Bethany Martin with some of her designs

Can Volunteering Really Change Your Life?

We are really lucky at The Word Forest Organisation; we have the most extraordinary group of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers who give us their time and energy in ways too many and varied to list here. The charity would not be able to achieve what it does without them. It seems that volunteering with TWFO may have unexpected effects on your lifestyle though, as our brilliant designer Bethany Martin recently detailed in an article published on her website. Its title?

How Volunteering For A Reforestation Charity Changed The Way I Live

Needless to say we were intrigued! Bethany was kind enough to give us permission to quote her article here:

“About a year and a half ago I was made redundant from my job. It came as a complete shock and suddenly I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. I didn’t know what this meant for my career and couldn’t imagine where life would lead me next. Well it led me where it led all of us, into a lockdown and a pandemic that we are still feeling the effects of. I started a new design job but one week into my trial period, the country went into lockdown and I was told it wasn’t the right time to be hiring.

So back to the drawing board, to days spent at home with only your one daily walk to get you out of the house. And do you know what? It was great.

It became an incredibly positive time to slow down a bit, experiment creatively, and led me to one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever had. I did online courses and workshops, I entered art and design competitions, I did a few commissions, I developed my portfolio. I painted, drew, crocheted and sewed. Of course I missed my friends, my family and the stability of a job, but I remember my friend said to me ‘you look well!’, and I realised that I was. I created my own daily routine, like a ‘work’ schedule, but I was working on me.

During this time I came across an advert for a volunteer designer role for The Word Forest Organisation, a reforestation charity. Their ethos instantly grabbed me – they primarily plant trees in Kenya, build schools, facilitate education and support the local communities that care for the trees they plant.

We worked together remotely during Lockdown One to create a range of designs to be printed onto merchandise – and it’s great product, all organic cotton and sustainably manufactured, a really admirable circular-fashion concept. I loved having a project to focus on that felt so wholesome, because it was responsibly sourced and was for such a good cause, all profits going directly to help combat climate change. But this was more than just a design project, it was an education, and an opening to a network of inspiring and supportive people.

Along the way I learnt so much about sustainable practice, climate impact, and the passion of the people behind The Word Forest Organisation is truly inspirational. They live and breathe eco-friendliness, and suddenly I found myself becoming much more aware of the systems around me and the wider impact they have, like someone gave me green-tinted glasses!

I wanted to learn more so I bought a book; ‘No More Plastic’, by Martin Dorey. This was a beginning, of highlighting one of the major polluters of the planet – plastic – and how it really isn’t necessary. Realising it was actually quite simple to make a few swaps to reduce waste, I set out to make some changes in my household.

One thing I never knew was that there is actually so much alternative choice out there when you look for it – biodegradable and natural options of items that are routinely plastic-based in supermarkets. Plastic in particular is so firmly embedded into our society that it’s become a normality, but there’s just so much of it that it is a danger to our planet. Things that I never considered would cause harm, normal household items, it’s so easy to replace them with eco alternatives and instantly reduce your negative impact.

Now when I shop, it’s like a little green voice asks me what the wider impact of that purchase will be. And it’s not just what we buy, it’s what we do with it when we’ve finished – can it be recycled or repurposed? I’ve only really scratched the surface so far, but I think that step by step I can make gradual changes to incorporate sustainable practices into my everyday routine, and I hope I can inspire other people to do the same.

What started with offering my design skills to a good cause turned into a lifestyle evolution, and I would thoroughly recommend volunteering to anyone – in whatever aspect you can help or support.”

We’re so grateful to Bethany for her kind words and also for the phenomenal designs she has created for us. You can see them (and her other projects) on her Portfolios page and also at www.wordforest.org/shop.

Do follow her blog for more news and tips.

Izzy Robertson, Bethany Martin and The Team

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