Exploring the Chilean Patagonia was a childhood dream shaped by the vivid book of Michel Tournier called “Vendredi ou la vie sauvage”,* which is set outside of the twists and turns of modernism. Reality was quite different, which was to be expected… But, the way to the extreme South of the American continent was a life-saving experience and filled up with unexpected and precious meetings.
The journey started in Puerto Natales, at the entrance of the national park Torres del Paine. Then, on a Wednesday at dawn, I boarded a ship called the Australe Broom for a 42 hours crossing. Tortel was the destination, a small village with hundreds of footbridges, which looks like a pirate island. From there, by the road 'Carretera Austral’, I arrived in Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysen region.
Acting: The Roots of Asher
In this city surrounded by snow-capped mountains, one afternoon, I had a meeting with Alexis, one of the founder of the NGO, Asher.
We met at the entrance of the municipal graveyard and started to walk to the “Domo” (dome). On the way, he told me he was doing an eco-construction workshop with teenagers. The aim was to teach them how to reuse abandoned materials to turn them into a piece of roof, wall or ceiling… But let’s skip details and just go straight to the action!
Indeed, Acting is the foundation of the Asher’s philosophy. “We have to stop saying we need to plant trees. We just plant trees” Luis told me once. He is the other founder of Asher. Asher is a Selk’nam** word, which means “Life”. Thus, the NGO promotes a way of life based on the ancestral knowledges combined with modern science and technologies. The goal is to empower the people of Coyhaique by giving them knowledge so they can reach an autonomous way of life by themselves.
Learning, Making and Teaching
«The idea is also that people become aware of the reality of climate change. We are trying to make them understand that we are in a changing world, that we are in a different context, and that we need to do something.»
Becoming aware, learning, acting and teaching. To reach this goal, Asher established these four action fields:
Restoring abandoned urban ecosystems, giving them a new life and reconnecting residents with Nature;
Building eco-friendly domes with low costs due to the use of recycled components. They use at least 80% recycled material to build the domes. This means they are recycling while offering a social housing solution;
Producing their own energy by constructing private windmills. Learning collectively, helping each other and becoming self-sufficient;
Becoming aware and teaching via school projects based on scientific inquiries. They teach new generations, let them lead environmental projects and let them find their own solutions.
We Are Nature
Nature is not outside of us, Nature is inside us. Alexis and Luis are strongly convinced of this statement. “We forgot that we are part of Nature”. For them, everything is connected. This is one of the key messages which is fully connected to ancestral knowledge. For Luis “the indigenous people of Patagonia understood that everything is connected, that what we are doing or not doing will impact everything”. And at the end, in this everything, there is “all of us”.
*A novel of Michel Tournier. A possible translation of the title would be «Friday or the Wild life».
** Ancient nomadic hunter and gatherer who lived in the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire; an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland). They were eliminated by settlers. In 2003 the Chilean government recognised the extermination of the Selkn'am as a genocide.
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