The time has come….
Over the years, we at IWP have imagined a safe space where activists can come on their own to rest, recover, relax, reflect, rejuvenate, surrounded by natural beauty, a supportive community, and ‘permission’ for solitude if that is preferred. The need and desire for such a space is echoed in nearly every conversation we have had with activists in Asia, and around the world.
In the 13 years of developing our training center, we have organized trainings and retreats for thousands of activists, and we feel confident our approach works: our center is fully self-sustaining; activists and NGO workers appreciate our holistic approach of integrating spiritual and mindful practices as a foundation for our social justice activism and movement building; and our center promotes self-reliance, ecological and personal wellbeing, and community building by constructing our buildings ourselves and with volunteers with natural, locally sourced building materials.
Until now, accommodating individual activists for their own retreats outside of our scheduled retreats and workshops has been beyond our means. Our current set-up and infrastructure is not entirely conducive to hosting individuals, and our staff has been too stretched. As we dreamed about expansion, the land prices in our area quickly increased beyond our reach. And yet, the requests from friends, colleagues, known and unknown activists in our movements and beyond keep coming – a safe space, particularly for women and LGBT activists, for rest and retreat has been continually identified as a desperate need by activists all over the world and yet so few exist. We have known we could make it work, but the conditions haven’t come together. Until now….
In February, 2015 IWP purchased a piece of land, and we have the energy and time to invest in a new phase of our commitment to social justice activism by sustaining and supporting the wellbeing of activists.
We have named the retreat ‘Suan San Santi’ – The Weaving Peace Retreat. And we are off to a good start. In 2015, we harvested our first mangoes, maintained the land and trees, and we’ve cleared the site for our first building. We will host a natural building workshop for women in December to build the first retreat house, a 2-room adobe bungalow. Our second build will be a women’s carpentry workshop, scheduled for early 2016.
We organize the women’s building workshops with Pun Pun Center for Self Reliance (www.punpunthailand.org). IWP and Pun Pun are a perfect match for women’s building courses, bringing together feminism and natural building, as well as a belief that work and play should always integrate the building of community.
To date, Suan San Santi is unfunded and we are working on the premise that our commitment and energy to create such a needed space will help it find it’s way into being. From IWP income and savings, we have contributed 500,000 THB ($14,000 USD) to get the project underway, and we are strategizing creative resource mobilization, including the current crowd-funding campaign, and retreat house sponsorship schemes (‘activist timeshares’).
Our Development plan:
IWP purchased 4.4 rai (about 2 acres) of land (a mango orchard on the edge of a small village) in Chiang Dao, northern Thailand to develop a retreat for activists, with a particular emphasis on creating a safe welcoming space for women and LGBT activists. Chiang Dao is a small community at the base of beautiful and sacred Doi Luang mountain and is surrounded by caves, hot springs, and forests. It is a 45 drive north from IWP’s center in Mae Rim.
During this first year, we have worked to get to know the land and surrounding village community, harvested our mangoes, levelled the site of the first retreat house, and in December, we will sponsor a women’s building workshop to build the first house.
As we have been learning the land and starting to create the infrastructure, we are consulting, visioning, and dreaming with other activists in our movements on how to design the centre to meet the needs of activists seeking such rest and retreat spaces. Our initial idea includes 5-6 small private bungalows, a central shared kitchen/living area, and a yoga and meditation space, and we are excited to refine/adapt the concept as we talk with others who share our desire to realize this space.
In October, we began to make bricks for the workshop in December to build the first house. Every activist should build a home – the satisfaction of completing a project, of seeing the product of our hard work, of effective team work, of getting out of our heads and into the dirt, of taking risks to try new skills in a supportive environment, and building confidence that we can be fully self-reliant – makes every workshop a powerful and fun community gathering. The building workshops fund themselves as participants pay a modest amount to join, and we can cover some materials costs from the income as well.
In 2016, we will continue with two more women’s building workshops. We will host a women’s carpentry workshop in February to build the second house from secondhand wood, and we are planning another women’s adobe workshop for late 2016 to build a common living space and kitchen. In this latter workshop, we will provide partial/full scholarships for Asian women activists who are committed to sustainable living and wanting to introduce natural building into their movements and communities.
We will begin accepting independent volunteers who can live on the land, help us with maintenance and building, and start to develop systems for hosting a diverse range of activists.
During 2016, we also plan to convene a gathering of facilitators of activist security, wellbeing and self care workshops and processes. Among our many hopes for bringing such a dynamic and international group together, we will elicit their ideas on creative ways to staff and run the retreat space for optimal benefit to everyone involved.
In 2017, we will continue with two more women’s building workshops to complete our initial group of bungalows and meditation space. At least one of these workshops will be a sponsored Training of Trainers for women adobe builders to expand our network of women builders in the region.
We will begin hosting residents* and activists, primarily during the cold season (most beautiful time of year, easiest to get around).
*Our current vision is to put out a call (by the end of 2016) to activists, well-being practitioners and facilitators, artists who would be in residency at the retreat for a certain amount of time. The “residents” would enjoy their own retreat, and also help to host and provide a minimum amount of structure for other activists seeking retreat and refuge. Activists could then select times to come for retreat, either based on what a particular resident is offering, or whenever fits in their schedule (and ours, until we are running year round, hopefully by 2018).
IWP staff will provide the continuity and coordination to realize the goal, and step into unfilled residencies when there are activists ready to come. While we will continue to run our training center with our regular workshops, we will also organize regular day long retreats at the retreat space to ‘introduce’ the retreat idea to activists who aren’t yet convinced of the crucial need to take a step back from the movement to rest and reflect.
Our goal is to make the retreat space accessible to any activist who wants to use it, with a particular focus on women and LGBT activists. We would like to be able to offer the retreat space on a strictly donation basis for at least the first 3-4 years. During that time, we will work on our own sustainability plans for how to maintain the space long term. By keeping our costs low, building and maintaining the space ourselves (and keeping it small), planting vegetables, and building connections with the local village and our extended community, we feel confident the space will eventually support itself. We are committed to help it get there.