Saturday, 28 May 2011

As one door closes, a green door opens!

Today marked the end of my 2-year Involvement with Forestry Commission Scotland, and I have such mixed feelings about it! The project has been long, tiring, challenging, frustrating and incredibly dull (that is, the evaluation part any way!), however there are so many other facets to this journey that have been nothing less than life changing: I’ve met so many amazing people, have visited some beautiful wild places and above all, have watched people literally transformed in front of me, not because of our interventions, but simply by the power of unadulterated nature!
The project grew organically: a group of Asian Disabled people I had been working with in my last job, appealed to me to find other resources through which they could come together! In the current financial climate, there isn’t much space for frivolity! However it just so happened that my best friend had been appointed diversity Manager for the Forestry Commission, and she had money! Not only was she willing to share it, but she was willing to give me the cash I needed to create just what the group wanted! Now, they wanted to come together, but the nature part hadn’t really been on their agenda! Some people love nature, others do not, but for many disabled people, its something they feel indifferent about! The hell of “special schools” don’t prioritise such things! Moreover, woodlands and wild spaces are considered inaccessible to most wheelchair users, and ‘health and safety won’t permit blind people to go there! and so nature remains something outside of the real realm for most people! Something I wanted to overturn! Despite their reticence, I dragged them all out; in to a beautiful scented summer park back in March 2010 and let Mother earth do her thing! Within minutes of hearing the birds, walking free through the trees, dipping their feet in to a cool river, feeling the sun on their faces and eating berries and flowers from the trees: they were absolutely hooked! Over the months that followed I lead many other similar sessions with them, only I made them allot more interactive, getting the group to identify different birdsong, making bird boxes and taking photographs of their journey and the things that inspired them. I also worked with individual participants on their personal stories and either wrote them out free-flowing, or used the essence of them in poetry I later compiled. All of this will be displayed to the Scottish Government later on this year, along with a comprehensive evaluation and toolkit of what we did, how we did it and more importantly, why the new Government Administration Must prioritise funding for work like this.
For our final day, I had arranged a session with a leading herbalist, to focus on what can be gained from holistic health, herbal medicine, plants, flowers and pure living! I had been searching for the ideal herbalist for some time (tragedy struck when the man I wished to connect with on this moved back to India!), however soon after that, I was put in touch with Monica Wilde. Monica was a friend of a friend, and ironically, although I’ve bought food supplements and medication from her clinic through-out my adult Life (Napier’s in Glasgow’s West End), We had never actually met in person! She had been given my number and rang me up one Saturday evening to discuss the project. I can’t remember how many hours we talked for that night, but I remember being overcome with admiration and inspiration: I just couldn’t wait to work with her!
Monica told me about her life: she was the eldest of 5 children, and by aged 6, she already had significant caring responsibilities! She was born in London, the daughter of a lawyer father and a somewhat bohemian mother! They didn’t have direct contact with nature given inner-city London! However all that was to change! Her mother’s wilde spirit persuaded her father to take up a diplomatic position in Africa, thus sparking a life of travel and discovery around the continent. Monica’s parents would separate a few years after the move, thus forcing her to find the strength within herself to adequately support the siblings under her care! Monica recalled how resorting to nature in Africa was a matter of course! There were no hospitals close to them, and in any case, hospitals were places of disease in Africa: not of healing! She recalled how her brother while running, fell and split his toes open after snagging his foot in a drain cover and how she laid him down and anaesthetised him with what she now knows to be NLP, (and what she just put down to child psychology at the time!). At aged 13, Monica had bandaged and set his ankle and stitched his toes back together, but she’d done much more than that! She had only just begun to shape her career path and her life’s work! Despite the obvious pool towards medicine, (be it conventional or homeopathic), Monica was not interested in book learning, rather, she wanted to take her aptitude for healing and communing with nature to the common man, to learn what she knows and at least develop enough basic knowledge to start enjoying nature for themselves, or healing themselves of every day coughs, colds, aches and pains!
