Suzi Steer shares reflections on her experiences as part of Be The Earth's Giving Circle programme. She talks about the projects that she nominated for funding and explores in depth her experience with the Grandmothers of Putumayo, a moving example of the power of self-determination.
Being invited to be part of the Giving Circle has been a great privilege and one that has opened up doors for the future to arrive that were not foreseen. The format of six women facilitated by Renata allowed for space to be in listening for where funding needed to flow. What has emerged feels like a strong and positive new way of working. To trust your body wisdom to inform structural and financial choices creates emergence and reflective learning. All of which are things the Be The Earth team, and in my experience, Renata, do really well. In 2022 I put forward four groups:
The Network for Ecovillage Emergence and Development in the Sahel also known as the REDES Community who support ecovillages in Senegal and Mauritania who used the funding to support a shelter for their young trees, irrigate nurseries and support. They now support over 100 eco-villages blending local cultural knowledge with modern ecological and community building skills with practical and positive results.
The Asociación de Mujeres Indígenas de la Medicina Tradicional “La Chagra de la Vida” (ASOMI), a grassroots organisation made up of five indigenous ethnic groups located in Putumayo, Columbia. The ASOMI promotes the recovery of indigenous women's cultural identity, knowledge and traditional practices.
The Peoples Food and Farming Alliance have gone from strength to strength and are now supporting a web of innovations and creative responses to local food production across the UK with templates being used globally.
Listening to the Earth for small operational funding to allow this small French charity to maintain their servers to continue their work facilitating spaces for listening to the earth at major international events and conferences.
It has been a delight to listen into the work of all these groups and the constant commitment and enthusiasm of community leaders is inspirational. It feels like there is something uniquely important in being able to gift support and finance in such a way that the communities are able to decide what they’d like to do themselves. It is the Grandmothers of the Putumayo region that illustrated this most beautifully in my experience of 2022.
I was introduced to the women of the Putumayo region of Columbia in work towards an Ethical Tree Growing Framework for TreeSisters and as a result of an enquiry to Mindahi Bastida of the Oltomi Toltek regarding mining increase seen regionally after the Climate COP27 in Glasgow. Mindahi shared what he could from the men's perspective and didn’t have permission to speak on behalf of women. This led to listening sessions and a recorded series with the ASOMI. As a result of listening to the wisdom and precision focus of the communities regarding what they are working on, it felt important to bring them forwards to the Giving Circle with Be The Earth.
Their headquarters are La Chagra de la Vida, or the Garden of Life. You can read more about how this garden came about here. What emerged from the funding meant the ASOMI could create a series of gatherings to support the women of the different nations within the region of the Putumayo River. First this involved gatherings to support the women in their own self nourishment, care of each other and training in how to pass on ancestral wisdoms from the Grandmothers to the youth.
It’s hard being a forest guardian in Columbia, conditions can be tough. There is mining and use of pesticides that deeply affect their children, water sources, access to food and ability to care for their garden of medicinal and food plants. Columbia has one of the highest assassination rates in the work for forest guardians. This care and support for each other is critically important for their mental and physical health and resiliency.
The women could consult with each other and the forest in ceremony to listen for their next steps. Learning from each other what is happening in the different regions, diagnosing what the problems are in relation to the land and collectively exploring what skills and information they are going to need. This was the beginning of a process to create a training program that provides the legal and practical tools to manage situations on the ground for defending and caring for the land and forests.
Out of the ASOMI’s work in the Putumayo region came a cross-cultural mission with Nations in Northern Columbia. The communities of Kagaba Nation (Kogi) of the Sierra Navada received in their listening to the Earth that they needed to meet with the women of the Putumayo region to learn how the Kagaba Nation could be supporting women’s empowerment within their own culture. This work is evolving in it’s own time and is being done in a way that honours the appropriate biocultural protocols of cross-cultural sharing.
If you’d tried to create funding to deliberately empower the women of these regions in a prescriptive way I don’t think you’d have been able to have such effective outcomes. By genuinely trusting the women to lead on what is most effective for them they were able to facilitate an emergence of solutions that reached beyond their lands and supported the preservation of extremely rare and important women’s ancestral wisdom for future generations.
Laterally to the Giving Circle, but as a result of the space it was holding of gently supporting and facilitating care of and self-care for those who are safeguarding key biocultural and ancestral wisdoms, other unexpected outcomes have arisen. Be The Earth’s team were able to pivot quickly when a call to urgently support a group of Elders from the New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, South Africa, Benin, Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, Sweden and India found themselves stranded at COP27 in Egypt without accommodation or funding as a result of issues beyond their control. Be The Earth were extremely prompt and agile in allowing the funds from an emergency fundraising effort to go through their finance team and be passed in full on to those that needed it. In this case that allowed for £8,984 to be raised and Elders, who all had rare blue zone passes to represent their Nations and Mother Earth in the climate negotiations but had ended up sleeping on people's floors, were able to be given suitable travel and accommodation.
A cross-cultural sharing was facilitated that led to the development of a midwifery program between the Nations as a mechanism for the wisdom and strength of the women of the Kagaba Nation to be honoured and shared and support the women of the Putumayo reciprocally. Also enabling work with midwives trained in modern medicine to be woven into what they are evolving over time so the unique and incredible work of the women of the Kagaba Nation can be shared.
Suzi Steer has 20 years of experience in work focused on care for the environment and communities. She is mother, an ex-secondary school teacher of mathematics and the
. Suzi is responsible for Education and Alliances through the TreeSisters network. Her work is rooted in a deep love for the conscious intelligence of all beings of Earth and the specific needs of trees for their long term care and protection. Suzi facilitates relationships with Original Peoples and Nations, community organisations, tree oriented NGOs, international environmental coalitions and governance fora. Collaboratively developing our ability to serve eco-cultural restoration in landscapes.