Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andrew's Story: A Life Dedicated to Camphill Communities

We met Andrew during our field trip to visit the birthplace of the Camphill Community in Aberdeen.   The visit included time spent exploring the Newton Dee Community as well as the Camphill School at Aberdeen.  Camphill offers homes for children, young people, and adults with intellectual disabilities and other special needs - to live, learn, and work with others in energetic reciprocal relationships.  It is a well-organised network of communities that give opportunities to a segment of society often overlooked, neglected or institutionalised in so many parts of the world.  Yet, it is the story of people like Andrew who have dedicated their lives to living and working here that inspires me the most…

Andrew completed his degree in history and politics around 1976, at the tail end of the Hippie era.  He grew up in Lancaster and knew instinctively that he did not want to spend his life stuck in a traditional job.  He decided to go visit a small Camphill community in the Lake District and saw something there that spoke to his heart.  He saw a group of people living and working with disabled children, without receiving a wage but having their needs met in exchange for the work they did.  He liked the idea of integrating his life with his work and not having long commutes into town.  He volunteered there for a while but the community closed down.

Armed with the hippie bible of the times, ‘A guide to Alternative England and Wales’, Andrew hitchhiked around England for 6 months, visiting various communities, searching for a place he could call home.  He recalls there were many others searching for an alternative lifestyle and admits it was very much a journey taken by white, educated, middle class folk.  Growing up in an educated middle class segment of society in Sri Lanka around the same time, I don’t recall any talk of an alternative lifestyle.  There were no hippies in Sri Lanka.  Was it a luxury we could not afford or were we far too conservative to even consider it?

Andrew visited numerous communities but he never quite found the same sense of home that he had felt when he was at Camphill.    Andrew and his wife decided that they would dedicate their lives to volunteering at Camphill Communities. 

 It was while they were volunteering in a rather large Camphill Community in Yorkshire that they were told by the wise (female) elder there that they were needed in Northern Ireland.  And so they took a boat to Ireland, planning to stay for a year.  They stayed there for 12 years!  Andrew remembers those years fondly.  He and his wife ran a house community, sharing their home with disabled kids as well as looking after their own children.  His face lights up as he recalls those ‘golden years’ in Ireland where three of his four children were born.
His children were free to grow up and run around.  He learnt farming skills and his wife learnt craftwork, pottery and weaving.  He had always known there was another world out there - one that was different to the traditional 9-5 routine that most of us end up in - and Andrew is very glad he found it. 

After his stint in Ireland, Andrew moved to a community in Beannachar, Scotland.  It is a training centre for young adults with disabilities.  The role was more challenging, as the adults he was working with needed more care.  His wife trained to be a nurse and they adapted to the new conditions.   Organisations were also changing.  Everything became more regulated and occupational health and safety became the new buzzwords.

Today, the volunteers at Camphill are also different…perhaps more individualistic than those in the 70’s.  Camphill was once all about the individual serving the community.  Today, the emphasis is more about the community catering to individual needs.  People want well-defined work hours, time off, pension schemes and holiday periods.

After a period of 16 years at Beannachar, Andrew and his wife moved to Milltown – a small, quiet community near Stonehaven, Scotland with just two houses and a workshop.  This is where they now live. 

The Camphill way of life honours the natural kingdom and the spiritual world and was founded on Christian values by a Austrian Jewish refugee who came to Scotland to escape the Nazis.  A simple non-denominational church is one of the buildings we visit at Newton Dee.  However, with the emphasis on regulation and their reliance on state funding this commitment to spiritual life is also changing.  Some of the volunteers are here because of their commitment to community development rather than to a spiritual way of life.  Andrew is now researching theories of community development, to demonstrate to his peers that the future will look different.  He believes it is important to transition smoothly to this new future rather than resist it.

We have really enjoyed our visit to the Camphill communities of Aberdeen.  It has been a wonderful visit that has included visiting the bakery, the craft centre, and the farm where bio-dynamic techniques are practiced.  We’ve enjoyed a delicious meal at the café, the place that allows the outside community to interact with Camphill.  The grounds are immaculately kept and the rose garden also provides a space where the ashes of the deceased rest in peace.  It is a wonderful model that has allowed people like Andrew to live a life dedicated to service while having his needs and that of his family met. 

Andrew tells me that he is incredibly grateful he found his purpose early in life. 
This story reminds me of a favourite quote from the book the Alchemist by Paolo Coelho:  “To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation.”  After 35 years of living and working at Camphill Andrew has nothing but undying gratitude for the community that gave him a reason for being.   Surely, here is a man who has found his destiny and his story inspires us all. 

Andrew, thank you for sharing your story.  I wish you and your family and the community you serve all the very best for what ever lies ahead…!  In a future where the peak oil crisis might transform life for all of us, surely you are better prepared than most! 

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