“We are not poor; your mind is poor!”

Phayao, November 2017. “Let us go and support khun Moon,”says our friend Suwat to khun Saowanee, Anu and I. “He has stopped using chemicals on his land and has to deal with a lot of resistance from his fellow villagers.” Moon and his wife welcome us in front of their modest house. Lots of chicken run around among a luxuriant vegetation. In front of the house a fish pond opens the view toward a mountain range.


(Moon, Saowanee, Suwat, Anu)

We identify together the plant varieties surrounding us: banana trees, casava shrubs, sweet potatoes, avocado trees, sugar cane, and so many more…

“As the Government has determined that we are poor it sends us a monthly allowance of 20 USD”, says Moon. “But look at the abundance around us! We live very well off our garden. We only use half of our allowance to pay for our electricity bill and for some petrol for our motorbike”

Ganshoren, May 2018. BelCompetence friends visit Remi Vandersmissen. Four years ago, Remi wondered: “What shall we do if the whole financial system breaks down?” A horticulturalist by training, Remi had always seen weed as an enemy. He decided to explore whether he could survive on them. And survive he did, sometimes living for months on those weeds he used to combat. For three hours he guided us along the Molenbeek, a creek that gave its name to the nearby municipality. A few yards away from the parking lot, we were already feasting on a variety of plants which we had been taught to stay away from….


(Photo:  Eddy Van Hemelrijck)

In October last year, during our Global Learning Festival  in Uganda a 106 year old man whom we visited told us: “We are not poor, your mind is poor!”

At age seventy, SALT opens my mind to the abundance of life.

One Step at a Time

Photo 03-12-2017, 05 52 43Take a minute and imagine what does your abundance look like?

Last year I met Mon – a Thai man whose smile makes the world a little better. At least my world. I find words often redundant or constraining when a real connection is in the air. Well, I had the right mindset, because me and Mon did not share a single understandable word with each other. Yet, while we visited his house with a common friend, he offered to take us to the mountains the next day. And so started an adventure I could write about days and days.


But today I wanted to write about connections. How do I connect with others.. When a connection happens without words, then I can’t base our relation on similarities like views, experiences, interests. Obviously, audition is not our only sense through which we can connect. But for me, more interesting “phenomena” is related to none of those previous channels. What I discovered later was that I didn’t even try to actually “make sense” of Mon. We can never figure each other out. Instead I just focused on this beautiful mountain road. I was perfectly engaged in the present moment without processing it much. I feel that during these moments something magical happens. We are throwing out the trash. Trash being whatever keeps our mind occupied from what’s really there – this moment. Therefore, if I can connect with a moment, I can connect with everything and everybody this moment brings. And the richness I get from that makes me happy.


My grateful greetings to JL and Mon, for taking me to this journey.

Now, what do you think? Is this SALT that I experienced?

Anu Sieberk

Isn’t there a shortcut?

“Isn’t there a shortcut? ” asks Ranga as me, her and Marlou visit the beautiful Moluccan Islands in East-Indonesia.


While more and more people in rich countries tend to connect with nature, with people and with self,  in poorer countries people lose those connections as they imagine more financial and material wealth will bring them a better future. In Maluku, traditional law – the adat – which considers human beings as part of nature in the web of life,  is under threat. The predominant paradigm is looming, where  people accept to view themselves as resources for the production of  goods and services, which marketing then relentlessly tells them to use.  Would that predominant paradigm prevail, then individual and collective agency in harmony with nature would cede ground for passive consumption, never to be satisfied. As we visit these beautiful people immersed in stunning nature, we wonder: Will people need to experience traffic jams, pollution, poor health, stress and loneliness to appreciate what they will have lost?

“We don’t want to return to the old days. But  we need to keep  the old ways!” The statement by our  host Kees  Lafeber found a lot of resonance  in Ambon and in Saparua. Still, why would people drift away from the old ways if they aspire to maintain them?

Maybe the general cause is the capacity of external influencers to project as superior their own way of living. They dismiss the spiritual dimension of humans-in-nature as irrational, and see humankind as separate from nature. They therefore feel entitled to exploit it endlessly.  They consider their own religious doctrine (the set of rules imposed by humans in name of religion as opposed to its true spirit) as superior, as  it  replaces faith in spirits with faith in God. Transgression triggers God’s wrath rather than that of the ancestors and of the spirits. In that context, customary law- the adat- has less “teeth”. Are the gates now open for the destruction of the beautiful Maluku Islands, and for their irreversible loss? Or is there a shortcut that would enable to nurture the beauty of the Islands and of thei inhabitants?

