Changing The World From Your Doorstep

We travel to open our eyes to the world and to experience unforgettable interactions with people and places. The first step of leaving home can be the scariest but taking that leap allows us to see for ourselves all the change making projects that are happening out there across the globe. I’m currently on the road collecting ideas and inspiration to bring back with me. Seeing how it’s been done successfully is going to be valuable in laying the foundations for my own projects.

When you’re motivated to work for a better world, often we think big and want to do it all. But what happens when you focus that energy and localise, changing the world from your doorstep?

Out here in Réunion Island (a French department in the Indian Ocean) I spoke to five different change makers who are making a positive impact from where they are and thus creating change on a global scale.

Sonia – Protecting the Planet

Sonia

Sonia, from Réunion, is an organic farmer who works with the principles of permaculture. This means working in a sustainable way with existing eco systems, understanding that every plant and living being has their own unique role to play and all is connected in the natural world. She was inspired to follow this path by Pierre Rahbi, a writer and farmer who promotes agriculture that takes care of the environment rather than harming it.

Sonia talked to me about the importance of localising and how each community and piece of land has something unique to offer. She says “There are other ways to live apart from capitalism. I want to work with and save traditional knowledge, which can be lost when we try to make everything the same.” She demonstrated the importance of community by helping to organise a picnic event in March. People were invited to the organic farm where Sonia works, to share seeds, plants, ideas and wholesome food.

Daniela – Inviting Self-Expression

Daniela

Daniela, from Angola, set up her own language and cultural centre in 2011 in St Pierre, Réunion. The centre is called Kosez which means “dare to speak.” It acts as a space for positive exchanges, interactions and a place that invites everyone who walks in to express their authentic selves. Daniela says “It’s a crossroads where people from all walks of life meet, exchange, and dare to express what they truly are. Most importantly, it’s an expression of who I am and the change I want to see in the world.”

We discussed how the smallest acts can go a long way. Even a single warm smile given to a passing stranger in the street has the potential to travel and transform into something much bigger. Kosez holds a space where people feel positive, motivated and confident about who they are. This is an energy which is taken out into the wider community. Daniela says “We share our linguistic knowledge through our lessons and our passions through our cultural events and projects. As a result, our small language centre is enriched by and evolves thanks to all the marvellous people who dare to express themselves and dare to speak.”

Rodolphe and Nirina – Opening Hearts and Minds

Rodolphe and Nirina

Rodolphe, from Réunion, and Nirina, from Madacascar, are a couple committed to building a better society. After travelling the world together for 5 years, they arrived back to Réunion, feeling a little lost after the daily connections found meeting people on the road.

So, they set up a project inviting strangers to their house to share a meal together, saying “It’s about travelling…without moving!” They cook dishes from around the world and open their door to strangers “We’ve been sharing dinner with more than 25 foreigners from local political leaders to artists to travelers, from humble cashiers to successful entrepreneurs.”

They have also been known to bake cookies and hand them out in the street, both on their doorstep here in Réunion and also on their travels across the world. They invite people in public spaces to “stop and share a simple moment over warm cookies.” Rodolphe wrote a recipe book inspired by the experience, available in French, called 100% Made With Love. He even invited me round to learn how to bake a traditional GLUTEN FREE sweet potato cake, made with rhum and vanilla from the island!

Sama – Cycling for Climate Justice

Sama PHOTO CREDIT TO SAM BIRD
Photo Credit: Sam Bird

Sama, brought up in France by British mum and Saudi dad, works to create action for the climate. She helped to organize a cycle ride from the UK to Paris in December 2015 with 125 participants to make an impact at the COP21 talks and is in the process of organizing another ride to the Lausitz camp in Germany and Reclaim the Power camp in Wales, with the network Time to Cycle.

Sama is currently on the road travelling and the network is made up by people living in different places so meetings are held over Skype and various forms of online working platforms are used. I asked Sama about the logistics of working in this way, she says “Just like everything, these methods have their cons but what they have allowed is the co-organisation between people who are geographically far away from each other but have similar ambitions and goals.”

The rides bring people together, connecting with local communities along the way and inspiring action for a sustainable future. In Sama’s words, “What motivates me the most about this organising from a distance, is that I know that at the end of it, it materialises into something on the ground. These rides not only provide a greener mode of transport but also act as community camps on wheels.”

