April 26th, 2019
Commentary: Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Angela Dolmetsh, Ph.D., on Facebook. It turns out that both Angela and I attended the same boarding school in England. Charters Towers School was based in the small sleepy retirement community of Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex. It was an international boarding school for girls and attracted young women from all corners of the world. Though Angela and I attended CTS at different years, there is an affinity that is shared by us Charterians that transcends time and place. This is one of those intangible positive side effects of having had an international education experience. The connections and friendships made with classmates from diverse cultural backgrounds leave such a memorable and indelible mark that transcends time and one’s place of origin. Today, thanks to social media platforms like Facebook, many of us have been able to reconnect, stay in touch and hold reunions no matter where our life experiences have taken us or where we live. The young women of CTS have grown to be mothers, grandmothers, teachers, artists, engineers, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and advocates for social justice. Angela’s achievements are impressive, but it was her founding of Nashira, an eco-village in her homeland of Colombia which fosters women empowerment that captured my attention when I first saw her Facebook post. I knew I had to connect with Angela and invited her to share with us the story behind the Nashira project and its positive impact on the lives of the women it has helped and the community.
President & CEO
Little is known about the economic structure of some pre-Colombian societies, as there are few early written records. Archeologists have been very reluctant to accept that some of these societies could have been matriarchal and practice different economic relationships. The particular culture that I will talk about is the Kansateura culture and the Nashira eco-village a practical example.
In the first century AD in the Cauca River Valley in what is now Colombia, there lived a community that is believed to have adhered to maternal principles and worshipped an earth mother figure and many female deities. The Malagana or Kansaterva culture was only discovered 30 years ago when a sugar cane worker accidentally uncovered a gold figure. He had discovered a remarkable hoard of ceramic and gold artefacts, very different in character from other previously known indigenous cultures in the region. The gold pieces were very fine and experts have recognised their quality by comparing them to objects found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The ceramics depict mostly female figures and amongst them were alcarrazas or drinking vessels with double spouts with figures of women fiving birth.
There is a ceramic figure or a woman giving birth seating, probably pregnant and breast feeding at the same time quite distinct from any seen before in other pre-Columbian cultures. Archaeologists believe the Kansaterva culture was matriarchal and worshiped not only the mother earth but also women goddesses capable of fulfilling the functions of mothering and generating the miracle of life giving.
Significantly and symbolically, the eco-village Nashira is located in the same area as the Kansaterva culture. Nashira is an ambitious project in the Cauca river Valley in Colombia that aims to solve not only the problems of poverty which affect a considerable section of the Colombian population, but also to serve as an environmentally sustainable pilot project for a community where women rule.
In Colombia, 32% of households are headed by women and depend on their work as the main source of income. As a result of the gender structure of Colombian society and high male mortality rates, due to 70 years of civil war, massive displacement of rural communities and endemic violence, women are frequently responsible for the care of the family including the elderly as well as children.
The women of Nashira lived previously in cluttered rooms in rented houses with up to 70 other people and often with only one shared bathroom.
At that time the government required a down payment of 10 per cent of the cost of the house for them to finance the rest, an impossible task for people below the poverty line. For that reason, it was imperative that the land should be free.
An NGO provided a three-hectare piece of land where eighty women heads of families, have developed a happy and sustainable community. The women built their own houses using environmentally friendly parameters. The wall panels were made from materials recycled from previous constructions.
The women of Nashira cultivate staple crops using permaculture techniques, fruit trees flourish in the common areas used by the whole community. Some of the cooking uses solar power and the women proudly collect and recycle organic and inorganic waste from the neighbourhood. The recycled plastic, glass and other inorganic materials are used to make products for their own use.
75 % of Nashira’s households are headed by women as they are the main income earners. All administrative decisions are taken by the women by consensus. The consumption of alcohol is not encouraged and men who have incurred in violent acts against their partners or children have been expelled. There is no crime in Nashira. Violence against women was eradicated as Nashira is a community with open doors, where women support each other and men have developed a new culture of love and respect for women. Childcare and maintaining the ecovillage are tasks, shared through “mingas” or collective work.
Angela Dolmetsch, Ph.D. received here doctorate from the University College London. Her doctorate thesis is on Women in Colombian Politics. She is the Founder of the Eco-village Nashira. She is a published author and is International Honorary life President of the International Federation of Women Lawyers. She is also the Director and interviewer of the weekly TV program “El Agora” and a columnist of the daily newspaper “El Pais”, Cali,Colombia
Additional Reading on The Nishira Project Ecovillage:
Publications by Angela Dolmetsch:
“La otra cara del Dólar”, (Bogotá: Tercer Mundo, 1985)
“Of Govermnments and Guerrillas” (London: Biddles, 1988)
“El Hombrecillo que se tragó a Dios y otros relatos (Cali: ASOMUCAF, 1999)
In preparation “La Mujer en la Politica en Colombia Contemporanea. Tres experiencias reveladoras”
“Nashira, Las Mujeres Cambiando el Mundo”
NOTE: On May 8th, ACEI will be hosting a FREE webinar on the education system of Colombia and Opportunities for Student Mobility. Join us!
The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.