Week 42 – Sustainable textiles

I was asked to run a class for high school students on sustainable textiles.

What I discovered

Firstly, I discovered what a ‘textile’ is! (I hadn’t really given it much thought before, and just presumed it was ‘material’/’cloth’. I was not incorrect as such, but I learnt it specifically refers to fabrics that are woven.)

As for the sustainability component, I looked into both social and environmental components.

I read and saw a lot about the poor living and work conditions of people on the supply chains of too many clothing and fabric manufacturers. This is not just at sweatshops where garments are assembled, but also often the lives of the people that grow and process the raw materials to make the clothes in the first place.

I read about and watched a number of stories of particular garments, for example the life cycle of a t-shirt… such information never fails to shock and concern me (even when I am already familiar, I think sometimes my brain goes in to denial mode). www.youtube.com/watch?v=afuuT1MhfQ0 – Life Cycle Of A Cotton T-Shirt.

I also did a lot of reading into examples of textiles that have lower social and environmental impacts. I came across a lot of information about hemp and was reminded about how it really is an incredible resource with so much potential. Why hemp is incredible – www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/03/hemp-sustainable-crop_n_5243351.html

Action

I have taught the class on sustainable textiles and have incorporated a lot of the learning into other classes and workshops I have run free of charge.

I have also become more aware of the materials I purchase. Before I would focus more on the country of origin and the price (considering the social impacts of the creation of my garments), but recently I have also been paying more attention to the actual materials I use in my life, and have been trying to avoid textiles derived from less sustainable sources (especially those that are petroleum-based, such as polyester).

 

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Week 41 – Companionship

What I discovered

I read some interesting articles (including www.psychologytoday.com/blog/notes-self/201212/universal-relationship-needs) about our relationship needs, and how companionship for most people is essential to health and well-being.

As babies and children, we are dependent on others for almost everything – physical and human needs. As we get older, many of us learn how to meet a lot of our needs ourselves (e.g. how to feed ourselves, etc), though we are still dependent on others for a number of things including companionship, a sense of belonging, affection, and emotional support.

These needs are met through romantic relationships, family and friends. When our needs for companionship are unmet we feel lonely. If we experience this a lot and/or for prolonged periods of time it can lead to depression, anxiety and other negative experiences.

I am not sure I necessarily learnt anything ‘brand new’ by reading up about loneliness and companionship, but it did make me think about how Western culture can tend to overlook our needs for companionship and emotional support (value is placed on being able to ‘do it alone’ and not ask for help). I’d like to think there is nothing wrong in wanting and needing company and supportive relationships in our lives, and I’d definitely like to encourage people I have relationships with or interact with that there is no shame in showing dependence on people for emotional support, company and affection.

Action

I took part in creating a short film about the befriending programme offered by the IHC. 2 years ago I joined the programme and have developed a close friendship with a lady with intellectual disabilities. IHC and similar charities are always looking for more people to spend time with others who may not have many acquaintances and friends.

Gail and Camilla Friendship Video

 

Week 40 – Business models

I recently helped organise a panel discussion event discussing the future of businesses and the issues they will face in the next 10 years sustainable.org.nz/sustainable-business-events/waikato/waikato-business-2025-economic-environmental-social#.VpS3BhV97IV.

The discussion explored the needs of businesses to become more environmentally and socially aware and engaged if they wished to remain competitive in the future.

I really enjoyed the event and learned a lot, and it got me thinking about different business models.

What I discovered

Until relatively recently I was not very familiar with anything relating to the business world and it did not really interest me. But then my work over the past years has given me the opportunity to work with businesses of all shapes and sizes and I have come to realise lots (definitely a growing number) of businesses do not just exist for profit, and I find this really exciting.

I have known about charities and not-for profits for a while. Then I learned about social enterprises (businesses that use their products, services or profits to support social and/or environmental causes)… and created my own www.linkedin.com/in/camillacartymelis.

For this week, I wanted to learn about some other interesting models businesses use and came across a few:

Pay-what-you-can / Pay-what-you-want model – this is where there are no fixed prices for products or services; rather people pay what they are able to, or what they feel the product/service is worth. E.g. One World Cafe en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_World_Cafe. (I had tried to use this model for my social enterprise too, but haven’t quite worked out how yet. Instead, I use a sliding scale for fees.)

Skillshare – where people can share their skills with others. It started off as $20/course but now operates on a $10/month all-you-want model www.skillshare.com.

One For One – where for every unit purchased, one is also donated to people in need, e.g. shoes (Tom’s Shoes www.toms.com) and soap (Hand in Hand Soap – www.handinhandsoap.com).

I also ready about lots of other business models that didn’t really interest me – they may be effective at generating profits, but the ones that attempt to create a better world are the ones I find really interesting and I am more eager to support.

