The Evolution of the Camps Movement

Mar 2021

My name is Ashleigh and I have been involved with Ecosystem Restoration Camps (ERC) since it was an idea in John D. Liu’s head in 2016. Depressed and terrified about the future, I stumbled across Green Gold on YouTube and it completely transformed my outlook on life and on humanity’s role within it. Now, 4 years later, I am lucky enough to still be part of a movement that is made up of 37 camps around the world. 

A lot has changed since we set out to create a movement for people to join camps and play a role in restoring the earth, and this is my account of how we got to where we are today.

In 2016, the ERC was a collection of people from around the globe, friends of John’s and those inspired by his hopeful message of ecosystem restoration being ‘the Great Work of Our Time’. We worked in our spare time on Discord, a messaging platform designed for gamers, and discussed how to make the camps vision a reality. Some of the people in this original group are still major contributors to the camps mission, including several members of the supervisory board and the ERC directors. 

We decided to form circles (teams) based around different themes, including fundraising and communications, restoration, and inter-group harmony. This led to a more formal team of a director, a website builder and video creator, and a team of volunteers.

In February 2017, the ERC was registered as a Dutch charitable foundation, and the supervisory board and advisory council were formed. We then set to work creating our first camp, in the Murcian Altiplano of southern Spain. We had about 80,000 euros at our disposal, raised from various donors connected to our team, and a lot of people who wanted to help. 

With relatively little money to play with, the first people that went to Camp Altiplano were those who were able to help, without needing to be paid. And as you can imagine, these were people mainly from the richer parts of the world, namely the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Denmark, France and the USA. Quickly a team of people formed that wanted to live at Camp Altiplano for at least a year, the sort of commitment that was needed to get the project off the ground. I was one of those people. 

Guided by the advice of experienced restorationalists such as Daniel Halsey and Rhamis Kent, we set to work on restoring the land. 

Although we managed to get a lot of good work done, we realised that what the camp needed most was a team of people from the region, who speak fluent Spanish, and want to live there long term. 

Blessed with some extra funding from the Mustard Seed Trust, we set about finding such a person. At the same time, we realised that setting up camps from scratch is very expensive and time consuming if we want to work with hundreds of them across the world by 2030. 

So, we decided to change tack, and rather work with existing organisations, locally led and run, who want to create camps – or turn their existing projects into camps – and who have existing infrastructure to house people to come and help with the work.

This change in direction is what has enabled us to welcome 37 camp partners into the network. Now our role is to serve them, with fundraising support, promotion and publicity, access to campers, support with data collection strategies, and a platform to access knowledge via our online course and through our knowledge hub. 

We are no longer an organisation that relies solely on the goodwill of western volunteers, but rather we are in service to local organisations and we help them with all the resources and expertise that we have at our disposal. 

There is, of course, still a need for international campers to be a part of the camps. Many of them bring valuable contributions to the camps in terms of expertise and support, both physical and financial, and for many camps, welcoming people from across the world to take part is what makes restoration camping stimulating and interesting. Besides, we are a global community of humans, and it is worthwhile to work together across the planet, not just online but also physically. But our camps are no longer reliant on this for their operations and see it more as a boon and a bonus than as essential to their operations.

Of course, it is vital to remember that this great adventure towards healing our home planet has only been possible thanks to the regular financial contributions of our supporters. Their commitment to the movement is not just our lifeline, it also shows to the camps that people care enough about their work to donate to make this work possible. It further strengthens their connection with the global community. You, as a supporter, and they, as the ones on the ground, are doing this together on behalf of everyone: humanity!

We are now striving towards strengthening this global community, where the growing number of camps, partner-organisations, followers and supporters are part of one massive global movement. The learning and teachings from our collaboration makes us a giant global living lab on ecosystem restoration that is proving to everyone on this planet that restored ecosystems and regenerative practices will give us all an abundant future. ERC is ready to involve anyone who understands and is willing – and persuade anyone else who is still searching – with a sustainable pathway for humanity and all life on this planet. 

In order to achieve our big goal of restoring the earth’s ecosystems whilst empowering millions of people to take part by 2030, we need thousands of supporters. If you are already a supporter, thank you for being part of this journey of restoration. Ask your friends to join us too! And if you’re not yet a supporter, will you become one today?

It’s been a wild and exciting ride so far. Here’s to the future!

Ashleigh Brown, Camp Coordinator