How was Ark Eden started?
I had fought on the front-line for many causes, for many years. The crunch came in 2005 with the Lantau Concept (read Concrete) Plan. A group of us decided it was time to concentrate on creating vision for Lantau and Hong Kong rather than always battling. We formed a blue-print called Ark Eden that envisioned Lantau as the ‘Garden Island of Hong Kong’. It involved a main ecological centre and then satellite centres all over Lantau using old rural schools, old abandoned houses and villages as eco-facilities where students, groups, businesses could engage in restorative work e.g. an old place in the hills could be a tree-planting centre, a place by the sea focus on marine ecology, a place in an old village cultural heritage and learning from the elders, even an apartment in a town as an eco-house. The possibilities were limitless. What people learned there could be adapted and applied to urban environments and be rolled out in curriculum and business.
Then our main corner-stone person got cancer. His name was Neil Mcloughlin. He was an architect and had designed and overseen the building of Ocean Park and he was a great, great speaker. He recovered and then he got sick again. I visited him a week before he died. I never really knew if he could hear me but I talked a lot to him. I didn’t know if I could be any use at all but I ended up promising him I would ‘do’ Ark Eden.
Three weeks later I gave in my resignation. I worked at an ESF school so you needed to give in your resignation 6 months in advance. Just about every teacher was worried for me, one of the teachers told me I was being completely selfish and should stay at my job until I had got my children through university. I was on my own, with 2 teenage children, about to lose all my benefits. I had no business acumen, no money and no real plan. But I jumped.
The first few years were a roller coaster ride. I wrote and delivered over 25 different environmental education programmes in the first year. We did tree-planting programmes, organic farming, local environment, sustainable living, waste management, water conflict – whatever schools asked for. In 2009 we became a charity and corporates came in to do corporate social responsibility activities with us. In 2013 we opened our second centre. Somewhere in between we worked on making Ark Eden a permaculture demonstration site and ran courses, conferences, eco-camps, holiday programmes, corporate training – whatever it was going to take to save the planet. My children and the people around Ark Eden supported the project and believed in us.
Fast forward to 2014 and now we work with 52 educational institutions from kindergartens to universities and like to think we are influencing curriculum and creating local action. We work with 38 corporates and other groups and ask them to become more involved with ‘the great task in hand’; we have planted 23, 000 native trees. I think in our eight years we have done a lot.
What is Ark Eden’s mission?
Our mission is to educate and inspire people through the application of permaculture ethics and principles to truly create caring community dedicated to restoring respect for all living creatures. Permaculture adheres to three ethics – care for people, care for the planet, return of surplus/fair share.
For anyone who takes any notice of the news, it is plain to see that the situation is very serious now for the planet and all of us on it. In November 2012 Price Waterhouse Cooper worked out the maths for Climate change and said on our present track we are heading for a 6 degree rise in temperature. Quite simply this means we are heading for disaster. We won’t survive. The future we need to create to survive demands a mindset focused on creating community that whole-heartedly cares for each other. This is no small task. It is incredibly difficult for even the very best of us to live our lives in this way even if we can intellectually understand this.
Permaculture adheres to three ethics – care for people, care for the planet, return of surplus/fair share. What that means in terms of Ark Eden and vision/mission is that we work towards becoming a much larger vessel – a real ark – that everyone can feel and have ownership of. Yes we have done the curriculum and lots of hands-on learning. It’s pretty good. And yes we have done all sorts of things towards developing a permaculture demonstration site and run courses, lots of ticks there but now we need to come together much, much more with all the other groups and individuals working for change and as many people as possible and say here we are. What are the projects YOU want to do? How can we help you? We need to be as interested in everyone else’s projects as we are in our own
What is Ark Eden’s geographical focus?
It is worldwide and main stream. It is easy to duplicate our model. It is a permaculture model with ethics, principles and zoning, It can happen in any country. It can be rural or urban it is genuinely for the people, by the people. It is the new age.