Throughout our visit, we met wonderful people doing wonderful things towards their dream of a Green and Happy Maluku. Beaches and streets cleaned.


Plastic shredded and recycled. Organic waste recycled. Preschool children educated towards the dream. Families practicing organic farming….But will these activities reach the scale required to reverse the trend towards progressive destruction? Where is the shortcut? Our visit to Oom Ely on our last day gave us a clue.

Oom Ely is a powerful man as customary law entrusts him with the responsibility of four “sassi”: the care for community, for sea, for trees and for fish. That care ensures harmony between those four elements. For instance he tells when to start and stop fishing, which trees to cut and which ones to keep. When we entered Oom Ely’s compound on Haruku island, we felt like we  are setting a foot in paradise on earth. Simple but beautiful buildings in luxurious nature surrounded by sea inspired peace and harmony.

Oom Ely welcomed us with his ukulele and traditional songs.

Close your eyes and you would think he is twenty years old. He is actually seventy. He was irradiating happiness and we let it invade our hearts. We had in front of us the embodiment of the Green and Happy Islands.

Oom Ely spoke in pantums, four sentences poems. Nuances got lost in translation, but we did get their essence. Everything boils down to practice. Care – as in I care for you -links the four sassi. They are interrelated. Oom Ely showed us a nursery of mangrove trees. He then took us to a new plantation and explained how the mangrove will host more fish which will be available for feeding humans. He explained how maintaining harmony with nature prevents war. When he teaches children (many kids visit him) he does not force feed knowledge, but responds to children’s questions as they naturally come up.

We left Oom Ely with the start of an answer to our question. Oom Ely is the living proof that a shortcut exists. It all starts with our individual behaviour. Each of us can choose to live a life of abundance, where sharing and harmony with nature takes priority over money and the accumulation of wealth.

Later that day, near the beautiful Molana beach, on the stem of a coconut tree, loaded with coconuts waiting for the harvest, stands a board with two words : sassi and gereja (church). Indeed, when based on care and not on fear, sassi and religious teaching do not compete but reinforce each other.

One day earlier, Kees and his team developed the practices that will lead to the fulfilment of their dream of a Green and Happy Saparua. Ranga and I were surprised that these practices did not mention waste management, biofarming, and other manifestations of an ecological transition. Rather they touched the root of any of those as the team’s practices focus on education, culture, ethics. After our visit to Oom Ely we understood the reasons better.

A vision, where people of Maluku revive the old ways based on hope not on fear, emerges. Mind serves heart, altruism keeps self-interest in check. Naturally, they use their strengths to act towards their dream of a Green and Happy Maluku. And the visitor practicing SALT sheds any sense of superiority to learn and share.

Jean-Louis Lamboray



Story 1. Suwatland – how it began

The home of Suwat is the place where JL wrote “What Makes Us Human?”. In a way it’s very fitting because Suwat really helped JL to understand the AIDS situation in Thailand in the beginning of 2000s. For some reason, it was important for me to see that place. Maybe out of curiosity, maybe to understand better, I didn’t analyse it much. And so it happened that at the end of November 2017, I travelled with JL to Northern Thailand to visit Suwatland. The place is exactly like the man himself – so far away that even the background noise gets quiet, yet so familiar like it’s always been part of you.


During the next couple of weeks we will share some stories about this phenomenal place. Looking forward of hearing your thoughts about it!


Text  by Anu Sieberk

Just Love


Dear Friends of the Constellation,

As certain as every morning’s sunrise

is our capacity to Love.

When Love knocks on our door,

are we letting it in?

Are we taking enough care of ourselves

to let Love work through us?

Over 2018, let us further explore how SALT enables Love in Action.

Happy 2018!



Chers Amis de la Constellation, 

Aussi certaine que le lever du soleil chaque matin

est notre capacité d’aimer.

Quand l’Amour frappe à notre porte

le laissons-nous entrer?

Prenons-nous suffisamment soin de nous

pour permettre à l’Amour d’oeuvrer à travers nous?

Explorons en 2018 comment SALT permet de traduire l’Amour en actes.

Bonne Année 2018

I am retired, but I am not tired!