Action

I have designed and applied for funding to run a programme for businesses that helps them redevelop their business strategy and purpose to include environmental and/or social goals.

Update in December: I also met two women who have recently started a local artisan cheese making business and who wish to further incorporate social and sustainability principles in to their enterprise, so I have said I would be happy to assist them and will provide some services for them free of charge (as they are a start up) www.cilantrocheese.co.nz.

 

Week 39 – Nurture and neglect

We have a daughter, Fern (3 in a fortnight), and I sometimes doubt myself as a mother. Do I support and nurture her enough? Do I involve her in my life enough? When I am off doing my own things, when I am tired and in a bad mood, do I neglect her?

I hope not. Because … I love her extremely and unconditionally. I am not sure if love alone is enough (though I hope it is), but even if it isn’t I am pretty sure it does wonders for her soul, and mine.

This idea of neglect, nurture and love got me thinking about people living isolated from society (literally and figuratively) and the role of love in nurturing and supporting people who are socially isolated or rejected.

What I discovered

I read an article about a project in the USA which gives homeless people $3000 to spend as they wish. The majority end up entering an upward spiral and are able to reintegrate themselves into society.

Another project I read about was one where rough sleepers were given condition-free accommodation. A proportion were able to lift themselves out of poverty as a result. Others remained in poverty, but the unexpected result was that offering this support turned out to be much cheaper to the taxpayer than not offering it, as rough sleepers needed more medical attention, hospital visits and spent more nights in prison. Which goes to show a little unconditional giving can bring out unforseeably positive results.

Here is one of the links about Housing First initiatives: http://www.economist.com/news/international/21632519-how-cut-number-street-dwellersand-save-money-too-one-home-time.

Action

I participated in a 2 hour interview about nurture and neglect of people in poverty by government and society. I specifically spoke about my experiences through Hamilton Homeless Trust, and our efforts to provide unconditional support and love. It was for research being carried out by Poverty Action Waikato and the subsequent report will be accessible to the public as well as read by our city and regional councils.

I continue to show respect and love towards the patrons of Hamilton Homeless Trust whenever I volunteer there or see them around town.

 

Week 38 – Food

Food is important in our household (and indeed in almost every household in the world). I was asked to prepare workshops on sustainable food, which really got me thinking about the concept in a more structured way.

I would say I am already quite aware of the food I buy; constantly trying to find products that reflect my ethics and values, while also trying to make sure the family has a reasonably balanced diet, that food bills don’t break the bank, and that food preparation fits in with my lifestyle (full time work, full time mum, not a very creative or patient cook).

What I discovered

Through preparing for (and running) workshops about sustainable food, I came to understand that for the majority of people, price is one of the strongest deciding factor when it comes to purchasing food (also because it is very easy to compare price, as there are clear labels – other factors such as origin, ingredients, manufacture process, etc may not be as easy to compare).

Through research and running the workshops, here are some of the other factors that can be taken in to consideration when purchasing foodstuffs:

  • availability
  • convenience
  • country of origin
  • distance travelled (affecting greenhouse gas emissions)
  • taste
  • nutrition
  • additives
  • processing
  • packaging (including volume, material source and recyclability)
  • production method (e.g. use of pesticides and fertilisers)
  • human welfare (e.g. fair trade, country of origin)
  • animal welfare (e.g. free range, non-animal alternatives)
  • health
  • dietary requirements
  • seasonality
  • fashion/popularity/advertising
  • … and… and… and…

After a lot of reading and discussions, my list of the top 5 factors to consider if you wish to consume more sustainable food are:

  • more local/seasonal
  • more natural production method (more organic/fewer pesticides and inorganic fertilisers)
  • less packaging
  • less processing
  • ethical (strong human and/or animal welfare principles)

Action

Since the initial workshop I carried out this research and planning for (which was paid) I have since run the workshop an addition 3 times (and am booked for several more) on a voluntary basis.

I have also increased our food budget so we can buy products more aligned with our values even if they are somewhat more expensive.

 

Week 37 – Domestic violence

What I discovered

Domestic abuse is a human rights issue across the world and one of the most serious social issues in New Zealand (police are called to around 200 domestic violence situations a day, and they estimate only 18% of domestic violence incidents are reported).

Globally, women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic abuse. However men are victims too, and I noticed that generally there seems to be little information (and what looks like less awareness) regarding male victims.

The NZ Domestic Violence Act 1995 states that violence can be physical, sexual, emotional or psychological. Domestic violence can also include financial or economic and/or spiritual abuse. I found the Women’s Refuge’s list explaining the different forms domestic violence can take was really helpful: womensrefuge.org.nz/WR/Domestic%20violence/Types%20of%20abuse.htm

Action

I met with the two people who established a local organisation called Violence Free Waipa: www.violencefreewaipa.org.nz. Their work with agencies to spread awareness and help families become violence free. I created a Sustainability Plan for them, to help them optimise their limited time and financial resources.