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That time we had to be rescued by helicopter

The comfort zone is made to be pushed and we travel to do exactly that. Those of us who get bursts of wanderlust tugging at our sleeves to get us out exploring know the thrilling sensation that comes with discovering new places, meeting new people and having new experiences on the road. All of which require a healthy dose of risk taking and the faith to let go to jump in. But what happens when the comfort-turned-risk zone suddenly ends up in the danger zone?

Well, if you’re lucky like my friend Sama and I, then you get a free helicopter ride to safety and a bit of a story to tell. As well as a stark reminder of the importance of being careful, that thing everyone tells you to do before you turn to walk away from loved ones on the path to following your heart being called out into the big wide world.

When I told friends and family back home that we’d just been airlifted out of the mountains after getting stuck in a tree on the side of a cliff, they asked the reasonable question of “what were you doing in a tree on the side of a cliff?” So I wrote this blog post to explain.

After putting on an event at a local language and cultural centre, we walked home beneath the stars filled with that warm feeling that you get from community, from sharing and connecting with other human beings. We were awoken the next morning by the sun shining in through my open window, with a view of the mountains standing sturdy behind a city landscape.

“Let’s go on an adventure!” we put on our walking boots, packed our rucksacks and headed out onto the streets to begin hitch hiking. A guy, who had just been surfing despite the danger of sharks here, picked us up and dropped us off a little way up to the mountains. Within 5 minutes we were picked up by another kind stranger who had a great sense of humour, the whole car was filled with laughter as we joked our way across the winding road. He dropped us at the “grand étang” in the East, as we’d decided to do a gentle, simple walk, one of the easiest in the island. Ha!

After plodding along the path going round a lake, we got to a dead end where the path was flooded by the rising waters of the lake due to rain. But there was a sort of alternative looking path taking you up onto the side of a mountain surrounding the lake. We followed it and picked our way through a steep, slippery trail, clambering over and through trees, clinging onto roots where necessary to stabilise ourselves. At the end we saw the other side of the path after the flooded bit and rejoiced. Only problem was we weren’t sure how to get down. In the end, following Sama’s lead, I lowered myself down a 4 metre sheer vertical drop, clinging onto two big roots which acted as ropes.

I felt very pleased with our skills and fearlessness after that little adventure scaling the side of a mountain. Off we trotted back on a nice, normal path by the side of a giant pond. We traversed bogs, giving up on using stepping stones to avoid getting wet feet and carried on our merry way until we got to another part of the path on the other side which was flooded. Hmm.

There was no way to go back because we couldn’t climb up that vertical drop that we’d jumped down. The only available option was to climb up into a repetition of scaling the side of a cliff to hopefully re-join the path. But this time it was much more difficult, it was raining, everything was slippery and the drop looked a lot scarier. We carried on climbing through the trees, Sama helping me out when I started to panic. She reminds me of my brother, one of those people who can keep calm in a crisis and who seem to know exactly what they’re doing even when the path is unclear.

But at some point we got to a complete block. We couldn’t turn back and we couldn’t go forward. My body was shaking and the tears came as panic rose. We tried and tried to call the emergency services but with no signal it was impossible to communicate with them. We terrified my friends with a frantic text saying what had happened and to call the rescue people, which took some time to send after waving my phone desperately in the air.

We waited in the rain, getting colder and colder. We weren’t sure if our location had been properly transmitted to the rescue team and could only wait to find out. After I calmed down, we even got out our packed lunch and had a very surreal picnic. We wondered about trying to climb down the cliff and swim across the lake to safety but it wasn’t a viable option as the drop was too severe.

After a couple of hours we heard the dramatic noise of a helicopter and saw it pass us 3 times as it toured the whole surface area of the lake trying to find us. But we were hidden in amongst the trees and were nowhere to be seen. Every time it passed we waved our arms in vain. Finally we heard shouts and cried back, blowing furiously on the emergency whistle. Our lips had turned blue with cold.

I have never been so happy to see two strangers! Our rescuers turned up on foot, gave us helmets and strapped us up with ropes to guide us down the cliff. After getting down onto solid ground we took it in turns to be attached to a rope hanging off the helicopter, raised up to be yanked into the aircraft. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights?

Once we were all safe inside the helicopter they took us back to the base and offered us a drink of juice. We followed them into a room with tropical décor and a bar made from bamboo. Only in Réunion!

They told us how lucky we’d been because had we been just an hour or two later, then there would have been too much cloud to get the helicopter in.

We walked away from the base, in disbelief over what had just happened. The only thing left to do was to laugh with the joy of being safe and well, thanks to the rescue team.

(P.S. We even made it to the local news, click here)

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