Finding myself in nature
Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication.
IntroductionWhen Nigel Zhang arrived at Auckland Airport feeling overwhelmed, he remembered the words of Wendell Berry: “You don’t know who you are until you know where you are.”
Date: 10 September 2021
The Chinese saying “the local water and soils feed the local people” prompted Nigel to start the journey of seeking himself by connecting with New Zealand nature.
Arriving in New Zealand eight years ago, Nigel was an environmental auditor in China and had previously worked for the United Nations specialising in climate change and ozone layer protection, but he realised his already impressive knowledge on the natural environment wasn’t enough.
A close friend of Nigel’s, Ryan McCullum, took Nigel camping and hiking through the Waitakere Ranges. Nigel encountered many unique species foreign to him which piqued his interest and pushed him to walk further and learn more.
“I fell in love with New Zealand’s native flora and fauna and the feeling of meeting new people in the great outdoors.
“Being outdoors gave me more confidence and made me reflect on the human world. I began to ask what role we should play on this planet.
“I know the natural world provides the human world with resources and New Zealand became my home, therefore I had a responsibility to protect New Zealand’s natural environment,” Nigel says.
In 2017 Nigel founded the Greenfield Forest School’s YES! Camp. This conservation programme educates Chinese youth about New Zealand’s native flora and fauna and encourages children to reconnect with nature, respect nature and engage with nature through conservation and social service projects.
The Department of Conservation Asian Market Specialist, Louise Ye, works closely with Nigel and says this programme is important because it speaks to youth who may feel disconnected and don’t yet realise the benefits of engaging with nature.
Louise says the New Zealand landscape is very different to Shenzhen in China, where she grew up.
“Everyone lived in apartments, and we didn’t have gardens or backyards or see nature the way we do here. Even Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand, has nature in the backyard.
“The reserves, the tui singing in the morning, spotting a seagull at the beach is beautiful.
“Growing up we had very little knowledge on conservation because we didn’t have much nature where we lived. That’s why Nigel’s work is so important – it teaches our Chinese youth those new and exciting things about nature and how to engage with nature respectfully.”
Nigel’s programme teaches Chinese youth and Chinese immigrants about science and the natural environment. His goal is to help Chinese families and youth be confident and build their nature identity in a new landscape.
Nigel speaks of three young campers (Andy, Zachary and Alex) who participated in Macleans College’s trapping line project and another young camper, his elder daughter Anne, who initiated a conservation society at Saint Kentigern College to protect New Zealand dotterels on the campus during breeding season.
“Young people are our future, however, the future they are facing is not easy. There are so many challenges – climate change, biodiversity, marine health and more. These challenges require us to equip young people for the future.”
For more information on the Yes! Camp visit here: Greenfield – Together we create a better future
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