Gaia Ashram is a learning center on Ecovillage Design, Permaculture, and Deep Ecology based on 6 hectares of land that is being regenerated. I, Om Sunisa Jamwiset Deiters the co-founder, remember the date of 13th December 2013 very well when the elders of my village Ban Suai Long in the North East of Thailand, gathered to help us raise the first poles of our Gaia Ashram Sala. It was a sacred ceremony where the elders helped to invoke the ancestor spirits to be present to witness and support the building process. The ceremony was led by the local shaman and symbolic objects like flowers, candles, and incense was placed on the middle pole of the east side and the middle poles of the west side representing the mother pole and the father pole. This ceremony was recommended by my parents who are part of the village elders circle. They have been our strong bridge to connect our Gaia Ashram project with the village and local culture from the beginning.
The Gaia Sala was the first permanent building that was built on the Gaia Ashram land. It was built even before our own house or kitchen. We intended it to be the heart center of the Gaia Ashram community. Gaia Ashram project accepted volunteers from the beginning. Our first volunteers, including ourselves, initially stayed in tents, using bucket toilets, showered in the river, and prepared food beneath the only two trees we had on the land. All the volunteers who came to Gaia during this time helped with the building of the Gaia Sala.
Building the Energy Field of Gaia Ashram & the Sala
One of the important work happening during the building process, apart from the physical building, was energy work or spiritual work. It is our intention as founders to create a beautiful, vibrant, sacred, and spirited place. Physically building alone would not create that. It also needed inner work to deepen our spiritual connection with the land and the building. Every morning and evening before and after the building process I would do a walking meditation around the building site. I would be contemplating on love, gratitude, transformation invoking these qualities and practiced mindful walking. The sala started hosting volunteers, interns, course participants, and visitors in early 2014. In 2016 we hosted our first NextGENOA Ecovillage Design Education course (EDE) and another one in 2018.
Our energy-building work included volunteers and course participants who joined us in attunement circles when we started and finished any activity and during meal times. It’s a tradition we adopted from Findhorn ecovillage. Through mindfulness practice, rituals, conscious living we constantly express love and gratitude to life, to each other and nature as well as sharing loving kindness to all beings on the land. While the Gaia Sala was being physically built, the energy and spirit of the Sala and Gaia Ashram as a project were also being intentionally built through our consciousness.
People who stayed at Gaia Ashram would often share their feeling of love and gratitude for something, someone, for nature or for life in general after some time they had spent at Gaia Ashram. I once heard a volunteer express in our weekly check-in circle:
I can say that I am someone who can be thankful for something but I never felt to express that I am grateful. After being here for a week I feel so grateful. I think I know now what it means being grateful. It also feels so easy to express it.Gaia Ashram Volunteer
Covid-19 and Termites
At Gaia Ashram, when we have a big issue in the community and it involves a lot of people we would host a resolution circle in the Gaia Ashram Sala. The energetic field of the Sala we build over time helps hold these circles. In the beginning of 2020, after the first Covid-19 wave started spreading, the Gaia Ashram team and volunteers gathered at the sala. We gathered to discuss whether or not to accept more people who inquired to volunteer at Gaia Ashram to have a safe place to stay. It was a hard and quick decision that needed to be made. Everyone was involved in the decision-making process as the decisions made would directly affect everyone. At the end of the circle, everyone felt satisfied with the decision we made and the solutions we found. Looking back at that stressed and intense circle from the eyes of today all of us would agree we made a good decision.
After the first wave passed, most of the Gaia Ashram international residential team, interns and volunteers left Gaia Ashram to go back to their home country. During this time we also had to cancel all our courses. When the second and third wave hit Thailand we also couldn’t take in more people. The Gaia Ashram Sala building was left empty for too long and as a result the Sala was heavily invaded by termites. The termites had invaded the Sala a long time before Covid19 but when most people left Gaia Ashram and nobody stayed at the Sala for a few months, the termites moved in completely.
