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Enlivening the Learning, Enlivening Everything! Part 1

Enlivening the Learning, Enlivening Everything! Part 1

Posted by on Jun 11, 2013 in all posts, Argentina, Brazil | 0 comments

I met Kelly while I was doing an MA in Education at the University of Bath, UK. She was teaching “Education and International Development” and I decided to take the course. After the academic year, we met once, for lunch, and we got along really well. Suddenly, on January 3rd of this year I was landing in Rio de Janeiro airport to join her and Udi for one month (until February 5th) visiting different initiatives in Brazil.

So, after a whole year of hard work, why did I decide to spend my holidays time with a former lecturer and her husband?

In August 2011 after having spent a wonderful year in Bath, UK, I was back in Argentina. Looking back, I could say that there were three experiences that really impacted me while I was back in Buenos Aires, which made me reflect about how I was feeling and which propelled me to go to Brazil. I’ve shared these stories with a few people, but I’d like to share them here. I guess there are many who may have gone through similar experiences:

  1. One day, while I was on Facebook, somebody who was doing a Masters degree in the U.S. posted a picture of the view of the moon from her dorm window. As soon as I saw it I started remembering how, when I was in Bath, I used to take pictures like that one: pictures of flowers, of the squirrels, of the light at a certain time of day hitting the leaves of trees, of the hills, of the old buildings, of the crows on the chimneys, of the canals, of the rainbows and, also, of the moon. I felt like I was in a permanent state of awe. Why didn’t I take these kinds of pictures anymore? Unlike the squirrels, and the crows, and the flowers and the canals, the moon, from my Buenos Aires bedroom window, was the same moon I saw in Bath. However, I did not find it enchanting here.  I realized that the problem was not in what surrounded me, but that there was something in me that did not let me appreciate things. I wanted to feel stimulated again. I wanted to look at the moon in awe again!

    A picture I took of Bath Abbey and the full moon.

    A picture I took of Bath Abbey and the full moon.

  2. In March 2012 I started working regularly again. As I live in the suburbs I had to take the train everyday to go to work. This meant waiting for the train for around 40 minutes, because there was no fixed schedule anymore and many trains were not working.  I also had to ride on the train for around one hour, squeezed between other passengers, facing daily cancellations of the service. The train crash which had taken place in February of that year and consequently killed 52 people was on my mind all the time. So, after a few days of this, I started complaining. And, the most common answer I got was: “Oh, it is because you have just arrived from England. This is not England, you know. Don’t worry, it is only until you get adapted.” “Get adapted to what?”, I thought. I never want to get adapted to travelling like this. No one should get adapted to regular fires on the train, and trains going out of the rails, crashing and even killing people. I wondered how people could say that. I was very disappointed with the majority, who accepted this and just sighed, lowered their heads and travelled in these conditions. So I started travelling on the train with a sign that said: “This reality is created by all of us” and I joined a group, “Usuarios Autoconvocados por los Trenes”, which demanded the State the urgent repair of the trains and railways with the decision that I would never adapt. Participating in this group became for me a way to cope with and to canalize some of my feelings in Buenos Aires.
Travelling on the train in Buenos Aires. Picture taken by a passenger. Contribution to the train group; evidence presented to the State.

Travelling on the train in Buenos Aires. Picture taken by a passenger. Contribution to the train group; evidence presented to the State.

Passengers having to walk on the rails after a train stopped. Picture taken by a passenger. Contribution to the train group, evidence presented to the State.

Passengers having to walk on the rails after a train stopped. Picture taken by a passenger. Contribution to the train group, evidence presented to the State.

After the tragic accident in February, in August the train that I take everyday to work went off the rails. Picture taken by Rodrigo Viera. This picture was shown in all the media.

After the tragic accident in February, in August the train that I take everyday to work went off the rails. Picture taken by Rodrigo Viera. This picture was shown in all the media.

