Panguru, Aotearoa (New Zealand)Age: 30
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I hail from a small rural settlement in Aotearoa (New Zealand) called Waimana, which sits on the northern edge of a stunning forest called Te Urewera. This place sustained and nurtured my ancestors for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years and is where the seeds of my commitment to the environment were sown. I have a background in community development, arts and education, however from a young age I have been involved in conservation in some shape or form. Now I live in the Far North of Aotearoa, where I represent a group called Para Kore (Zero Waste).
With Para Kore, I travel throughout indigenous Māori communities and provide education and resources to allow them to tread more lightly on Papatūānuku (Mother Earth). I do this by offering a range of workshops that are informative, fun and enable people to take action immediately. These include activities that offer a deep understanding of the detrimental life cycles of resources, from extraction to disposal, and how we can move more toward closed-loop systems. We also offer resources such as worm farms, composting set ups, recycling gear and education to inform communities how to use these systems. What’s even better is that we offer all of this for free, and across New Zealand we have reached nearly 200,000 people from over 250 communities.
What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?
In all honesty, my pathway has been a slow and unconventional one. I did not grow up in a home that emphasized stewardship for the environment, or even with role models that inspired me in this way. My journey involved accumulating experiences and observations over time, influenced by my peers and most of all a curiosity to be critical of the way I live my life. I have always had an affinity to interact with nature, but it wasn’t until later on that I felt a compelling feeling of devotion to the environment.
Though it was not the most heroic of turning points, truth be told a key moment for me emerged from watching the documentary “Cowspiracy”. It unveiled to me that even though I was an educated and environmentally minded citizen with agency, I was still indirectly contributing to the Earth’s degradation. What’s more, I couldn’t fully opt out without dramatic and hugely impractical changes in my life. So, both my personal and professional life are fueled by a passion and desire to unplug from the systems that continue to harm our dear Mother Earth, and to reclaim a sense of autonomy and equilibrium within and upon her. My hope is that the people I connect with in all walks of my life may be inspired in a similar way.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?
In the coming centuries, as each generation is succeeded by the next, the environmental cautions that we warn about today are going to become the realities of their future. Until we reach a tipping point of global agreement and unification, we are each but a drop in the ocean fighting a bleak battle.
However, don’t be discouraged. Although no single person on their own will redirect the entire pathway of humanity, that little droplet you bounced into the ocean will create a ripple. That ripple might just touch a few communities and turn into a swell, in its wake creating a massive set of killer enviro-waves. And, of course, there you will be with your sustainably-made surf board under foot, riding those sweet natural barrels off into the horizon. Or maybe it will be your children riding that wave, or your children’s children’s children’s children……......you get the point! In the end it doesn’t matter who, as long as someone gets to ride that beautiful wave and we start working for it NOW!
Be strong, young one, and be bold.
Who do you look up to as inspiration for your work?
I look up to a Kauri tree (Agathis australis), a conifer that is endemic to Aotearoa. Why? Because they are HUGE. Also because they are wise – and by “wise” I mean old. They reckon up to around 2000 years old. This means that there are Kauri trees still alive today that were well over 1000 by the time my ancestors sailed across the Pacific Ocean to discover New Zealand. Not only do they live to an old age, but they are also one of the most ancient trees on Earth. They originate from the Jurassic period, reflecting an epic ability to survive millions of years through multiple mass global extinctions and extreme climatic shifts. So, they know a thing or two about sustainability – a bit more than us humans, anyway. They evolved to live in equilibrium and companionship with their fellow forest dwellers. Even in death they are survivors – at the end of the last Ice Age (around 50,000 years ago), an unexplained act of nature buried huge quantities of Kauri under a peat swamp, sealing them in a chemically balanced environment that preserved the timber in perfect condition.
If you could be any animal or plant, what would you be and why?
You guessed it - a Kauri tree. Kauri truly embody a sense of majesty being among some of the biggest trees on Earth in terms of volume. If you get to see a big Kauri tree, you will be subdued to an immense awe-struck feeling at the sheer size of this ancient atua (god or spirit), and probably expect some avatars to fly out of its crown on those cool, blue dragons.
Māori know Tāne Māhuta as the deity of their forests, and the biggest Kauri tree in Aotearoa is aptly named after this god. He’s a hit with his friends, too, hosting upon him around 42 varieties of plants, vines, shrubs and other flora which all together host a myriad of bugs, bacteria and fungi. Unfortunately, today they face a critical threat in kauri die back, a disease that ultimately leads to the death of the tree if infected. A cure is yet to be found.