Learning Empathy While Planting Trees. #Mindfulchats With Conor
Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom. Kusala Mag’s interview with Conor is reproduced in full here:
Kyle had the pleasure of chatting with Conor Beary, who has been actively involved with VWB, an NGO that is committed to creating opportunities for local economic development through the empowerment of community capability.
Cr: Conor Beary
How did Volunteer Without Borders (VWB) come about, and what does it mean to you?
VWB evolved from a collaboration between Track of The Tiger T.R.D (A provider of experiential education and registered tour company) a local community determined to protect their rights over their community forest, and local authorities that wished to preserve the forest from poachers and loggers.
Since its establishment in 2011, Volunteers Without Borders has partnered with Track of The Tiger and various communities in northern Thailand to provide volunteers and tourists with opportunities to improve the standard of living for many in less fortunate circumstances.
On a personal level, VWB has shown me the value of communication, teamwork, empathy and problem-solving in addressing the real complex issues which communities around us face. Through VWB I can make positive contributions to causes I hold dear and further develop as an individual. I see VWB as an organisation that acts as a catalyst for change, both internally and externally.
How many trees have been planted since the beginning?
The agroforestry project in Mae Wang has benefitted from the planting of over 6,000 NTFPs (Non- Timber Forest Products) over the last twelve months. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed our progress considerably, but aim to get back on track again soon.
How do you think growing up in Northern Thailand has affected your view of nature and your efforts to preserving the environment?
Growing up around Track of The Tiger T.R.D my brother and I was exposed to outdoor excursions and environmental conservation activities since young. Subsequently, it didn’t take long for me to develop a preference for the outdoors! Growing up in such an environment provided me with opportunities to develop physical skills essential to the development of a child.
The various environmental conservation activities taught me to apply empathy not only to other individuals but also to the environment.
The list of benefits derived from being around nature is extensive, and seemingly, everyone draws different positives. From my perspective, the outdoors and nature has always been a great source of entertainment. Mountains, rivers, forests, caves and seas all have their unique intrigue. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that spending time to run activities at these sites, particularly environmental conservation activities have been eminently fulfilling.
As a result of our love for nature, one of our goals at VWB is to use our actions, whatever they may be, to make positive contributions to the environment or communities we are involved with.
Do you think Buddhist teachings can be a part of the solution to environmental issues? If yes, how can we relate that to it?
I certainly believe that Buddhist values and teachings can be applied as part of the solution for the environmental concerns which we face. Buddhism teaches us to love the world around us, and perform good deeds for the environment in which we live, just as we would for ourselves. However, to truly address the complex problems posed by environmental degradation over the past few centuries we must work with an open mind, utilising empathy and communication to integrate the teachings which are familiar to us with foreign ideas and values that may help us solve our dilemma.
Cr: Conor Beary
Can compassion be applied to nature?
Compassion can be applied to everything in life. If you’re willing to consider being compassionate to the people, animals and matters around you then compassion may become a part of your unique mindset, and may gradually alter your perspective of a multitude of subjects.
The Dalai Lama once said “ Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards others.”
After analysing compassion from this point of view we can see that compassion can, and in my opinion, should be applied to others and nature.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered, and are perhaps still encountering while setting up and running VWB?
Running a non-profit organisation can prove extremely challenging. I am only a piece of the puzzle here and am fortunate enough to benefit from the help of everyone involved with us. As a volunteer organisation, we’re always looking for funding and volunteers who can help us achieve our objectives. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this task even more difficult.
In what ways can people actively get involved in your organisation?
Volunteers can help us by sharing our social media content, donating to one of the projects on https://give.asia/charity/volunteers-without-borders-foundation or contacting us directly to see how we can personalise collaboration!
What do you hope to achieve for VWB?
We want to use WVB as a platform for driving change in our local communities. Eventually, I hope that VWB will be able to fund education for those less fortunate, provide economic incentives for locals to preserve their local forests and help educate student groups through volunteering activities. We want to act as a catalyst for the change we wish to see in our communities.
Any act of kindness you’ve ever experienced during your VWB activities?
I’ve been on the receiving end of kindness during VWB activities several times. It is difficult to single out any one moment as my favourite, but kindness from the members of the community in which you are trying to assist often leaves a lasting imprint in your memories.
During our first tree-planting event at the agroforestry project in Mae Wang, locals hustled and bustled all day to ensure that we would be able to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. Their genuine smiles and words of encouragement serve as ample motivation.
If there is a message for the world, what would it be?
To practice empathy extensively. To actualise the changes you want to see in your community you must first understand those within them.
Cr: Conor Beary
Explore more about VWB here.
Volunteers Without Borders (VWB) is a non-profit foundation established as a vehicle to provide volunteer funding and hands-on support for communities and schools, under its unique approach to Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) development. We are convinced that the solution to establishing viability for CBET lies in establishing a private sector driven pilot project that is successful in delivering: financial, social and environmental benefits on a scale that will force governments and the private sector to reconsider ecotourism and biodiversity conservation over the non-sustainable, but purportedly more profitable (short term) options of forest encroachment for agriculture, mining, logging and exploitation of the forest product.