9 Mins Read
Jasmine Nunns founded Kembali to re-wild city-dwellers and connect them back to nature. As Hong Kong’s first certified Nature & Forestry Therapy Guide, she knows a thing or two about why our connection to earth, animals and community is so important for our own health and wellbeing as well as the planet’s. In this interview, Jasmine talks to us about her passion for the environment, her journey to creating Kembali, and how we can continue to improve our relationship with the natural world amidst the pandemic.
GQ: For our readers, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey?
JN: My mum is from Hong Kong and I’ve been raised here and in Singapore my whole life. I grew up in a village in Tai Po, and throughout my entire childhood I played outdoors in wild spaces – swimming in streams, rescuing any animal I came across and climbing trees. Even though I wasn’t conscious of it back then, it became a way that I developed a relationship with the natural world.
I went onto study Geography at university, and returned to work for animal welfare charities and environmental organisations. I was learning all these troubling things that were happening to the state of our planet, which led me to go into education-focused roles, from leading nature camps to bringing therapy dogs to schools to remind children that animals have sentient lives.
GQ: How did you go from there to starting Kembali?
JN: It got to a point where I felt like with my education mindset, I was often preaching to a room that was absent and disinterested. I cared so much, so deeply, and I thought to myself – why? It was this mini crisis that led me to reflect back on why I cared so much and why the environment is so important to me. It was because I had the privilege and experience of developing and cultivating a relationship with the natural world throughout my childhood.
For a lot of children growing up in dense spaces like in Hong Kong, they aren’t given the opportunity or even permission to explore the natural world. As a result, we’re teaching children about all these things happening to the environment, but they don’t have a context or any idea about why this should be important to them because they haven’t developed this relationship with the natural world.
This is why I went from education to facilitating connection – I realised that when we love something and adore and care for something, we don’t need to be told what to do. It just becomes. It is an intrinsic, intuitive way of seeing the natural world as our home. We can see the trees, rivers and rocks as our family. Connection is how we come back into a relational sense with the natural world, rather than a relation of “take” or “throwaway”.
GQ: What exactly does Kemabli offer, and how can natural therapy in the form of reconnecting ourselves to nature benefit our health and well-being?
JN: Kembali is an Indonesian word that I came across, and it was the only way that I could encompass the essence of what it feels like to return to nature. It means to “come back to”. In a sense, we’ve never left – but we have forgotten our relationship with the land.
Kembali offers forest bathing and forest therapy walks, and what they can do is reignite our relationship not only with the natural world but also our bodies, our values and our health. It is also a place to join as a community – something we have lost in the modern world as we become more and more isolated over time, especially in the pandemic crisis right now. Going on forest therapy walks is just as much about our connection to nature as it is about coming back to our senses and to others that we are walking with.
Kembali also offers bushcraft work, or what I call “earth skills”, which is an integral part of connecting back to the land. Through bushcraft, we can practice skills that our ancestors had that we lost due to our modern day technology and conveniences – whether it is making fire without lighters, sourcing water, finding shelter or weaving baskets. All these art forms have been lost.
Our mindset now has gone way past sustainability – we can’t think about sustaining anymore because our current trajectory leads us to catastrophe. What we need to think about is restoration and regeneration, and bushcraft helps us apply our connection to the land to help us work with the environment and move away from a “take” relationship.
GQ: Do you think that many of us are lacking or deprived of that connection to nature, animals and the community – what is now dubbed as “nature-deficit disorder”?
JN: Absolutely. With nature deficit disorder, a lot of the statistics and research that has been done has shown that the generation of children growing up now roam and the distances they play away from home has been reduced by 90%. This is a drastic reduction in exploration, travel and unsupervised play.
In a place like Hong Kong, we are also incredibly over-simulated. We have our phones, our work, our conveniences on-the-go. We are so overwhelmed to the point where we are shutting down our senses to cope with the light, noise, pollution and everything that is going on. So intentionally going into a natural space to remind ourselves that it is okay to open our senses and calm our nervous system down can really be a physically, emotionally and spiritually restorative practice.
The number of times that I have sat around a fire or gone on a nature walk and people say to me: Why don’t I do this more often? Our bodies automatically know that this is what feels right, to be in connection to earth, yet we don’t do this because there are too many distractions.
