The first time was in the introductions, when they introduced a partner as if they were a guest instructor at their course. This activity was a practical example of improvisation, of learning something and then teaching it, and of using the presentation skills that they were coming to the course with. For me, it was an assessment to see where the participants were in their comfort with standing in front of a group and presenting information in a clear way. Before the second teaching activity, we did a fun icebreaker game that had everyone laughing and moving as we got to know each other better. Then I taught a lesson on one of the ethics of permaculture, “people care,” and how we integrate that into course design. The second assignment was teaching a permaculture principle. I had originally created that assignment to be independent work in the preparation of it, but as any good teacher does in constant assessment of their students needs, I realized that the participants would best be supported by preparing in groups of 3 to aid better understanding of the principles, and then to present individually. They did a fantastic job with their presentations! Everyone’s knowledge of permaculture grew tremendously, as well as their comfort with standing in front of a group. By the end of the day, the 2 women village farmers who had wanted to run home after the first hour, felt comfortable and an integral part of the whole group. Success on the first day.
I used all parts of the course, such as creating course agreements, setting the tone for the course and icebreakers, as lessons on how to do it, and the importance of all these important parts of a course. Each day two different participants were assigned to help as participant teacher’s assistants. This created another opportunity for participants to be a part of what is needed to run a course effectively. The aim of the whole course was to learn through doing and teaching.
The venue for the course was the Sri Aurobindo Ashram on the outskirts of Kathmandu. It is home to 120 children who are either orphans or children from severely economically disadvantaged families. I was deeply moved by how well the ashram was run. and how well they took care of the children. As well, they grow all of their own food. It was such a wonderful place to be for the week.
The second day’s focus was on running effective meetings and the art and science of teaching. The assignment of the day, was to teach a lesson on a permaculture subject, using several different ways to teach to the multiple intelligences of students. We brainstormed a giant list of permaculture topics to choose from. That brainstorm itself was a big lesson for these particular participants, who were learning more about what permaculture is, as well as learning teaching skills. Growing permaculture knowledge was an adaptation I realized was necessary for this audience on the first day.
Day 3’s main focus was creative and participatory learning experiences, critical thinking, presentation skills and permaculture community work. Fun learning activities were interspersed throughout the whole day, using different teaching methods such as, role plays, sensory learning and games. That day really opened up the participant’s minds to how they could expand their teaching style and methods. And the challenge was to break through their comfort zones into the fertile edges, and try out new things.
Day 4 we talked about permaculture ethics and principles in teaching, lesson planning, curriculum planning and organizing a course. Great strides of understanding occurred during the assignment to write a detailed lesson plan. I was very satisfied with seeing where they were at the beginning of the lesson and how much they learned in writing an effective and interesting plan. We broke up all that indoor learning with a practical hands on session in rain water harvesting. Everyone learned how to use the bunyip water level to find contours in the landscape. That lesson was also a lesson on how to run a hands on session. Teaching permaculture at the grassroots level in village settings was another wonderful topic that was taught by experienced elder permaculture women Padma Koppula of India, and Mithu Sharma of HASERA in Nepal. It was so wonderful to have these insightful, strong, kind and highly active women as a part of the course.
Day 5 covered networking, personal and professional asset mapping, goal setting, and work on the final group presentation. The final assignment was to design and run a half day course. The group was split into 3 groups, with each having a topic. Each participant was to teach a topic under their group’s topic. They needed to organize the course in an effective order between all the groups, and to create advertising posters. The women worked as a good team in doing this. The topics they chose were introduction to permaculture, soil health and animal husbandry.
Day 6 was our last day, and the day the participants facilitated their course. Some students came from the ashram as students of the course, which gave it a real feeling. The participants did a great job incorporating their newly learned skills and trying out new things. Everyone’s knowledge of permaculture grew from that. They included games, a video, PowerPoint, interactive brainstorming in a variety of fun ways, assessment methods to see if their students had actually learned what they taught, and a demonstration of making a clay salt lick for cows. I was so happy to see the creativity and cohesiveness of the course they created, as well as their newly gained confidence and presentation skills.
Overall, the participants knowledge of permaculture grew tremendously, as well as how to teach in a creative and participatory way. I’m very happy with how well the course went. I am grateful for my background and in depth experience in India which aided the success of this course in Nepal. The women made fantastic goals in our closing integration activity and I look forward to hearing from them as they continue on their permaculture journeys.
Written by: Seva Nibley