Bringing home sustainability from the mountains
How do you teach someone to appreciate nature, when their biggest concern is finding their next meal? By Alex Eppel.
Alex Eppel is an Educo Africa Facilitator and the Manager of the Outdoor Learning Centre in the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness. He lives in this beautiful place with his wife and children.
As we introduce the concept of environmental sustainability to those who often already feel overwhelmed by their lives, how do we bring relevance to it? The answer lies in making clear that there is no difference between the healing we need and the healing the Earth needs and that the power of healing lies within both.
Sustainability in the simple context of our learning centre is about how we maintain a balance with the wilderness around the centre. The mission statement for our learning centre is: “A restored relationship of mutual healing between people and their environment.” And in Educo Africa’s wilderness courses, it is relationships that form the basis of what we learn.
Right: Alex Eppel of Educo Africa
The focus of Educo Africa’s work is the development of people, not the protection of the environment. And to add to that, most of our participants come from a very different reality than I do. The sparseness of Nature in their everyday environment is evident. What point of reference does a person living in this context have for being concerned about environmental sustainability, if they are concerned on a daily basis about where their next meal will come from and whether they will safely arrive at school?
But maybe we all struggle with relevance - what does environmental sustainability mean in our daily lives? From the dawn of agriculture, we began to see nature as a resource to be used, rather than something that we are a part of.
We tell our participants stories about everyday items they use, and bring these into sharper focus. We talk about water – where it comes from and goes to and show ways, however small, to make a difference.
We spend time talking about recycling, the excess packaging that is used by business to market their goods and how we need to reuse what we can, and recycle the rest.
So all this information is presented in the first hour of having arrived on an Educo Africa course! If it were done in isolation it would have little chance of integration into a person’s life. But luckily they are about to journey into the wild and into themselves and start to break down the barriers between the two.
On the second day the participants are given a journal and about 20 minutes alone in nature. For many it’s the first time and for some it’s a frightening thought. But the response is often one of surprise, peace and gratitude. The quietness of our mountains is often a gift to those who have lived in a crowded urban setting all their lives. The expansive view of mountain and sky is captivating. For many it is a reminder of God’s creation.
To see so many people arrive in a place of wonder and tranquillity in the first 20 minutes, tells me that there is deep recognition involved. While many of the fears of snakes, spiders and darkness that people bring with them remain, there is a part of them that recognises the silence, the wind and the majesty of the mountains.
And as the course continues and more time is given to solos, that relationship between self and Nature grows. The mountains are a place of reflection and healing. They provide us with a break from the intensity of our lives; a place to reflect on it from a safe distance; and to vision our way through it. It also provides rivers to drink from and swim in, peaks to challenge our determination, and a picture of the Earth in its pristine state that includes us. There we are eating, sleeping, laughing, sharing and learning. And when we go, we carry out our rubbish and recycling and we leave no mess. The mountains hold our stories of pain and our intentions of change and there is space for it all. With this new understanding of a relationship that has always been there, participants can assign value to wilderness on a personal level.
The kind of sustainability that we ascribe to is about an enhanced quality of life based on healthy relationships between people and with Nature. If we want people to take responsibility for their relationship to the environment, they first need an opportunity to experience that relationship. Then we can highlight the existence of the choices they can make in that relationship and provide information that informs those choices. And then we have to trust the process and the people.
What we as Wilderness Guides do is sacred work that has been done since the beginning of human kind. It is the original way of knowing ourselves, done in the original classroom. We facilitate the healing relationship between human beings and Nature. In these days of our culture of separation from each other and Nature, we have to spend a little more time allowing the barriers to fall away and we will find ourselves in our truth again. And in that truth, sustainability is personal. It is simply, life in balance.
Posted on: November 22, 2012, 5:23 AM