Eventually, it came to the point where it was not safe to walk on the wooden floor anymore. We decided that we had to remove most of the wood and rebuild. Due to Covid-19 we did not have enough money to spend on rebuilding the sala. We decided to raise the funds through a crowdfunding campaign. I was not so convinced that it would work. I thought everyone was probably having a difficult time with the pandemic and people wouldn’t pay attention to our collapsing Sala. However, my partner and co-founder of Gaia Ashram, Tom Deiters, insisted that we should try. See your crowdfunding campaign on our website.
We got help from our Vietnamese friend and former volunteer who was trained as an architect Trung Pham. Trung helped to design the sala renovation. We did a little ritual asking for support from Mother Earth and All Beings before sending our email to launch the crowdfunding campaign on the 6th of March 2021. To my surprise within 24 hours of the launch of our crowdfunding campaign we already had quite a few responses and donations. Within one week, we received almost 30% of our target funds and we were able to initiate the building process. I was filled with gratitude and appreciation in my heart and mind. Not only did we receive donations, we also received kind words of support and acknowledgment. Many people shared how Gaia Ashram and the work we did over the years had made a positive impact on their lives. Years of service we’ve given along our journey flashbacked and I felt so grateful for every moment and everyone we have met along our journey. I also feel so proud of the Sala that it has hosted and held over 1,000 people since the beginning until the time we have to remove half of it and renovate. Eventually we reached our original target goal and beyond after four months. The raised amount would help us to complete the construction of the dormitory part. Here is a video of the building progress:
However, after half way of the building and spending most of the budget we have realised that we underestimated the cost of this building. We currently have spent 433,793 THB. We still need to spend 247,900 THB (7884 USD). We have a budget left of 146, 207 THB (4649 USD). That means we are short of about 101,693 THB (3234 USD). The remaining costs we still need to pay are for labour costs, buying materials such as mosquito nets, mattresses, bedding, lights, fans, and plugs for the dormitory upstairs. Also there is still work to be done on the downstairs Sala and the training hall which include a library, office and co-working space at the back of the Sala. We are having to finish our outside floor and intend to integrate tile mosaic artwork representing Mother Earth Spirit.
Therefore we are asking the universe again for contributions to support the rebuilding process of our Gaia Ashram Sala. It is our aim for Gaia Ashram to continue to be a place of learning to take care of our precious earth for many more years to come and to support the learning journey of thousands more of people. If you feel called to support our mission and would like to support Gaia Ashram learning center click on the Paypal donate now button below or contact us through email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for our bank account number.
We are so grateful for all the support received and we wish for Gaia Ashram to continue to provide a place for people to come and learn how we can live in harmony in nature. We aim for our first Permaculture Design Course to be held in December, Covid permitting. Also for those interested in visiting or living with us, we hope to open our non-existing doors soon and you are most welcome to stay with us for however long you want. There are also opportunities to be part of the Gaia Ashram team to help grow the learning center, to work on ecosystem restoration, and to improve our permaculture systems.
“May all the work we do be of benefit to Mother Earth and all her Beings!”
About the Author
Om Sunisa Jamwiset Deiters, Co-Founder & Program Director at Gaia Ashram.
She lived and worked as a facilitator at Wongsanit Ashram, a socially engaged spiritual community for about 9 years, and later at Panya Permaculture project in Thailand. She helped create the Next Generation of Global Ecovillage Network of Asia & Oceania (NextGENOA) and is currently mentoring the young leaders of the network. She has facilitated courses in many countries for NGO workers, young Buddhist activists, international students, and children. She uses participatory teaching methods and her focus is on deep ecology and nature connection. She founded Gaia Ashram with her partner in 2012. Now she divides her time Teaching, managing Gaia Ashram project, and taking care of her kids.
Gaia Ashram is an Eco-Education center on Permaculture, Ecovillage Design, and Deep Ecology. Gaia Ashram aims to be a place where we live holistically, practice, and realize the interconnectedness and the oneness of all beings.
For more information about them, visit their website and Facebook page.