GQ: Do you think that this exact feeling that you’re describing has led to the rise of returning to the wild? It seems like it has become quite a trend in the wellness space.
JN: I have definitely noticed the trend. But I’m hesitant to use the word “trend” because it implies that there is a beginning and an end, when in reality this relationship is constant. Nevertheless, it is inspiring to see more people explore natural spaces as places of viewing and remembering. It is important to remember that our relationship to nature is not one way – we shouldn’t think of it as a resource. In a sense, thinking of going into nature as a way to feel better can also be seen as a form of “taking”, so what Kembali offers is to give people that understanding of reciprocity – what is it that we offer back to nature? It can be as simple as gratitude and remembering that we are part of this interconnected web. I think people are starting to see the importance of doing that, and the safe space that nature offers. It doesn’t matter if you go off into the forest with Lululemon clothes or if you go in an old shirt. It doesn’t matter how you show up, nature welcomes us as we are.
GQ: What about returning to nature as a part of our environmental efforts? Some people would argue that new science and technologies such as developing more renewables and sustainable fuels is more important. Do you believe that returning back to nature is a more feasible and effective way to save the planet?
JN: I think of this question in terms of weaving a basket – what I believe is that all these policies, new sciences, education, laws, industry changes need to be done in conjunction to save the planet. What Kembali offers is my form of activism. I was never the type of person who can speak to policymakers or write letters to campaigns – but this is the way that I personally interact with the planet and that is by falling in love with the earth again. For me, everything else comes from that. If we can be in awe with the beauty and unconditional giving that nature provides us, then maybe from that point we can use whatever knowledge and expertise we have to go off and make changes in whatever realm and communities we find ourselves in.
GQ: How can we each improve our relationship with the natural world? What are some practical tips especially for those of us living city lives?
JN: Go for a walk, we are so lucky in Hong Kong that we travel just 30 minutes to an hour and we can find a park. Or we can go downstairs from our office and find a small green space, or even a tree on the sidewalk. Go and build a relationship with green spaces – whether it is a tree, a shrub or even a weed coming from a crack of concrete. There is something very powerful about that. Start to notice the changes in the seasons, how the sun moves, the cycle of the moon. People also ask how we can do forest bathing in a city like Hong Kong, but we’re 44% country park!
Of course it is easier to connect back to nature if we are in a place of serenity, but it is still possible even in the middle of Mong Kok. We just need to take a breath and notice the feeling of the sun, where the breeze is coming from, and remember that everything that we see and touch all of it comes from the earth in some form.
GQ: What about for children who are growing up in concrete jungle cities like Hong Kong? What activities are beneficial to them?
JN: What I am offering at Kembali at the moment to support parents is inviting girls outside, taking them to waterfalls and exploring new trails. This can give parents a chance to attend to their own wellbeing – especially now, as they are having to homeschool children in their flats. At the same time, young girls are able to come back into their wild bodies. And we do all these nature activities while having reciprocity in mind – to have fun, but learning earth skills and offering our thanks to the planet from a place of gratitude. Learning to make fire using wood, learning how to respectfully harvest plants to make rope. If we are drinking wild tea that has been harvested from trees, we say thank you when we receive it. It is through this reciprocity that we can see the natural environment as not inanimate but full of life.
What I find is that children are innately able to connect, and it [this connection to nature] is much closer to the surface for them than it is for adults. They still have this ability to have a compassionate and innocent relationship with the natural world, something we lose as we get older. My advice for parents? Listen to your children, listen to them when you take them out on a walk, transform what you view as a “hike” as more than just walking from A to B. It is an opportunity to be curious about the journey of all living things, whether it is a butterfly you pass by or the leaves you encounter. All of these magical experiences will help anchor relationships with not just your kids, but your family connection as well.
GQ: What is your ultimate mission with Kembali?
JN: Facilitating a way for people to remember to love the earth. I think whatever comes out of that can only be good. If I can help bring about more understanding that our own wellbeing and the earth’s wellbeing are interlinked, that our health is the earth’s health, then I’ll be really happy.
GQ: Last question – team rice or team noodles?
JN: That’s so hard. Hmm, I pick noodles!
Lead image courtesy of Jasmine Nunns.