I was attracted to the remoteness and the exotic location of Edenhope, being frustrated with the social and economic order of Australia, as well as the various bureaucratic strata of that country which makes it incredibly difficult to live a secluded mode of existence without reliance on cars, fuel, shopping etc. The remote indigenous communities of Vanuatu have not yet succumbed to the wasteful excesses of so-called ‘developed’ countries, and therefore serve as a good template for how to live without unnecessary stuff.
However, as often as not, these same remote communities are plagued by ill health and hardship due to neglect from local administrators and aid organizations. The possibility of realizing my attributes and abilities to support disadvantaged peoples, whilst serving in a wholesome and spiritually nourishing ecovillage setting, seemed a purposeful and engaged way of life to pursue.
Living in an ecovillage setting amongst persons who resonated and shared the journey of awakening to nature made my healing possible; my mental and physical health began to thrive, over time, which resolved in a more balanced state of consciousness that has allowed deeper levels of inspiration and creativity to emerge, as well as the desire to share this way of life with others who are struggling to thrive in contemporary society.
Edenhope has been the perfect environment to start a family and raise children in an ecologically suitable setting, without the stresses faced by new families who are trying to earn an income, pay a mortgage, commute and juggle parenting responsibilities. To watch our young children play in pristine nature, taking part in the stewardship of this land and growing in awareness of their responsibility to the Earth, has fulfilled a deep need in myself to nurture the future generation of people committed to serving nature.
The Edenhope Project was independently founded and engineered by Stephen and Ruth Quinto, who arrived in Vanuatu in 2006. After three years searching for a suitable location and securing a long-term land lease of 75 years, which was paid in total and up-front to the customary owners of Tasmate community, construction for the ecovillage commenced in 2010. This first required the building of a 9km service road connecting Tasmate to the site of Edenhope, and stands to date as the first and only road on West Coast Santo.
The construction of nine fixed dwellings and three kitchens proceeded over the following two years, with Ruth and Stephen dividing their time between the site and their dwelling in the town of Luganville. During the construction period, Stephen elaborated the intricate set of administrative parameters that would allow a community of volunteers to live at Edenhope in the long-term as part of a Community Conservation Area (CCA), to be held in trust as a charitable and philanthropic entity through the Edenhope Foundation.
Further to this, Stephen lobbied the Government of Vanuatu to seek recognition of the ecovillage as a project of National Significance, and a key strategy for coping with the challenges of climate change and ecological degradation faced particularly by the local population. The first visitors and volunteers to the ecovillage arrived from 2012 onwards.
Patiently, Ruth and Stephen awaited the coming of people who could truly resonate and connect with the vision of the project, but oftentimes the remote location posed challenges to people coming from abroad. By the time that I arrived in 2015, there was a total of 5 volunteers taking part in this new experiment of community living.
People came, offered their own authentic and unique gifts to the space, and invariably left in pursuit of other dreams. Ruth and I stayed on, and worked closely together to co-create the pattern of life that would form the culture of the place for new visitors and members. In 2016 my partner Maitri arrived from Australia, with the much-needed initiative and experience in establishing off-grid systems such as water supply that would support our food gardens.
Maitri also had the willingness and talent to build upon and optimize our existing solar power system and start resolving some difficulties we were facing with the ongoing maintenance of our infrastructure. However, it was not until 2019 that we commenced, in earnest, to setup a food supply system at Edenhope that could support a large group of people living here full-time. We hosted a Workshop in Syntropic Agroforestry and started to intensively plant a dense crop of resilient foods.
To date, the only permanent residents of Edenhope are myself and Maitri with our two children, as the health concerns of Ruth and Stephen have prevented them from staying here on the land on a full-time basis. Stephen has also been undertaking a corollary ecovillage project, East of Eden, on the other side of the Santo Mountain range. However, over the course of this experiment, the four of us have cultivated a deep level of trust and kinship that holds through even the most unfathomable challenges this project has faced over the years.
We hope that from this space of unity, trust and understanding between those of us committed to the pure spirit of Edenhope, that a future community of friends will seek to join us from all around the world. The events of 2020 resulted in border closures that have prevented visitors from joining us, as Vanuatu remains fortunately COVID-free. However during this moment of global pause, we are working to refine and clarify the parameters that will make it possible for whomever wishes to join this project to do so freely.
To me, the ecovillage experiment is the clear and unequivocal solution to the crises and calamities faced by our world and global societies today. For people to come together to live out the highest expressions of the human character – such as compassion, empathy, love, acceptance, and joy – is the only possible way for the continuation of life on this planet.
For more people worldwide to recognize the salutary and healing capabilities of dedicated work in nature, with like-minded companions, and a distinct focus on needing less as individuals and serving others more, would mean that we could really start creating a future with less iniquity, disease, and all the concomitant problems of our present social order.
Self-realization is a pathway that is best undertaken in the safe company of those who understand and are striving towards similar ideals as oneself. The ecovillage concept is broad enough to encompass all the ideals and attributes of willing collaborators, and for this reason, stands as the most resilient system to shape our future societies into a sustainable direction.
To live in an ecovillage requires one to learn and to practice a number of different skills, and to structure one’s days in a disciplined and careful manner. Whilst ensuring that your basic operating systems are in order, your gardens are maintained, your food is getting harvested and your community fed, it is also necessary to make space for meditation and meaningful communion with others as part of every day.
Also, the work of an ecovillage may also require a high level of communication and outreach, as well as building individual capacities within the space through research, development and training. There has to be somebody who waters the garden and somebody to do the accounts and somebody to cook the lunch and somebody to repair the broken appliances; part of the ecovillage journey is adapting yourself to do everything that is required in the place without exhausting yourself or burdening others.
There is a very intricate dance that plays out as one’s individual self merges with the collective and the environs shared through the space of the ecovillage. The place ‘works’ when everybody’s needs are met, when support is readily at hand, and the lines of communication are open and clear. If any one of those criteria are not met at any given time, challenges are bound to arise and big corrections take place through painful lessons.
All of this takes practice, discipline, and awareness, as well as forgiveness and a willingness to let things go. I would recommend that people make a concerted effort to explore a variety of different ecovillages and styles of shared living in order to determine what they truly want before settling into a permanent location.
Find out more about Edenhope!
About the Author
Originally from Australia, Devi has lived in Vanuatu as part of the Edenhope project since 2015. Her service has included the communication, outreach projects, and administration of the Edenhope Foundation. She is deeply inspired by the exploration of endemic biodiversity as part of daily life, including immersion in nature, preparation of natural plant-based foods, and researching the social issues faced by indigenous women of Vanuatu.