People’s stories: Rachel White

After experiencing burnout in 2018, I took time out from a stressful job and in June 2019 flew to France to walk the Camino Frances.

Rachel on the Camino Frances

After completing this five-week solo trek across northern Spain, I returned to the UK very much a changed person, I had learnt to be grateful for the trees that shaded me from the sun, for the company of the birds, bees, mice, & butterflies that were beside me daily on the stretches where there were no other humans in sight. Walking in nature for hours before meeting another town became my norm. I slowed down, I became grateful for the cool breezes at the top of a steep hills, for the sunshine that would dry my hand washed clothes, and the rain when it came, for refreshing & cooling my aching joints. I learnt to appreciate the quick connections I made with those who offered a friendly smile, a warm welcome at the end of a long day, and for those who shared their food and offered words of encouragement and love in whichever language it was spoken.

When I returned home I did not realise I was changed, but still remember clearly the words of advice I had received from some nuns I had met whilst staying one night in a medieval convent along the way. They had warned me that when I finally reached Santiago, that that would not be my final destination but, that it would be only the beginning of my journey… I would use the lessons I had learnt on my Camino to continue on my journey.

 I will be honest I really had no idea at the time what the nuns meant by this, but I noticed quickly on my return to the UK that the life I had known before my travels, now seemed to not work for me. I noticed how now there seemed to be so much traffic, pollution, people rushing around, a life geared towards consumerism and waste. I had to search out the green spaces and the birds…why were there so few in the sky? and where were all the butterflies and flowers? they were harder to find now, why had I never noticed this before? And where were the friendly smiles? and easily made connections now?

I also now felt a little ashamed to be a human… a little angry I could not just slot back into my old way of life… frustrated that my eyes had now been opened, and there was no going back. I would stare at my wardrobe, with so many clothes, accessories and shoes, so much stuff to choose from, I felt guilty and overwhelmed by so much choice. .so many unnecessary purchases, that I had been led to believe could bring me satisfaction and happiness. 

And so, this is how I found myself in Trafalgar Square on 7th October 2019 looking up a group of brave young people locked on to a tower, at my first ever protest, listening to a young man speak his truth, a speech so inspiring that it led me on my own unexpected path to become a climate activist. In the tower I noticed he looked anxious, his face pale, palms sweating, trembling a little, as the police scaled the tower to arrest him, but I also noted that he also looked calm, peaceful, resilient, resolved to the job at hand.

 This young activist had joined XR the year before, as part of their media & messaging team. As a wildlife biologist he had specialised in tropical animal conservation and travelled, and worked alongside many indigenous communities in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia & Brazil and had seen first hand what happened to those individuals who stood up to ecocide in their countries, who often lost their lives in doing so …he was also confused as to why the mainstream media were not reporting on these crimes/murders of these people trying to protect their lands.

I later learned that like me, this young man was reluctant to become an activist, but felt compelled by the circumstances he found himself in to do all he could to oppose and prevent greater crimes of ecocide and genocide, and so he chose to take part in an action where he splattered paint on the Brazilian Embassy in London to raise awareness of the Brazilian Governments crimes against its people and lands.

Sadly, at the start of 2020, I heard the shocking news that this 25-year-old activist had collapsed and died suddenly, as the result of an undetected heart condition. So saddened by the news, I travelled to London (just before the pandemic struck) to attend his vigil organised by XR, and activists, friends and family attended to remember, honour, mourn and celebrate his life cut short far too soon. 

When attending an XR fundraiser a few months earlier, I had briefly seen Iggy in the crowd dancing with his friends and had felt compelled to speak to him, to tell him how much he had inspired me to take the step to join XR and how grateful I was for all he had been doing to raise awareness of the destruction of brazils lands and those indigenous communities effected and will always be grateful for having had the chance to meet him if only for a few moments to be able to say thank you.

After Iggy’s death, an edited version of the speech he had planned to give at his trial was published in which he admitted he had no intention of denying that he had vandalised the Brazilian embassy, but pleaded in his defence that he had only carried out this act to raise awareness of the Brazilian government’s own crimes: 1. Criminal Damage- to indigenous homes & villages, 2.Arson- destruction by fire of indigenous lands, 3.Ecocide-the mass destruction of the environment on which humans and other species depend on for survival. 4.Breaches of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Crimes far greater than paint splattered on a wall carried out through love, rage & compassion.

So why do I walk with others to COP26? Why do I feel compelled like Iggy did, to raise awareness, enable people to consider the reasons we must all do our part to save all things this planet has given us?  Why bother you might say? Well I could give you lots of complicated information, data and facts, the science as to the why we must do something, why government’s must take action etc, but I won’t, because I guess if your reading this and got this far, you’re probably already feeling something in your gut that won’t go away will it? I know what it is, because I feel it too, it’s a feeling deep within me that I believe is routed deep into my connection to the earth, and its calling me .. it’s that simple. 

To do nothing would be harder, to ignore all those with no voice, all those in the global south, already greatly impacted by this crisis, to not do anything to safeguard our children and that of future generations, to continue to ignore that call inside me just no longer feels like an option.

Rachel will be joining the caminsta group from Coventry and walking the last 6 weeks to Glasgow.

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