Nalini - empowering youth and creating a regenerative future

by Nalini Singh

Nalini SinghI believe anyone can do absolutely anything.

I believe life is an art and a complex system, and that we must live our lives as if each day were a work of art. As if there are universes in every single thing we see, touch, hear. As if there are magic moments to be found in every mundane thing and inconsequential interaction. I believe creating resonance is the most beautiful measure of our interconnectedness.

I grew up in one of the poorest villages of one of the poorest states in India. We had no electricity for water. More recently, I lived for two years with snakes, jaguars, spiders, and monkeys while volunteering in the Amazon and Andes of South America. These experiences brought a visceral perspective to my work.

I am passionate about social and environmental issues: working with young people, building bridges and skylights. I am an artist, scientist, entrepreneur, dreamer, a 24-year-old daughter of a migrant family to New Zealand. I have represented the voice of New Zealand youth on five continents, engaging with 8,000 changemakers from 180 countries. In 2015, I was Runner Up for the Queen's Young Leaders Award from the Royal Commonwealth Society and went on to speak at the UN Youth Congress in Bolivia.

My work so far has allowed me to lead regional, national and sometimes international projects with more than ten NGOs and youth initiatives. I am now a youth facilitator and permaculture student.

My dream is to study a Masters of Science in Integrative EcoSocial Design at Gaia University, which I consider to be the most cutting-edge, provocative and daring un-institution of higher learning.

I ask you to help make my dream a reality by donating to my crowdfunding campaign.

Your gift will enable me to provide transformative, experiential workshops for youth on socio-environmental issues using art, multimedia, and storytelling. Your gift will also enable me to learn how to build earth-houses, install renewable technology, design urban gardens, and further train other young people to do the same.

My Story: Finding Home on Planet Earth

As a woman of Indian descent living with my family in New Zealand, my life has been split between these two cultures. Each one provides me a unique taste of life.

In India, we had no electricity and walked around the house with candles and lanterns. During monsoon season, it rained directly into our living area, and during summer, monkeys jumped from balcony to balcony, stealing our clothes off the washing line and taking food we spread out to dry. Sometimes several families lived in the same house with my grandparents.

My grandmother was illiterate, and my father was the first person of the village to go to university. From them, I learned a lot about endurance and perseverance. My grandmother could remember events from decades back with lightning sharp memory and accuracy. I never knew my grandfather---he was murdered or kidnapped the year I was born. My mother’s family crossed from what is now Pakistan to Punjab during Gandhi’s time---an exodus that left deep wounds.

In India, the dominant understanding was, 'You are either a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer; or you are nothing. If you migrate out of the country, you have ‘made it.’” A successful woman needs to get good grades in university in a high-status career to raise her marriage chances, and that meant that youth had no life outside of studies.

Young people did not engage in social or environmental issues and did not work with art lest it take away precious time spent studying. The rampant competition of one billion people living in a limited space translated to the classroom as well: children were competitive.

When we arrived in New Zealand, we lived between a junkyard and a mental hospital. My father's credentials were not recognized. Despite more training than most doctors, he was not allowed to practice as a consultant at the hospital. We realized subtle forms of racism existed even in a supposedly 'clean and green' country like New Zealand, but we were determined to stay.  We found this country to be so much safer, relaxed and beautiful than the one we left behind. The India I knew was not the India of colors and lights and tigers. It was the country shown in Slumdog Millionaire: rubbish everywhere, pollution, corruption, poverty, and inequality.

The uncertainty of applying for residency and citizenship tested us emotionally. I would come home from school and cry. I was 10 when I understood that ‘intergenerational justice’ was about wanting your children and their children to have a better life than you did - something that transcends boundaries, cultures, languages, worldviews, and religions. I realized my parents constantly worked to allow my sister and me to live in the ‘more beautiful world their hearts knew was possible’. This moment was the beginning of my awakening to social and environmental consciousness.

My Dreams: Shifting Paradigms and Creating New Structures

I have two big dreams for my life and work. The first is in the socio-sphere of permaculture: to ignite a generation of youth in New Zealand to 'bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.' I love to help youth find passion and purpose on global issues. I don’t just run workshops: I aim to create spaces of magic. I don’t just want to ‘manage a project’ - I want to take the roof off the building. Youth are craving spaces where they can take off the masks and be unabashedly authentic, vulnerable, and real. I hold space for youth grappling with the loneliness, fear, emptiness, and disconnection that comes from living in a world where our future is in peril.

I use art, storytelling, dance, music, theatre, poetry and games to tackle complex and dark issues and provide tools to lean into the possibilities of the emerging future. My passion is facilitating experiences and experiential trainings such as Generation Waking Up (a youth adaptation of Pachamama Alliance’s ‘Awakening the Dreamer Symposium’), Non-Violent Communication, Theory U, Deep Ecology, etc. This is the work of shifting paradigms through opening the heart. When I see youth 16-28 years old finally take off the last mask, I feel that there is hope for the world. As Joanna Macy writes, ‘Blessed be those that mourn; Blessed are those who weep for the desecration of life, because in them life still burns clear...Sorrow [is] in equal measure love. We only mourn what we deeply care for.”

I have offered these experiences to over 800 youth in three languages and five continents, ranging from 1-3 hours to two-week immersions. My dream is to deepen this work and contextualise it for Aotearoa New Zealand.

The second dream is more personal and relates to the biosphere and technosphere. I would like to retrofit our family home and design the gardens to be as energy and food self-reliant as possible. This includes piloting the 200 square meter urban garden concept to meet the majority of food requirements for a family of four, showcase the possibilities to New Zealanders for nutritious, systems-based urban gardening on smaller land sections.

Permaculture and sustainable living should not just be limited to those with the means. I am excited by upskilling myself and youth in creating new structures through small-scale urban permaculture, Fukuoka’s beyond-Taoist approach, heritage/heirloom seed saving, nutrient density, and eco-building. Specialization is for insects!

Visit Nalini's You Caring site to help here undertake a Masters Programme at Gaia University.

Gaia U: Finding My Tribe

Gaia University is a revolution disguised as a university. I think it is one of the few universities that has love and transformation at its core. It truly embraces students as wholehearted beings, and for the first time in my life, I have found an institution of higher learning which understands complex systems-thinking for planetary healing!

Through its systems-based, action-learning approach, Gaia U will enable me to realize my visions for the world my heart knows is possible. I will have the delicate scaffolding provided through mentorship, peer review, self-directed project implementation, as well as support and guidance from those who have blazed the trail before me.

I will learn how to become a better designer, doer, and facilitator. I will learn to balance ‘saving the planet’ and ‘studying the planet’ with self-care and ‘enjoying the planet.' Through my projects in Gaia U, I will be able to deepen my gift to the world and enable others to do so as well.

An Invitation: I Ask For Your Support

My father is (and always was) the sole earner supporting the whole family. He now works seven days a week supporting my sister’s tuition and helping me recover from intestinal illness after two years of volunteering in South America. My medical costs have been substantial, but I am now on the upswing!

Over the last two years, I lived on $2-$3 a day while volunteering in remote regions of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. I ran global citizenship workshops for youth and planned food forests, built hydro-electric vortex for renewable energy, and undertook regenerative gardening. This would not have been possible without the gifts of strangers who opened their homes to me. I never went hungry and always had a place to sleep.

If you care about the climate, about the land or want to help young people create the ‘more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,’ I welcome your gift in helping me undertake a Masters Programme at Gaia U and cherish the blessing that comes with it.

Visit Nalini's You Caring site to donate.