Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, when we celebrate Umoja, a Kiswahili term meaning unity and togetherness. This includes the unity we share as members of an extended family and community, as well as our collective connections that we have with all life on the planet.
In honor of Kwanzaa, we spent part of today helping our friend Tara put a green roof on her chicken coop, baked cookies to share, and also made a delicious vegan lunch from the backyard garden. The spirit of togetherness and unity is always better with snacks.
While thinking about how to build community unity, I have also been pondering various creative ways that people have been investing their time, now that so many of our fellow citizens and neighbors are unemployed. Innovative locally based solutions and informal economies, like food carts, community farms, barter, regional currency and time banks, are becoming increasingly popular.
Bay Area Community Exchange
In addition to growing her own food, harvesting rainwater, composting and raising chickens, my friend Tara also participates in a local time bank. The time barter group is called Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE); and though it is just a couple of years old, the time bank is helping individuals to strengthen their communities by sharing their own unique gifts and skills with one another.
The time exchange works like a local bank, but it keeps track of actual hours invested in the community, instead of paper money. The currency is time, and everyone’s time is equal. For every hour that you spend doing something for someone in your neighborhood, you earn one hour in exchange labor.
My friend Tara sometimes exchanges a dozen of her chickens’ organic eggs, recycled rain barrels, banana nut bread, locally made honey or a home made Sunday brunch, for other people’s traded labor or goods. On their website, BACE explains a little about how the time exchange works:
” A community timebank is like having an extended family to help out. Whether you give a music lesson, take care of someone’s pet, or take someone to a doctor’s appointment, one hour given equals one hour you can then use. The BACE Timebank honors the unique gifts, talents and resources that each of us has to share, regardless of age, employment or ethnic background, such as tutoring, yard work, repairs, running errands, and storytelling. Timebanks also help enrich our lives with things we may not normally be able to afford, like language lessons or massage. Spending time dollars instead of cash, can help you save money for expenses like rent, medicine, and food.
The formal economy is unstable and currently in a recession, but we can create community resiliency through the informal economy, providing a different kind of security based on relationships, trust, caring, and reciprocity. Many other countries have large informal economies that help people meet their basic needs through local connections, as did this country earlier on. By participating in the timebank, you are creating a more caring culture and healthy community to live in that will help take better care of all of us in the long run.
Timebanks have been helping to rebuild the informal, village economy for over twenty years. There are now over 300 communities in 22 countries that are using this (pay it forward) system to help their communities grow and thrive.”