3. One evening, when I was returning home on the train, after work, I witnessed a police persecution: a man appeared suddenly running and all of a sudden a policeman jumped on top of him, throwing him abruptly to the floor. The apparent criminal started pleading and crying, asking the policeman not to hit him, and reminding him he had a family. It was a very ugly situation, everybody looked worried and uncomfortable. Then the train stopped at one of the stations, the policeman removed the “criminal” from the train, and the train continued its way. I was observing the other passengers. Some were talking with one another, some of their faces showed fear, others sadness: the event seemed to have moved them. However, after 5 minutes, their faces had gone back to normalcy, plain again, and after some time, everybody looked as if nothing had happened. There I remembered how I had been once, a long time ago, very impressed and moved the first time I had seen a person looking for food in the trash. Now I saw these people daily, and they had become part of the city. I wandered if there would come a time soon when we would get used to police persecutions on the train. I thought I wanted to refuse to let this happen to me. I thought about how I, and this society, was starting to lose touch with the important things, how we were losing the capacity to be moved by others suffering, how we try not to feel and to look the other way. How we lose contact, how we separate from one another, how the political ideas divide us, and we lose touch, and we do not seek to understand the other, and how the distance grows, and dehumanization deepens. Because I had also thought on that train, what is it to be human if it’s not the capacity to be moved in empathy for the other? I thought about all this on the train, I wanted to cry, and I told myself that I should never forget what I had thought AND FELT.

These 3 experiences were to me like alerts and paved the way for me to take the decision to join Enlivened Learning. Like in the Pink Floyd song, I had become numb, but in my case, it had not been comfortably.

When Kelly and I started talking again at the end of 2012 and she offered me to participate in the project, I did not hesitate to meet them.  I saw this trip as an opportunity to be faced with new things, to meet new people, to wake up from the numbness and to re-connect.

On top of that, the proposal was so interesting; what they were doing was so admirable and intriguing for me. Since I was in high school I wandered about what learning really was, and asked myself if it could be something different from what I was experiencing. Then, in University, I enjoyed the subjects and lessons about alternative ways of education and then I tried to implement some of these things in my jobs. For my masters’ dissertation I had chosen to design a school which differed from the traditional system: from its purposes and curriculum to the maps of the building. Learning about different initiatives who had different views of education was my thing.

On top of this, they were learning about the education and ways of understanding the world from indigenous communities and social movements. I knew very little about this, so I was even more interested. Ironically, coming from a Latin American country, I had become more interested and learned more about indigenous education during Kelly’s unit in Bath, in the UK, on the other side of the world. This new knowledge had impacted me a lot and I wanted to learn more.

So, on January 3rd 2013, after having spent 6 days with a friend in another part of Brazil, I joined Kelly and Udi in Rio to start sharing their learning adventure. I was suddenly living and most of the time sharing a room, with a former lecturer and her husband, whom I had only met once before in a class.

I started learning a lot during that month, and at very different levels. I understood the importance of the project, which was not only learning about education alternatives anymore, it was experiencing another form of learning every day. Kelly and Udi were amazing, never treated me as a traditional student or research assistant and now I can say I consider them very good friends. Also, after watching some of the interviews and talking with them, I learnt how many of these communities considered the creation, construction and experiencing of their initiatives as a way of healing from past experiences, mostly related to colonization. I could really understand them, because, in my case, Enlivened Learning had become a way of healing myself from the despair I was feeling back home, and of growing in many different aspects.

I hope to be able to share these learnings and experiences in future posts. This post has a “Part 2” which will develop my most significant learnings. Now I have been part of this project for many months. The way I see the project now is very different and much deeper than how I saw it then, and although I have not been travelling with Kelly and Udi since February, I feel that Enlivened Learning has become a very important part of myself. I am writing this when I have only a couple of weeks left to join them in India and I could not be more excited.

“Mafalda” is a very famous Argentiean cartoon, which has portrayed the reality of the country throughout the years. Its main character is the girl, Mafalda. In this case, she is saying: “We are screwed guys! If we don’t hurry up to change the world, then it will be the world the one that changes us.”

“Mafalda” is a very famous Argentiean cartoon, which has portrayed the reality of the country throughout the years. Its main character is the girl, Mafalda. In this case, she is saying: “We are screwed guys! If we don’t hurry up to change the world, then it will be the world the one that changes us.”

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How to build (and use) a cacajón (literally a poo-box) according to a cacologist

How to build (and use) a cacajón (literally a poo-box) according to a cacologist

Posted by on Jan 20, 2013 in all posts, Mexico, Universidad de la Tierra | 1 comment

My first, major (and classy) blog entry

My first post was supposed to be a reflection on why I am here and some of the first things I have learnt. This post will eventually come, but for now I will be writing literally about how to bring your shit to life, or even better said, how to enliven your shit.