I am retired, but I am not tired! This is how Christine introduces herself during a SALT visit to the Bugonga community of older persons, near Entebbe in Uganda. The Constellation and HENU have organized this SALT visit in the context of the Global Learning Festival. For five days of the festival, visitors and hosts learn from each other, as they connect and share from their life experiences. Christine’s statement resonates with me, as at seventy, I don’t think of myself as being retired. Her introduction made me want to connect with Christine.

Christine is very busy while we sit idle as we wait for more older persons to join the meeting. One after the other, older persons come and sit next to her. She then checks the members’ blood pressure (BP), and enters data in a big notebook. I join the older persons and request Christine to measure my BP. She carefully opens her notebook and writes down my personal data. I ask: “What do you do when someone has high BP?” Christine refers the person to the hospital with a special form that gives the person priority access to the doctor’s consultation.  She then follows up to check the person’s BP at home. We connected during this conversation, but I wanted to learn more from Christine. I wanted to explore what was driving her to continue to work at her old age.


I followed Christine at her home with a small team of visitors. We talk while we visit her garden.  She shares about the loss of her husband who disappeared on his return from Kenya several years ago, about her father, her children and grandchildren. We then return to our conversation on her activity in the community. How did she start taking BPs in the community? From the outset in 2012, the Bugonga community of older persons identified the members’ health as an area of concern, together with sanitation, exercise and nutrition. She would give advice on healthy living. Then, end 2016 Health Nest Uganda asked from the older persons’ community about who would measure BP regularly to detect hypertension. They selected Christine. HENU gave a BP meter to Christine for use in the community. Christine has worked as a nurse for 61 years and she has no intention to stop. “Chosen to serve” is our nurses’ motto, and serve I will until I die!

When I worked as a District Medical Officer in Zaire, and later as a health specialist, I worked primarily at the improvement of the health of mothers and children. Health of older persons were not on my “radar screen”. I knew how older persons could actively care for each other and for the community at large, but so far, I had not experienced it.  My encounter with Christine and with her community changes this perspective forever.

But my learning goes further. Christine connected with her deep purpose in life. She did not need any financial incentives to do what she considers as her normal course of action. So here is what I take home: “If we reconnect with our deep purpose, then infinite sources of energy are available for action.” I’ll try to apply this together with older persons of my community.

For more info about the Learning Festival, visit https://sites.google.com/a/communitylifecompetence.org/the-uganda-learning-festival/home

I Trust You

This happened in 1977 in Kisantu health district headquarters in Lower Zaïre. Our medical team had decided to decentralize the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB). As soon as the health center nurse would detect a TB positive sputum on his solar-lit microscope, the patient would receive treatment on the same day. That treatment would include streptomycin, a potent antibiotic drug. Our 50 health centers were scattered over a large district. As a result, patients would not need to travel to the hospital but get diagnosed and treated on the spot.


Figure 1: Visiting Kimayulu Health Center

As the key was trust in the nurses’ compliance with a standard protocol, we organized a refresher course on TB for all our head nurses. At the end of the nurses’ training, Makitu Samba, a veteran nurse took the floor: “Doctor, I practice nursing since 1947, which I think is the year you were born. Never until now did anyone entrust me with streptomycin, by fear that I would use it not to treat TB but to sell it to patients who suffer from gonorrhea. You are the first one to trust me and to trust my colleagues. I pledge here as the older of all of us, that not one gram of streptomycin will disappear”. Makitu and his colleagues held on to their promise. No streptomycin vanished to treat gonorrhea…

Last week, as I cycle with Claude on his tandem from Dover to Maidstone, I am reminded of Makitu’s story. I am leading the tandem, as Claude is blind.


Figure 2:  My friend Claude

Over the 100 km I am making mistake after mistake, tired already of the first leg (124Km) that took us from Kortrijk, Belgium to Calais and Dover. I take an innumerable amount of wrong turns which cost us a lot of effort to get us back on track. We had to walk up several of the hills, as I failed to shift gears in due time. I even had a brush with an embankment of one of the narrow rural roads, causing my companion to get hurt. Frankly, if it was not for the unstinting trust Claude had in me, I would have given up. As we neared Maidstone, we had the good fortune to get a puncture just in front of a pub. A great opportunity to stop and have a British ale to celebrate our friendship!

On the front cover of “What makes us human?” Frederic Laloux states: “Trust makes ordinary people do extraordinary things”. This time around I was on the receiving end. Thanks Claude.