I have also set up a monthly donation to Amnesty International who advocate for and protect human rights around the world: www.amnesty.org

 

Week 36 – Engaging young people in education

I’m not sure if I am allowed to count this one as this is something I needed to do as preparation for some work I was doing with school children… but I definitely learned a lot so here it is!

But first a disclaimer: I am not a qualified teacher. I have very limited formal teacher and education training. But I do love talking about things I am passionate about, and through my work I run a lot of workshops (for children and adults). So if you are a teacher (or even if you aren’t) and look at this and think ‘No! No! No!’ please feel free to send constructive feedback 🙂

What I discovered

Through watching teachers and guest teachers I have learned children generally a) love competitions and b) love-love-love incentives and prizes.

Also ‘active learning’ seems to be more engaging than just listening to the teacher talk (‘passive learning’), and I discovered plentiful tips, tricks and ideas for active learning on the internet and research articles (e.g. displaynote.com/39-ways-to-keep-students-engaged or www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips).

Perhaps one of the most effective and simultaneously hardest to do is to engage them on an emotional level. Often easy for animal welfare. Not so easy for mathematics, I would imagine.

Action

For the group of children I was preparing the workshops for, and for pretty much all the work I have been doing since (with both kids and adults) I have adopted the following ideas:

  • They do the research and then teach the class. Usually at the beginning of the workshop I give an introduction to the subject we are exploring. I write bullet points for the participants to think about then get them to do research the subject or particular components of it (often in groups). I go round the groups and help them with their research and getting their ideas together (of course making sure they cover all the points I want to make) and then let them present to the rest of the groups. That way they are learning, and instead of having me talk at them for ages, they get to mix it up. Plus large rounds of applause at the end of each presentation are great confidence boosters, I think!
  • Not getting everything too competitive. While I want to engage the children I work with, I did not wish to particularly encourage competitiveness (my thought being surely there is enough of that in our lives and perhaps something encouraging just simply working alongside each other could be constructive, too). So, I try to think of activities that encourage participants to help each other and work together, rather than try to ‘beat’ the others.
  • Encouraging participation through incentives. I did discover the incentivising (also possibly known as bribing) was really very successful in ensuring participation and engagement. I saw the main incentives offered were sweets and chocolates (in plentiful amounts). I wasn’t too sure about this because, ya know, they aren’t really that healthy and they are usually wrapped in plastic (which isn’t great if the workshop is about sustainability, as my workshops mostly are). So after some thinking, I found some ‘incentives’ that fitted more with what I believe and were also rather creative… funny shaped carrots deemed as unsaleable by a local grower, mandarins from my neighbour’s tree, broad beans from my own garden, chocolate coins wrapped in foil (yes it’s chocolate, but then you can tell them how loose aluminium isn’t accepted at curbside recycling, but that if you pop it in a can they’ll take it!), single organic fruit tea bags. Each item is small but has a story behind it, plus the look on faces when they are expecting a sweet and get a single asparagus stick or something is priceless… so much laughter! 😀

 

Week 35 – Stigma of mental illness

Stigma of mental illness is something I have experienced first hand as well as witnessed happen to others. It has taken many forms and while I believe that in many countries/societies awareness around and compassion for people affected by mental illness is increasing, I am keen to better understand how it comes about and how we (as individuals and societies) can work to reduce the stigma around mental -and other- health issues.

What I discovered

There appears to be a stereotype that people with mental health issues are violent and dangerous to others, although they are actually more likely to harm themselves than others. Yet nearly a quarter of people would not employ someone with depression and over 40% feel sufferers of depression are unpredictable (www.mentalhealth.wa.gov.au/mental_illness_and_health/mh_stigma.aspx).

Mental illnesses are perceived by many as personal weaknesses or character flaws, despite them being recognised medical conditions and I read about how this stigma and discrimination can delay or stop people getting help, and so trap people in their illness.

Stigma and discrimination for their mental illness has a negative effect on the lives of 9/10 sufferers of mental illness (www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/s/stigma-discrimination). Considering that 1/4 people are affected by a mental health problem during their life, that is not only an awful lot of people suffering mental ill-health, but also an awful lot of people suffering even more and unnecessarily because of our (society’s) inability to offer a safe and supportive environment.

Action

Research shows that the best way to destroy mental illness stigma is by spending time with people who have first hand experiences. Several websites focusing on ending stigma encourage people to talk openly about their experiences of mental illness, as by keeping mental illness hidden, the idea that mental health issues are shameful and needs to be concealed is reinforced.

And then, right on cue, an opportunity was given to me to discuss an issue on radio relating to health and society. So my action for this week was to take part in a half hour interview on mental illness and associated stigma.

And I don’t know how many people I reached, but even it was only the interviewee, producer and editor, it was worth it.

www.freefm.org.nz.