By Day, Monica is the Chief Executive of Napier’s, the oldest and most established herbalist in Scotland! And in her free time (I don’t know how she finds it!), she runs workshops and events sharing her love of nature and her knowledge of medicinal plants with communities around the country. This session would be the first she had carried out with a group of disabled people, though for some one with Monica’s depth and intuition, It didn’t show, just as you might expect! She sent around a questionnaire to my group, talking about their impairments, side affects from allopathic medicines and areas they were interested in learning about. The bulk of her session was general, but with a chance for every one to interact and ask questions, and later opportunity for each participant to connect with Monica re: their specific health issues. She took the group for a walk around the woodlands, identifying plants and their uses. I was continually reminded of the Qur’anic ayats and the hadaith that tell us there is a cure for every thing in the earth: it is simply up to us to find it! Monica talked about friends she has cured of cancer through Natural interventions and about the power of the mind in healing and gentle recovery. The more I listened to her speak, the more I affirmed my belief that so much of our modern-day concepts of disability are not actually health-generated, rather they come from the limitations placed on people by society, and by medical professionals in particular! Some one receiving treatment from a doctor/hospital is a ‘Patient, thus affirming notions of control, subservience and obedience. Diseases are fought, not healed, if cancer is overcome, the patient becomes a survivor! There is little time or attention given to the individual needs of those seeking treatment, and often the side affects of so many treatments are incredibly harsh, so harsh in fact that it often becomes impossible to determine the original illness from the drug induced symptoms now being experienced!
If you add this to compounded beliefs in society that Disabled people need to be cared for, contained, looked after, limited or be given “special treatment” as opposed to equal treatment, it is no wonder so many of us are so ill! I’m not just talking about impairments here, rather about the sadness, the low mood, the silence, the lack of ambition, the fear of living, the lack of positive energy, focused thoughts and centred living that tends to be part and parcel of many disabled people’s lives. I see so many people living dull, sheltered lives, not travelling, not daring to dream, not pushing the boundaries because they’ve never been given the right to, not living life on their own terms because of family or other socio-economic restrictions. Today, I watched a group of tired, disinterested individuals transform in to empowered, engaged, dynamic optimists who just couldn’t wait to take their new learning and thirst for nature back to their homes, friends and families!
Today, my group went away with armfuls of plants and bottles of juices they had extracted themselves, courtesy of Monica’s powerful manual juicing machines! They knew about the use of horsetail for treating lung conditions, ginger for treating migraine headaches, Elderberry syrup for treating flu, and so much more! I couldn’t stop writing and recording notes to myself through-out the day! It felt like fate had drawn me there as Reza and I are both interested in alternative health. Reza’s paternal family hail from the desert city of Kerman, known as the healing city! Moreover, his family are still referred to as ‘Hakeem (or the healers). For Centuries, they were the leading herbal experts in the city: and Reza’s paternal Grandfather owned a very successful herbal dispensary. Sadly, none of his sons showed interest or aptitude for taking it over, but we both feel the need to try and capture the knowledge that still exists within the family. During the days we visited Oshaan, dad used to wake me up for Fajar: and while the family slept, we’d walk by the river and he’d talk to me about mountain herbs and ancient tree bark and their cures in treating every thing from high blood pressure to glaucoma to the common cold and beyond!
Monica’s enthusiasm taught me not only how accessible nature really is to us all, but how shameful it is that so many non-Muslims understand and respect the sunnah, the healing properties of our earth far better than we do! As Muslims (and as shias), we really should be leaders in this area, living greener lifestyles and educating others in the process! Monica was fascinated by the hadaith of our Imams about nature and plants, and by Imam Ali’s seasonal food recommendations. What a wonderful tool this is for dawa, for shared learning and dialogue and a platform from which to work together.
I took so much from this day; and more than the outdoor sessions, the evaluation or any thing we’ve ever done, I feel like this group will take something tangible away from our time together: this project is over, but in many ways, it is only just beginning for most of them!
My notes are far too lengthy to post just now, but I’ll post extracts from Monica’s learning over the coming weeks! And if you’d like to pick up some tips of your own, why not visit her website:

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