The hidden life of rural activators

Simona Mancusi

December 14, 2022

Differences, similarities & challenges of Village Hosts

Huldufólk translates for “hidden people”. They are, according to Icelandic and Faroese folklore, supernatural small creatures populating forests, lakes, caves and cliffs; who can choose whether or not to reveal themselves to humans. Legends describe them living their lives similarly to humans in a parallel reality, hidden from the human eye. Similarly, across Europe (and beyond), we can find likewise magical creatures, hidden by the eye of the masses, carrying on their lives as village activators, in a parallel rural reality. Too often forgotten by its urban counterpart.

Rural activators are people who have not forgotten or have never stopped believing in that rural reality. They are those who keep the village together, like old and new roots protecting the community from subsiding. Village Hosts is the name we chose to use to identify these special people for the Open School for Village Hosts program.

Village Hosts can take different shapes. They might be passionate people who were born in the village and are perfectly embedded in its context; others might have chosen to explore what goes beyond the village or have moved to another city to study, only to later come back, enriched by the experience and with the strong mission of protecting their legacy. Other times, rural activators come from far away, moving into the village to bring forth a change in their lives. Some are lone superheroes, everlasting suns radiating energy and hope to their community, like ancient shamans; others act together as a group of allies, like the Super Rangers. Some of them might wear the Village Host’s hat in their spare time; others see it as a way of living, where the village becomes their own creative Hub; some others have a more entrepreneurial spirit, sustainably developing business opportunities in the rural context.

Like bread, they come in many forms, depending on background, history, and geography. However, like bread, they also share the same key ingredients. All Village Hosts are empathetic listeners. They know how to observe, listen and make sense of the deep needs of their community, a knowledge that can only be developed through lived experience. They understand how important it is to stay humble and respect the wishes and tensions of their context. The village has its own rhythm, history and habits; it’s not a blank page to fill in, nor an old land to completely transform. They are the locals’ megaphones.

Rural activators are skilled artisans of visions. They visualize a shared future scenario, representing locals’ will, and setting a community’s direction. This fine art comes with the ability to stimulate dialogue and facilitate the co-existence of divergent thoughts, enabling constructive and democratic agonism. They can bring locals with different worldviews to sit together, literally, around the same bonfire.

Finally, they are experienced connection brokers. They can see beyond what is in front of their eyes. They see through people and recognise (and elevate) their potential, to entangle a strong net of collaborations. They knit the scaffolding that can handle change for the village.

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash
Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

However, the rural context is not like Huldufólk’s fairy world. Being a superhuman creature in the real world comes with challenges. In the end, they are human beings (too), and they can also get frustrated, feel overwhelmed and demotivated. Many Village Hosts who decide to move to small settlements will have to integrate and gain the trust and recognition of the people. In that sense, the community represents a gatekeeper who has the power to informally elect them as Village Hosts. In the process of building such a reputation, these activators will face cultural and gender prejudices obstructing the way. Moreover, rural activators struggle with locals driven by self-interest, who are unable to think of the “common good”. They have to mitigate conflicts between the young and the elders, the wish to change and the wish to preserve. Periodically, they will get stuck in institutional bottlenecks for not having the official mandate and ownership to move forward; or might face technological challenges that can slow down the process.

Village Hosts are very often devoting their free time to these activities. Hidden somewhere in the European countryside, these are the people who, silently, are weaving the future of our social fabric. Yet, their important service goes unseens, unrecognised, and mostly unpaid. Who is going to take care of small villages, and devote their energies to nourishing a thriving community? Who is going to facilitate collaboration and a sense of kinship in small settlements? Who is going to work on developing business opportunities in small villages? If we think about it, all of us know a Village Host, we all meet them once in our lives. They are like hidden gems, that need to be acknowledged for the work they are doing. This project aims to be a magnifier on these people, to elevate the crucial role of Village Hosts in our society.

#ruralactivator #ruralrenaissance #socialfabric