Anvita Bisaria and Shannon Ormiston, who completed the Sprout workshop series in 2019, chatted with Delia Paul about how their community project is going.
Finding a way forward with Sprout
In 2019, Anvita had just left her role as a corporate sustainability advisor in search of a more authentic life path. Shannon, meanwhile, had moved to Melbourne from Queensland, and was looking for something new, in addition to her regular work as a personal carer.
Each signed up separately to take part in Sprout, a program offered by Initiatives of Change. Based on a Human-Centred Design approach, the program supports participants to research and develop their own community-based initiatives for sustainability.
Meeting at the first session, Shannon and Anvita realized they shared a common concern for the environment, and the modern world’s disconnection from it. The result—large-scale degradation of the planet—was surely a result that no one wanted, they felt.
For both, the niggling question was about whether most people really cared enough to take action. If they worked together to develop an environmental initiative, who would respond?
Moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’
The Sprout program requires participants to propose a hypothesis and then test it through research and immersion in the community that they wish to serve. ‘We had to find the “need area”,’ said Anvita. ‘And we found that people actually do care; the problem is priorities. People give weight to other things.’
Drilling down to the roots of the problem, the pair identified the issue as excessive individualism in society, with consumerism and convenience being priorities. ‘It is a me-system,’ said Anvita. The next step, then, was to consider how to disrupt the ‘me-system’ and restore understanding of humans and the environment as being intimately connected—a ‘we-system.’
Their search for answers led them to colonial history. ‘Everyone is from a society that has been colonized, or has colonized others,’ said Shannon. ‘There’s been a problem of displacement from land. There’s not a sense of belonging to the land if you’re not from that land. This displacement became widespread because almost everyone has moved, or been moved.’
The pair began offering participatory dialogues on the theme of ‘decolonising nature.’ Participants’ responses were warm, agreeing that ‘we need to talk about this.’
‘One participant, who was exploring her Celtic roots, said she was guilt-ridden about what we’ve done to Indigenous people,’ said Anvita. ‘When she heard us speaking, she felt that she needed healing as well. This society, this system, has affected each one of us. When you feel guilt or anger, you don’t want to look at these topics.’
‘We felt that dialogue was a good way forward, because it’s not threatening,’ said Shannon. ‘People can join the conversation and then think about it later; they can think what to do.’
When the seven-month Sprout process was over, Shannon and Anvita developed a website for their project, which they called ‘Regenerative Roots.’ Both found that the Sprout process and subsequent conversations had sparked their interest in exploring their ancestry, genealogy, and traditional ways of knowing, such as astrology.
‘When I went traveling overseas previously, I learned so much about other cultures,’ said Shannon, whose travels have taken her across Europe, the UK, China, Malaysia, and parts of Australia. ‘When I came home, I realized that Aboriginal Australians are the world’s oldest living civilization and I knew nothing about them. It’s sent me on a quest.’
Rebuilding connections—to the land and to each other
Personal healing has been part of their journey, through approaches for healing the ‘inner child’, and progressing on to political engagement. When we spoke, they had just returned from camping in the Grampians, supporting the Djab Wurrung Embassy in a campaign to save a traditional site of sacred birthing trees from a highway project in the state of Victoria.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns began, Regenerative Roots started an initiative of online chats, which they dubbed ‘Chat Potatoes’, a play on the idea of ‘couch potatoes’, while many people were confined to their home environments. They followed up with a Zoom dialogue in June, and a book group in August to read ‘Active Hope.’ The book, by eco-philosopher Joanna Macy and medical doctor Chris Johnston, seeks to guide readers through a personal transformation process informed by psychology, spirituality and science.
Up to 30 people at a time have attended these sessions, breaking up into small groups to have intimate conversations. The Regenerative Roots team plans face-to-face workshops in the new year. These will address the theme of ‘re-belonging.’ Participants will get to explore what that could mean—how our bodies respond to seasons, and to our connection to the land; how rituals and customs are important.
‘All up, it’s been a good year for getting some grounding,’ said Shannon. ‘Moving forward is really just looking for healing, for ourselves and for the Earth.’
- IofC Australia has offered three cycles of the Sprout community program in recent years. The next cycle may be offered in 2021/2022. Read about the most recent program cycle here.