This archetypal human question applies to an organisation as much as to an individual. Your given name doesn’t help towards solving this riddle.

Toru Education is just over one year old. It was called into life by founding Trustees Gary Williams, Lucy Carver and myself on the 29th September 2016 with a mission of “Toru Education is to provide experiential education opportunities that nurture people, planet and spirit”.

In format, Toru wishes to be a truly sustainable organisation that cares for its people, shares the tasks in a fair way, and unfolds in a natural manner, over time, without being pushed and scaled up too early. “No synthetic fertilizer, only compost!”

During this first year, at its simplest form, it was the legal container for a variety of courses on sustainable living, taking place in the region of Horowhenua and Kapiti coast, as well as an informal network of Toru courses alumnae. I described the initial story of Toru, its whakaapa and some possible ideas for the future here. That article indicated the evolving nature of Toru: “The identity of Toru will be shaped, formed and continuously re-formed through its activities and the stories of the people it attracts."

After one year, the time felt right to facilitate further ‘shaping and forming’ and invite others to join, formally as Trustees and/or informally as ‘aunties and uncles’ of Toru. The intention of the Toru retreat in December 2017 in Masterton was to further describe what this ‘being’ is becoming, in words and in pictures, through experiencing it: in Toru style, through head, hands and heart!

We were generously hosted by Hella and Joep Coenen in Mikimiki , near Masterton.

We spent focused time together on the questions of:

  • One year old Toru Education - who are you?
  • What do we observe in Toru? What is unfolding?

Together, we painted a picture, taking turns, rotating around the table. We began as individuals, reflecting in what type of seed we can see our individual specific qualities and talents reflected. Individually, we drew a picture of the seed we related to most, cut it out and positioned this at the edge of the big piece of paper. The Toru logo was in the middle!

Our individual seeds started to grow and merged into many others as we rotated along and by the time you returned to your starting point, it had grown into something very different. What a fun and beautiful artistic process. Thank you Hella for facilitating this!

After lunch, we gathered many ideas for possible ‘Toru strands’ beyond the current experiential courses. No doubt they will get further shaped when we spend time together at the permaculture course in January. And no doubt many of them will germinate and grow. Watch this space!

We interspersed our conversations with swims in the river nearby.

The focused time finished with a round of offerings; offerings to become a Toru Trustee or offers of specific skills and love and care as ‘Toru aunties and uncles’, followed by a celebration evening around the fire.

Introducing new Toru Trustees

We are delighted to introduce Hella Coenen, Emma Matthews and Keith Townsend as new Toru Trustees, in addition to Gary Williams, Lucy Carver and Doris Zuur. We appreciate Tom Lake, Bonnie Powers, Emily Williams, Beka Whale and Rachel Pomeroy offering to be supportive ‘Toru aunties and uncles’. Bonnie Beka and Rachel were absent but very present in spirit. Rachel Pomeroy sent this message of support: “I feel committed to Toru working in an active creative way, which holds a vibrant space for the unknown future to enter and be picked up consciously, practically, and positively in the now.”

Hella Coenen

My partner and I are regenerating 230 acres of former grazing land back into native bush on the edge of the Tararua Forest Park. We met 42 years ago in the Netherlands at the biodynamic horticulture and agriculture college. We left the world of farming and gardening for many years, working as a Rudolf Steiner kindergarten teacher and raising our two children, and feel we have come full circle. We have come back to the land and are self-sufficient, growing our own food, and enjoy the processes of preserving, fermenting and baking. We are experiencing a feeling of true and deep wellbeing.

The inspiration for making needle felted birds comes from the increase of birdlife on our farm, through planting and protecting them. They were the original occupants of this land. I completed Level 4 Healing Touch just recently and hope to qualify at the end of next year. We opened the “Wairarapa Forest School” in September 2016 and this initiative is growing.

My interest in the Toru Education Trust comes from an eagerness to contribute to adult education with health-giving skills and knowledge that contributes to self-reliance and resilience, which are important capacities in this fast-changing world. Many of these skills are in danger of being forgotten and I feel they need to be brought back to life and passed on to the next generation. Over the years I have given courses in story-telling, felting, seasonal craft, fermenting and dowsing/water divining. I look forward to being actively involved and help Toru to grow!”

Emma Matthews

“Currently I feel challenged, thriving and happy and I think this is the result of my experience with both conventional and holistic/community-based/experiential learning. My time spent studying at university was colourful and rich in learning experiences occurring both in and out of the formal structures. My passion and area of study has been human health through holistic and scientific perspectives. I have achieved a degree in human physiology and spent time studying at the schools of pharmacy and chiropractic. I also proudly participated in an inspiring 8 months residential program named Orientation Aotearoa, held in Wellington in 2015. As a group of young people immersed in a thriving wider network we explored living and learning in community and delved into topics revolving around individual, environmental and social well-being largely through the lens of social entrepreneurship. As part of OA I was lucky to participate in my first permaculture design course and subsequently realised its relevance in all the things I had learned previously and felt well equipped going forward. Currently I am a support team co-worker in a project run by Hearth Trust in Lower Hutt. In this role my main focus is to enable three men with intellectual disabilities to lead meaningful lives true to their own needs and desires.

Toru excites me for it represents the ‘Triune of Life’, which is the union of intelligence, force and matter, also known as head, heart and hands. In my experience, it is when the balance is achieved within this triune that I am most engaged with the learning available to me, it’s purpose and the people around me. I love that Toru stands to honour those who offer or hold, facilitate those who commit to learning and celebrate the opportunity for dynamic reciprocity.”

Keith Townsend

Kia ora Tatou.

I grew up in the beautiful Wairarapa region of Aotearoa beside the Ruamahunga river in the foothills of the Tararua ranges. I was brought up in a hunter gatherer lifestyle: hunting, fishing, and diving in the mountains behind my house and on the Wairarapa coastline.

I recently completed my studies in Environmental Management and Maori Studies at Otago university. I’ve since been practising regenerative living principles with the influence of permaculture design and Te Ao Maori. I want to pursue a career and lifestyle in these fields that is ecologically responsible and spiritually enriching, while creating resilient communities. And to reconsider the way we manage our natural resources by removing the current western profit-driven paradigm and applying a more Tikanga based earth-focused approach.

I believe we can build healthier human settlements that are holistic in land use, education and social wellbeing. I am currently working for the Department of Conservation in the Wairarapa. I’m preparing for a hands on experiential learning adventure around Aotearoa and beyond to gain practical skills and experience in growing nutrient dense food and cultivating wholesome living environments.”

Hella described to us what their land looked like when they arrived, much of it was bare paddock. Over the last 8 years, many seeds did grow and this beautiful piece of land is well on the way to re-generate back into lush and diverse bush.

May the Toru seeds grow into a healthy and diverse eco community, in Toru style of course, balanced and slowly, over many face to face conversations, live events and experiences, engaging hands, head and heart!