Flip through any news source. Scroll through any social media feed. Turn on any news show. It doesn’t matter where you turn: The news feels alarmingly grim. It’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless with all the pressing issues plaguing the world today.
Too often, the stories we hear — particularly in the Western media — focus on the people, countries, and organizations with the most power and money. But the truth is there are a lot of innovative and promising projects and initiatives happening around the world. In the buffer zone of Chitwan National Park in Nepal, local residents who used to kill wildlife that strayed onto farmland now keep poachers at bay. In Australia, inmates are helping farmers care for their livestock during drought conditions. And in Colombia’s Miravalle Territorial Area for Training and Reincorporation, ex-FARC guerillas laid down rifles for rafting paddles and established a tourism business to sustain their village.
I witnessed something similar as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Kenya. We lived in a small village called Kihumbui-ni deep in the Rift Valley, which was several hilly kilometers from the nearest paved road. In the dry season, we could reach this road by hopping on a matatu — a 14-person van — at just about any time of day. But during monsoon season, the road was difficult to traverse.
One day during the wet season, the rain let up a bit and we decided to travel to Thika, our nearest town, for some provisions. My husband and I piled into the vehicle with the driver and tout and about half a dozen men in their 20s and 30s. Even though it wasn’t raining, the ground was a thick, muddy mess, and the matatu slipped and fishtailed as it made its way down hills. The driver accelerated, maneuvering the vehicle onto the most solid patches of road as we climbed the muddy embankments. At the bottom of one of the valleys, the van lost traction, and we became stuck.
The tout opened the door, and the men piled out. We started to climb out too, but the tout insisted we stay. With a lighter load, the driver backed the vehicle up. One of the men pulled a massive palm frond from a tree and, holding the long stem, placed it on the ground by the front tire. Another man did the same, and the driver eased forward over the muddy area where he’d gotten stuck.
The other men quickly followed suit, each snapping a large palm frond from a tree. They laid the massive leaves down end to end. The driver cautiously drove over them. As he did, the men leap-frogged from the end of the line after the tires passed over their leaves to the front, essentially creating a makeshift road as the matatu drove through the muddy valley.
Throughout our time in Kenya, we heard time and again from locals that they didn’t have the talent or time or resources to solve their problems. This was reinforced with rice delivered from an NGO during a drought, money for a borehole from a charity, and yes, the presence of Peace Corps volunteers.
Yet, these men knew their environment. They knew how to use tools at their disposal. And they, like so many others around the world, created a workable and efficient solution.
This is why I created Rooted, a storytelling platform at the intersection of sustainable travel, environmental conservation, and community-based advocacy efforts. As an international volunteer and election observer, passionate world traveler, and permanent resident in a developing nation, I have witnessed many examples of creative problem solving like I did that drizzly day in the Rift Valley. As a seasoned storyteller, I want to share these stories.
I don’t have the answers to today’s pressing issues. I also don’t intend to suggest whether solutions work or not. But I do feel strongly that these grassroots efforts born out of necessity should be documented, supported, celebrated, and shared.
In addition to highlighting innovative ideas planted at the community level, Rooted is a deep dive into the complex questions nested at this intersection: How are vulnerable communities (often those creating the least amount of damage) addressing environmental issues without the resources afforded to wealthier people, organizations, and countries? How are local communities turning to tourism as a means for economic security and community-driven cultural preservation? Conversely, how can people ensure they travel in a mindful and responsible way that avoids cultural exploitation? How can the tourism industry mitigate its environmental damage — and how can travel be used to protect it? What can privileged populations do to mitigate food waste, water shortages, deforestation, coral bleaching, and other environmental concerns? What can the global community learn by listening to Indigenous voices as it addresses these complex problems?
I invite you to join the conversation as we grapple with these often intertwined issues. Twice a month, I will publish an original article on the LinkedIn platform exploring these questions. In a complementary newsletter, I will share stories that chip away at these issues along with insight into this area from my own life.
There’s no doubt about it: The world’s news can certainly feel overwhelming and alarming. Yet there are countless people and communities that offer hope. I’m excited to introduce you to Rooted, where local people plant the seeds and storytelling helps them grow.