Overseas as a Surfrider Soul
I am thrilled to be writing these words in celebration of a full year volunteering with Surfrider Pacific Rim! This Surfrider journey continues to enrich my life in all kinds of ways, and though my efforts are still with this sweet organization, I left Tofino this winter to work for Greenpeace New Zealand. I’m an outreach campaigner, so I have humbling job of going to people’s houses, telling them about the issues threatening New Zealand, like deep sea oil drilling, and inspiring them to get on board as Greenpeace members. Needless to say, there are many ups and downs, all kinds of weather, and the only thing you can really completely influence is your own inner landscape. You definitely get to learn a lot about a country and it’s people this way, and find out what makes people upset concerning environmental issues. Sometimes they feel anger that we are bargaining away the lives of future generations, or that their kids are more at risk of suffering the many consequences of climate change and pollution. Some individuals are purely concerned with the economy, so they are upset that something like an oil spill would be disastrous for the tourism industry and their own source of income. You also learn how people want to get active, sometimes they ask, “so do you guys do like beach cleanups, can we get involved in one?”, I have to laugh and say “no we don’t, but there’s an organization I’m a part of back home..”
Travelling as an outreach campaigner, I’ve made countless memories with people that I’ll forever feel a glow when recalling. For instance, I signed up this grandmother who is from Samoa, she was so excited to talk to me and join the organization as she has a big family and really values protecting them and the ocean. After welcoming her to Greenpeace, she had the biggest smile and waved her fist in the air and exclaimed “power to the people!” She gave this shy laugh after, put her hand on her heart and waved goodbye. As a visitor to New Zealand, I couldn’t feel more blessed to have been part of that situation. I feel it’s connections like this, and the insight we gain along the way, that really illuminates our travelling experience.
Since I have been touring around New Zealand in my time off as well as with my work with Greenpeace, I’ve spent a significant amount of time at hostels, so I’ve been a part of, and overheard, many discussions on the ethics of travel. As I poured my cereal one morning, an interesting statement caught my attention, “some people travel and they don’t care about the culture they are in. They want to just go to say they have been there, to take photos with their selfie stick and move on.” I’ve reflected on this idea both in my adventures abroad and while living in Tofino, when we venture to a new part of the world are we primarily concerned with snapping another photo for social media with the egoic satisfaction of checking another place off of our list? Or do we genuinely care about the place we are visiting, want to learn lessons from the land and the community, and be part of locally organized efforts to make the area we are visiting healthier? Taking a trip anywhere, it’s paramount that we ask ourselves what our intention is, and think about how we can operate in a way that is beneficial to the locale and culture that supports our existence while we visit.
One of the ways we can be part of the positive momentum of a place we visit is through voluntourism. Of course, the voluntourism term itself has gained negative connotations since there are continuing issues with people who travel to a locale to take part in a project that does more harm than good to the community in need. So, like anything, there must be a strong level of mindfulness involved. It is essential that we research and then depending on what sparks our curiosity, get connected to Indigenous led businesses, conservation projects, and/or grassroots organizations that understand the history of the area and system they are operating in. There’s a beautiful quote by Spanish poet Antonio Machado that speaks to this idea, “traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.” I think our poet friend is right; we have the choice to follow a more conventional travel path – and not that this is inherently wrong in every instance, but we also have many opportunities to blaze our own way and find ourselves hidden amongst the golden idiosyncrasies of a place we are visiting. This could be at a funky ecovillage farm, in an off-grid treehouse, a dugout canoe, the hollow of an ancient cedar, a coastal cove that is the site of a beach clean up. We can find ourselves getting all kinds of lost and found as we become actively involved in local systems that are positively shaping our surroundings. I love this little guru, Eckhart Tolle, and he sums it up quite well “life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.”
Getting involved in voluntourism does not have to be begrudging work..you may get dirty, or rather, earthy.. but really thats a sign of a good time. From my experience with Surfrider, I can tell you, you can be on a tiny little remote island, crawling around where the sandy beach meets the thick forest tree line, climbing upside down in between piles of stacked driftwood, scavenging debris from out of the crevices. Despite the obvious sadness and overwhelming nature of ocean pollution, I have found being in these proactive and sometimes wacky circumstances has conjured so much laughter and inspiration in my life. When you work with a team of people doing environmental work like this, you can’t help but feel that you are a part of something in this universe that is so much bigger than yourself. Traveler Lindsey Renton came to Tofino to do some volunteering with Surfrider, and when asked why voluntouring appealed to her she told us, “It’s what we would do anyways….. contributing and helping clean up the places we deeply care about and supporting local communities. Meeting like-minded souls that also care about mother earth and keeping our oceans clean, while doing our part for our environment feels deeply satisfying on so many levels. It should be mandatory to spend time, money and energy on cleaning up the environment. We all live here and need to contribute what we can.”
At all kinds of times in our lives, we ask, what is the meaning of our unlikely existence?! From working and volunteering environmentally I’ve gained the idea that we are meant to find our own way to contribute to the great conversation, which is the unfolding story of the earth. If you are reading this, then you are part of it. How lucky is this! We get a chance with our current body and mind to influence this story, we may choose to add to the mystery, enhance the beauty, and even make it a little, or a lot, better than before we arrived. Fortunately for us, in this glorious town we have an incredible and creative activist community, and Surfrider is gearing up with all kinds of ways to get us involved and adventuring