Learning through community


by Evan Miller '10
"Ubuntu, A Simple Green Community." This is the theme housing challenge that 13 students chose to take Bluffton's enduring value of community to the next level this year.

Ubuntu is a Zulu word meaning, "I am because we are." According to Jackie Wells, director of residence life, "the Ubuntu community goals revolve around  living in simple community. The students focus on using their resources, not wasting food, sharing  community responsibilities, and living and learning as Jesus did. In essence, theme housing allows students to take what they learn in the classroom and implement it first hand in their living spaces. Many of the students share that this is a great opportunity for them to try things out before they face the real world."

UbuntuBluffton has offered themed housing on and off since the mid-1970 s. "Theme housing is a great extension of our residence life model because it gives students the opportunity to take ownership of their living environment, inviting them to implement the value of community that they've been learning about in their liberal arts education," said Wells. This year's theme housing is located in Riley Court, with women living on one floor and men on the other.

Senior Devon Matthews from Bluffton, Ohio, is a part of the group living in the intentional community, "Our goal is to try to figure out what we can do to live simply starting with little changes we can make in our daily lives to reduce the consumption of energy."

The residents work at reducing energy by unplugging electronics when they are not being used, turning off lights when a person leaves the room, air-drying  laundry, using re-usable grocery bags and buying local groceries just to name a few. "One of the goals for me is to be able to get to the point where I am willing to deal with the inconveniences for the welfare of my community," Matthews said.

The group believes that meal time is an important time to share together so they set aside Sundays as a special community day. The residents split up responsibilities for the day. Some are involved in cooking and preparing the meal, others are involved in cleaning up after the meal. If people cannot make it to the meal, or just need a week off they are give the responsibility to update the group's blog online.

The meals also serve as an important way for the group to learn. The Ubuntu group is mentored throughout the year by a group of seven faculty and staff members on campus. The group invites one or two of their  mentors to come and share the Sunday meal with them. Several of the mentors have been involved in intentional communities before, so they are able to share valuable information and give advice on issues that the group may encounter.

Andrea FlackFor Andrea Flack, a senior from Canton, Ohio,  living in the Ubuntu community allows her to  establish meaningful relationships with those she lives with and others that share an interest in the Ubuntu theme. "I have learned a lot from our many discussions about what living in an intentional community means and the living experience is helping me to explore the person that I want to become. "

Flack feels that Riley Court has been an ideal place to test out new ideas. Through her interactions with the other people in Riley Court, Flack has been able to explore her creative side, as she has expanded her interest in trash art as a way to personally embrace the group's focus on environmental stewardship. "I started out using scrap paper such as tissue paper, old newspaper and cardboard to make greeting cards, said Flack. When my housemates in Riley Court found out about my skills, they encouraged me to experiment with making other arts and crafts with items which would normally be thrown away. " 

During Spiritual Life Week this fall, the Ubuntu  community hosted a block party for the Bluffton  campus and village communities and invited others to experiment with trash art. "Instead of being a secluded thing, we wanted Ubuntu to be a bridge between the campus and the broader Bluffton community, " said Flack. Living in Ubuntu this year has taught me it s rewarding to make sacrifices for the good of the community, said Flack. Sometimes, for the good of the community, it is good to give an inch.

Through the experience of living in the Ubuntu  community, Matthews feels that he has learned ways  of living simply that he will take with him after  graduation. His fiancee Kristen Shelly, a senior from Penfield, N.Y., is also involved in the project and through the shared experience, they have considered continuing the lessons of intentional community when they are  married. "We really like the idea of living interdependently. This experience has taught me that as long as you keep an open mind and are willing to be a part of someone else's dreams, you will soon become passionate about what others are passionate about, even if it is something as simple as recycling."

For more information, check out Ubuntu's blog here.

Money collected in UBUNTU's Common Change Jar goes to cover the cost of kitchen staples like coffee, tea and milk while the Pennies of Thanks collection benefits the work of Mennonite Central Committee.