The reason why the plans were changed was because although I became part of the project just a few weeks ago, when Kelly and Udi were already in Brazil, there was some footage in Spanish from Mexico they were finding hard to comprehend in detail. Kelly was writing the post The autonomy of Poo and asked me if I could help her understand the whole process of building the poo box. I found that César Añorve’s explanation was so informative and humorous at the same time, that it deserved to be shared in its own post:

César explaining the first steps of the process. Photo by Udi

Although César calls it a poo box, it is also more formally referred to as an ecological dry toilet, precisely because it does not require the use of water and, in that way, it does not pollute rivers, seas and oceans. All this can be better understood by reading about how it is built and how it works:

Elements: (“The simplest elements in the world”)

For the poo:

  • 1 plastic bucket
  • Dry dirt
  • “dry leaves that we might find near our house”
  • “charcoal powder, which you can get for a very low price; it is the leftovers of the coalyards, here we call it cisco.” Or, one can put olotes (the corn’s cobs) in the fire and wait until they are carbonized. In this way, you can make your own coal.
  • Optional ingredients: marble or steel powder, which are sold in construction shops, very fine sand, lime.

As César said: “It is like life: the more diversity the better.”

For the pee:

  • Plastic recipient, “so that the pee does not stink while being stored”
  • Hose
  • Funnel
  • Bowl.

To place on top:

Wooden box with 3 holes:

  • One big hole on one of the sides of the box, through which the bucket is introduced and taken out.
  • A small hole on the opposite side, not too big, but big enough for a hand and an arm to be introduced through it.
  • Hole on the top of the box, where one will sit.

Sticking the sides of the wooden box together. Photo by Udi.

How to build it:

1)      Take the bucket and throw in the dirt, the dried leaves and the coal. Add the other elements if you were able to get them.

2)      Add a small piece of flat wood inside the box, under the smallest side hole.

3)      Place the box over the bucket.

4)      Put the bowl on the small piece of wood you have added under the small side hole.

¡So simple!

There is a slightly more complex option in which instead of the wooden box, one can build a whole chamber with a door through which the bucket can be placed and removed. In this model, the pee bowl or container is already connected to the recipient through the hose, so one does not need to empty the bowl every time the toilet is used.

All the elements of the dry toilet put together. In this case, using the chamber instead of the wooden box. Picture taken from César’s book “The ABC’s of Ecological Sanitation”

Proper use of the dry toilet:

1)      When sitting on the toilet make sure that the feces fall into the bucket and the urine into the bowl or separator. This separation is the key to the toilet’s proper functioning: it avoids humidity and bad odors. “This separation of pee and poo is pretty easy for men. Women can manipulate the bowl”, introducing their hand through the smaller hole. “Women’s perspective has been taken into account for every design of the poo-box.” It has been tried before by many of César’s friends who were then consulted about the position in which they preferred the bowl to be (higher, lower, the distance it should keep from the bucket, etc)

2)      If you have built the more complex version of the dry toilet, the urine will go directly to the recipient though the hose. If you have the simpler version with the bowl, before throwing it into the recipient using the hose and the funnel, you can take a small sip, the size of a full spoon. Urine is very good for the health.

3)      After every use of the toilet, cover the excrement in the bucket with a mixture of fine dry soil and lime and/or dry leaves. This dries the surface, avoiding bad odors and the proliferation of insects.

4)      After doing this, always cover the bucket.

What happens with the poo and the pee once they have left our bodies?

Urine as fertilizer

Urine contains a high concentration of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Also, it contains urea, which after a time turns into ammonia, the fertilizer most used in agriculture. Therefore, the urine stored in the container can be mixed with water and used as a fertilizer for garden plants. The proportion should be one part urine, ten parts water. By doing this, a family of six people can produce more than five thousand liters of fertilizer every year. Options for the use of the urine:

  • Apply directly to the base of the plants.
  • Spray it on plants and fruit trees using a hose.
  • Add to the compost.

Excrement as compost

When you see that the bucket is full:

1)      Remove it from the box or chamber and replace it with another bucket. The bucket that has been removed needs to sit for enough time until it dries completely.