What are Ark Eden’s goals for Hong Kong specifically?
In a permaculture design course we ran two years ago, our trainer Steve Cran said “Imagine if a big disaster were to hit Hong Kong. A huge huge typhoon hits the airport platform, cuts supply, and wipes out power at Castle Peak. No one has water as it is pumped by electricity, half the city lives above the 14th floor – people have no food and water – the territory has less than 2 days of food supply. It is the eighth worst in the world in terms of food security. This place would fall like a pack of cards.
So Ark Eden’s primary goal for Hong Kong is to make her resilient. Believe it or not, Hong Kong has all the resources it needs to be resilient. It has 2, 500 km of fresh water way; it has hills for forests and agricultural land and roof-tops and vertical space for farming. And we can grow all year round in Hong Kong! Its priceless treasure is its old people who still have a wealth of knowledge about traditional uses of plants for foods and medicine. Hong Kong also has cows and water-buffaloes and plenty of sunshine to generate power. With the trawling ban put in place in January 2013, its fish stocks will return. And it has a smart, energetic multi-cultural people. Basically an incredible bounty of potential at its finger-tips!
I would like to see Ark Eden do this within Mui Wo and then model this to other parts of Hong Kong:
- Restore the food basin value of the valley including rice paddies, vegetable terraces, fruit orchards, medicinal plants and native forests to demonstrate model-able food and water systems and strengthen food and water security for Hong Kong.
- Etablish an ‘Elders Centre’ where the elderly people are cared for and can be active and can pass on their traditional knowledge of plants, medicines, crafts and life-skills to the next generation.
- Establish a ‘Green School’, one that nurtures local community and showcases an ‘eco-earth global curriculum’ that-even in this valley- is quite possible.
How can Hong Kongers get involved with Ark Eden?
Ark Eden works with local schools and integrates hands on programmes into the school curriculum so children can apply what is being learnt in the classroom to practical purposes. We also work with organisations and companies looking to explore and expand their CSR activities. We run educational workshops for corporates and engage them in service work by giving back to the community and environment but we are also talking to their progressive leadership about developing a much higher level order for sustainable change.
We provide services for scout groups, other charities, and individuals and families. We are also fighting the front line on various local environmental issues such as protecting the HK Pink dolphin, and protesting the Mega Incinerator. You can keep up to date with our happenings and events through our website or facebook page. We are also running summer day camps for young children that are eco focused and allow them the opportunity to play and build positive memories with nature and teenagers that focus more on leadership and mindfulness and practical life-skills and communication. If you’d like to know more about arranging and booking these programmes, get in touch with Jasmine at email@example.com.
What are some of your favourite charities, other than Ark Eden of course?
We are here to work with everyone. We invite everyone to work together with us as partners to see how we can come together to make all of our aspirations for planet and people a reality. Asia Charity Services is a great friend to us as is Kadoorie Farm, though we collaborate with many other organizations, particularly those involved in permaculture projects in the local environment.
Ark Eden is also part of a global restorative network, spanning every continent with the primary task to establish environmentally sustainable, adaptable solutions that can be implemented into education curriculums and business settings.
Our sister organization is Pop Up Foundation that includes Millemont, a permaculture centre housed in a chateau in Paris with over 600 hectares of land; a direct trade organic coffee company and network of 40 schools in Uganda; a network of aboriginal schools in Australia producing a progressive eco-earth curriculum and a consortium of schools with eco-business ventures in UK. We also actively collaborate with the International Permaculture Network with its plethora of eco-villages and extensive outreach projects worldwide.
To give an example of the scope of some of these projects, the June 2105 Millemont will host an international EarthCare and music festival which will feature workshops and talks by film director John D. Lui, several Nobel Prize winners and many environmental experts and celebrities as well as highly reputable bands. Ark Eden is involved with the planning of this event and will also present.
All photos courtesy of Ark Eden.