June Mendez | Opening Doorz Editorial | December 12, 2016
Two years ago, June Mendez, along with her family, wandered onto the farms at Palghar District for The Learning Societies Unconference (LSUC). For someone who is always off the beaten track, this came as a pleasant surprise. An initiative that was started in India in 2002, the LSUC brings together people from diverse backgrounds to a specified location for a few days, to interact and learn from each other in a very informal, interactive setting. It is a self-organizing gathering of diverse minds and hearts working in various sectors.
Opening Doorz to the ‘unConference’ where there isn’t one single vision statement though there are many common threads.
What makes the highly successful investment banker, entrepreneur, movie maker, IIT graduate or a media moghul, wake up one day and say “Enough!” Why do highly successful people suddenly decide to walk off the regular path and take the road less travelled? A good guess would be their disillusionment with a factory system where the same products are churned out year after year from various educational institutions, or probably the fatigue of being in the ‘rat race,’ where one is constantly trying to catch up with and outdo another.
Walking out of a known system to forge your own path, takes a lot of courage and commitment. Society often frowns down on people who dare to be different, yet it is quite heartening to see a growing number of people questioning the prevailing paradigm and breaking out of the shackles of expectations to take a detour. People who have been at the helm of their corporate careers have now chosen to lead a minimalistic lifestyle, to go back to the land and get their hands dirty in the soil. To unlearn all that they’ve been taught, to re-learn and grow with nature.
Most have chosen to take the path on their own, but there are others who have reached out to the larger community and formed learning societies to act as strong support systems. Various communities like Swashikshan Association of Indian Homeschoolers, Swaraj University, Shikshantar Andolan, and others have been formed as a result. It is a natural course of events that often brings these individuals and communities together once in a while to share their experiences, coexist and reinforce their beliefs in the path they have chosen.
One such binding platform is The Learning Societies unConference (LSUC)…
An initiative that was started in India in 2002, the LSUC brings together people from diverse backgrounds to a specified location for a few days, to interact and learn from each other in a very informal, interactive setting. It is a self-organizing gathering of diverse minds and hearts working in various sectors. There isn’t one single vision statement though there are many common threads.
Manish Jain, one of the co-creators of LSUC puts it this way: “It is a space for people to share and explore radical ideas and visions of education, with people who are not official ‘education experts’, and to meet more people looking for how to move from a schooling society to a learning society, where diverse communities and learning ecosystems can be supported and nurtured.”
This year the 9th Unconference will be held at Gandhi Vidya Mandir, Sardarshahr, Churu (Near Bikaner), Rajasthan, from December 14-19, where more than 300 people are expected to join from all over South Asia and other parts of the world.
A personal unConference experience…
When one is seeking answers and reassurance, the Universe almost always gives you a gentle nudge to put you in the path of those who know. Our quest for answers to the path we had chosen led us to the 7th Learning Societies unConference which was held at Hide Out—a beautiful farm in Palghar District. We had no expectations, no preconceived notions and absolutely no idea of what we were going to be doing there. We decided that we would test it out for a day or two and return if the children got too bored or if it wasn’t what we were looking for. By the end of the five days however, we wished it could have continued!
The unConference came as a pleasant surprise as there was no fixed agenda or form to the proceedings. Participants were all co-creators for the agenda as they freely shared and hosted sessions on what mattered to them. The food too was prepared in a community kitchen by participants volunteering to chop, stir, knead and serve! Everyone washed their own plate after every meal and helped with the other dishes too.
What actually happens…
The mornings began with a welcome circle where people interacted, danced, laughed and shared their experiences. A board which was placed at the centre of the main tent served as the focal point for the day’s agenda. Anyone was free to host a session and display it on the board with directions to their space, which was more often than not under one of the numerous mango trees that dotted the farm. One could glide from one space to the other, listening in on discussions, contributing, or just moving on to another location if the session was not to one’s liking.
Evenings reverberated with a different level of energy from the strings and beats of guitars and drums, the story tellers and the dramatists. It was such a positive space for children to be in, and during my time there, I did not have to worry about my three as they drifted off to find things that interested them. They joined the nature enthusiasts on their morning walks, got dirty in a mud pit made exclusively for children, trekked to the nearby lake for an afternoon swim, played with the group, and sang along with the musicians.
The gathering brought together healers, musicians, eco-architects, organic farmers, designers, to name a few. Everyone had something to share, and the positive energy that emanated from the gathering was infectious. There was so much information and wisdom passed around, it was quite exhilarating for a person in search of answers!
A promise to be different…
Like the previous years, the LSUC this year too promises to be a life-altering event for many more seekers! The invite says it all: “The gathering seeks to engage the heart, hands, head and home, all of our senses and sensibilities, in a process of re-imagining our lifestyles and systems. Most importantly, the central purpose of this gathering is to build strong friendships and critical connections of people across the country who are co-creating ‘alternative’ systems, models, approaches and lifestyles.”
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