2)      After this period, open it. You will be able to see that the dried leaves are covered with a white thing. This will be because of the transformation carried out by the microorganisms. The excrement has dried out and has been converted into an “odorless granular dust”.

3)      You can use this rich compost to fertilize a garden or fruit trees just by throwing it to the earth, or you can take a big flower pot and throw the content of the bucket into the pot. (By doing this, the same family of six can produce 500 litres of organic compost each year.)

The result: the odorless compost. Photo by Udi

If you chose the latter,

1)      Add food leftovers and earthworms to the compost in the pot

2)      Add a little bit more dried leaves on top of everything.

3)      Compact the mixture inside the pot.

4)      Repeat the whole procedure as many times as you need until you have filled the whole pot. You will be able to appreciate how the content of the pot reduces constantly. These are the microorganisms doing their work.

5)      After a few days, start observing the content of the pot attentively: you will be able to appreciate how a plant starts growing. “In my case, I got and aguacate and a chilli”.


The process that has taken place here is amazing. Our waste, which we thought dead, which we thought of as that, as waste, has been literally transformed into a living being, into a plant. When I heard Cesar’s explanation for the first time I could not believe this had happened. This got me thinking, and although the post has been written in a slightly “funny” tone, truth is I felt this knowledge had to be shared, since the idea of the dry toilet is so innovative and interesting to me on so many levels:

In the first place, there is the most obvious question of pollution. By using a dry toilet, we are not polluting the water we drink. This is a big issue in many places in the world: many diseases are generated by drinking water which has been polluted with excrements. “When we avoid using water to transport excrement, this is a radical action which can contribute to returning the sacred character that water may have had before the era of sewage systems”. At the same time, from a more practical point of view, there is the question of the re-using. Our excrements and urine are not waste but are re-used. This represents and economic advantage, because we save on fertilizers and are able to produce more vegetables and fruit. What is being created here, homemade, is a natural storage of nutrients.

This last point is also very interesting. By using a dry toilet we are making ourselves responsible for our own waste and, at the same time, generating our own compost and fertilizers. We are being self-sufficient. This relates to the idea of autonomy Udi and Kelly developed in one of their posts (Learning Autonomy). Before reading it, I had never thought of autonomy in this way, a collective autonomy through which a community is capable of generating its own resources and becoming self-sufficient. At the same time, the process of autonomy also means to become conscious of our own dependencies and interdependencies and reflect and recognize them. As Kelly points out, only by considering and exploring other options we will be able to perceive and act on our dependencies. The dry toilet is one of these options. Before being introduced to it, I had not really considered the possibility of other options for my poo and pee. I had not deeply reflected on what happened to them after they left my body and I had not thought about the traditional toilet system as one of my dependencies.

Finally, in relation to recognizing our interdependencies, the toilet made me reflect not only on how we depend on the State´s sewage system but also of other interdependencies: the interdependencies within nature. The dry toilet shows very clearly and explicitly the idea of the cycle of life: the food we eat, is transformed into energy and feces and urine, which then serve as fertilizer to grow more food. It is an example of the transformations that take place in nature. And for these cycles and transformations to take place, each being needs of other beings: the soil needs the excrements to become compost, the seed needs this compost to become a plant. And also, as César explained, the earth in the pot needs the plant to continue its transformation process. Therefore, what are we, humans, if not just a part in this cycle of life? And as such, we should be taking something from the world but also giving something to it, just as with the dry toilette, through which the food we have taken is given back to the earth as compost.

Picture from César’s book “The ABC’s of Ecological Sanitation”


I know that probably most of the people that read this post will not actually build a dry toilet in their homes (It would be great, however, if you do it and you can find more information about it at the bottom of the page). Regardless, I wanted to share my reflections about what the idea of the dry toilet generated for me. It is only when we know that other options are possible, that other ways of understanding something exists, that we will be able to reconsider and re-think about our own ways.

From César’s book

* All quotes are either what César said during his class in Unitierra or direct quotes from his book The ABC’s of Ecological Sanitation.(2004, Centre for Innovation in Alternative Technology A.C., Mexico)

Cover of César’s book

**For more information write to César:

Centro de Innovación en Tecnología Alternativa A.C.

Av. San Diego No. 501,

Col. Vista Hermosa

CP 62290 Cuernavaca, Morelos, México




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