From the Inner-City to the Rainforest: Discovering Self and Finding Purpose
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I grew up in Deptford, an inner-city area of South-East London, and a place that appears on the Government’s Index of Multi Deprivations. A significant part of the community, my friends, and neighbours, contend with low incomes, poor and over-crowded housing and neglected built environments. Being a young woman in these surroundings, who’s also Black and South-Asian, bought a series of further challenges from dealing with micro aggressions to everyday sexism. Along with many of my peers, we were often labelled in school as being ‘difficult’ and subjected to coercive punishments and exclusion. When not at school, being profiled and Stopped and Searched by the Police was an almost daily encounter, particularly for my male friends, as was the risk of being victims of street crime and violence. Our community has often been neglected, excluded, and marginalised, and consequently we are grossly overrepresented on social welfare indicators from child protection and looked-after children to mental health services and the criminal justice system. All of this because we were born in the wrong postcodes, to families that have been subjected to racism and discrimination.
Almost everyone I knew, knew someone who had been stabbed or killed. One of my own school friends was stabbed to death. I attended his funeral along with hundreds of other shocked and traumatised young people and stood on the Church stage to acknowledge his life. My Auntie was murdered by her husband, in what was called an ‘Honour Killing’. My Grandmother, who lived in my home, and who I often cared for, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. All of this by the time I was 16! I struggled a great deal with making sense of all this senseless violence and trauma and began lashing out at the smallest provocation. I soon found myself homeless, moving from sofa to sofa, and struggling with my mental health and well-being. My life became chaotic, often harsh, and brutal, without meaning or any sense of direction or purpose. Unfortunately, these are not unusual experiences. Many of the friends I have grown up with continue to struggle and experience hardships and lack access and opportunities to live their best lives.
At my lowest, I received what I consider to be gift, and a blessing. An opportunity arose to be part of a British Exploring Society’s expedition to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. For many of my friends the idea of spending 3 weeks in a remote part of the jungle, with no phone or contact with the outside world, with a group of people that you barely knew, was so far out of their zone of experience and expectation, as it was mine, that I was considered ‘mad’ for even thinking about it. However, for me, it was an opportunity to escape from my demons, and to get as far away from my oppressive environment as I could.
It turned out, that this expedition was going to be a life-changing experience for me. For the first time in my life, I encountered, without any barriers or filters, the beauty and wonder of nature, where there was no blame or judgement, just life teaming with energy and opportunity. I experienced silence and tranquillity in ways that calmed and soothed my mind. I built bonds of friendship and loyalty with strangers as we had to discover ways to live and work together to be successful. I felt appreciation and gratitude. On my return I started to think about connecting with other people, particularly with young people like myself, some of whom have never had the opportunity to experience anything other than poverty and adversity. I wanted to explore if a connection with nature, could touch them in a similar way that it had me.
As I started to share my experiences of discovery and renewal with my peers, they were all fascinated with the stories that I was sharing. A young Black woman from the ‘endz’ who is an explorer! They considered me ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ for taking on such a trip, and something that they could never think of doing themselves. BUT, if they had the opportunity, they would! What I found was important, was to have the conversation in a language that was being heard and understood. Nobody had opened-up the possibilities of nature to them, that they too could be explorers and adventurers, that the outdoors belongs to them too. There were no role models for them to aspire to be. Nobody associated with the outdoors looked like them. Having a relationship with nature did not feel something that was within their consciousness or reach. I realised that making a journey halfway across the world would not be available to everybody, but that doesn’t really matter. That the experience of nature is right on our own doorsteps, and along our streets and parks. We just have to look and see, to listen and hear, and to feel.
This led to the start of City Girl in Nature, as a way for me to give back to my community. To share my love and passion for the outdoors, and my belief that everybody should have the chance to be healed, to be nourished, and to live life with abundance.
Since I began my quest, I have met some extraordinary people. People from all walks of life, young and old, of all backgrounds and beliefs, diverse and multicultural, all of us united by a shared passion for nature and the outdoors. The generosity of this community has often been overwhelming, and for me very much mirrors the richness of our natural environments. I sense a very strong symbiosis between people and place, and it has been a joy to act as a witness and an enabler for other people previously excluded from such experiences to find their own pathway towards self-discovery.
If you would like to find out more about my quest of getting people into the outdoors and nature, and some of the people and places that I have had an opportunity to meet and visit please explore some of the links below.
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