Serve the City Talks: The Environment

by Peter DeWit

Peter DeWit talks with Rene Mally, who sits on the Board of directors for Serve the City International and is passionate about a topic that affects us all, the environment. We all agree that a healthy environment is essential not only for our survival, but for our flourishing. Hopefully we as an organization can talk about our environment more actively and deeply in the future. Let’s get into it….

Peter: Hi Rene, it’s good to finally be able to meet you and  pick your brain, or should I say pick your heart, about something dear to you, the environment. But before we jump into it, tell us a bit about yourself and your family, where are you from and what brought you to the Philippines

Rene: It’s good to meet you too. Well, let me tell you about myself in a nutshell. I was born in 1966 in the then Czechoslovakia, our historic-spiritual legacy was from the Moravians. But I grew up in Germany. My career path led me to live and work on all five continents. Currently, I live with my wife in the Philippines, where we started a therapeutic center for children suffering from trauma because of sexual abuse or severe neglect. Our center is called Balik Kaanyag, which means ‘Restoring the Beauty of Life.’

Peter: I think the most basic understanding of the environment is that it is not just our natural world, it is all of our surroundings, both living and nonliving things. I can see that understanding is the case for you, it’s about where people and especially vulnerable children can live in a healing environment. How did you become so passionate about all things environment?

Rene: Well, my passion is about restoring the beauty of that which is broken, and we are doing that for the abused children through our regular three day camps and other activities. I am also passionate about environments, because the environment is really the basis of understanding our interconnectedness.  A healthy environment or nature is essential to human ‘flourishing’. In addition to nature’s multiple functions, I am in awe of its beauty and creativity. There is something sacred about it which we need to protect and safeguard.

Peter: Yes! I love that you find the sacred in nature. Richard Rohr once wrote, and I quote, “On spring and summer mornings, I love to go out early with my little cup of coffee and walk through my garden. If I can somehow let my “roots and tendrils” reconnect me with the “givens” of life, as Bill Plotkin calls them — not the ideas about life, but the natural world, what is—I experience the most extraordinary grounding, connection, healing, and even revelation.” And then he says, “One little hopping bird can do me in!” Wow! Do you relate to his words at all? What part of nature where you live now makes your heart skip a beat?

Rene: That is a great quote, Peter. And I agree with Richard Rohr. There is revelation and healing in nature. We should never see nature as a means of accumulation of wealth, but as a sacred and divine gift that we need to care for. Having lived in the Asia-Pacific region for a while now, what doesn’t stop surprising me is the unbelievable beauty of the underwater world of coral reefs and aquatic life. Such diversity of color, shapes and forms. Unfortunately,  this beauty, too, is threatened by human impact and climate change.

Peter: Speaking of human impact on the underwater world and nature, what are you doing on your island to make a positive difference in the environment?

Rene: In the Philippines, where I live right now, we practice several ways of safeguarding the environment: We run our center completely on solar energy.  We collect rainwater and use almost every drop of water twice. We plant trees on our premises. We intentionally reduce plastic waste, we separate waste, and use organic waste for composting. And we include nature care and awareness in the activities of our center.

Peter: That’s great. So many good actions. I love that you are planting trees another way to absorb the carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change.  For those  not as fortunate to live near nature, are there ways for city dwellers to reconnect to our environment? I mean even the name of our organization is Serve the City, it is no wonder we talk so little about serving our environment. What are we as an organization doing right now, if anything?

Rene: You are right, we do need to connect more with our environments. Serve the City mobilizes volunteers to show kindness to the most vulnerable groups of our societies, especially in cities. But do we realize that these groups often suffer most from the degradation of the environment? Because of that, I welcome more emphasis on the environment. I highly appreciate each of our STC chapters that include environmental volunteering in their regular activities. You rightly point out that as a movement, we need to further enhance our nature engagement. As STC International, we recently adopted an environmental policy. We envisage more environmentally friendly corporate practices in the areas related to energy, waste, water and transport. We also work towards an increased focus on ‘green’ volunteering. We encourage a growing environmental awareness, knowledge and capacity building of STC staff and volunteers and, finally, more and stronger partnerships with other environmental actors, including city authorities and NGOs.

Peter: A policy is a good place to start, but if you could cast a large vision for our cities where we are present, what do you see for us?  Can you break that down into small bite pieces?

Rene: Sure, in terms of vision, I would love to see every STC chapter across the world have a basic understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and human flourishing. I would like to see us implementing environmentally friendly corporate practices and mobilizing scores of volunteers for creation care/”green” activities in partnership with other like minded organizations. Wouldn’t it be great if STC became a household name for integrating environmental concerns into its care for vulnerable people? I think so!

Peter: I love this vision. I am down for that. 

Rene: Achieving this goal is of course a journey. I am glad that STC International adopted a roadmap to guide us on this way. Every small step counts, and I commend each part of the global StC movement for joining the cause. Together we will continue making a difference, caring even more for vulnerable people through increased environmental awareness, more creation care volunteering, deeper partnerships and better corporate practices.

Peter: Thanks so much for this delightful conversation, Rene. I hope we can continue to highlight the environment with you and others.  Let’s hope it is just the beginning.

Rene: My pleasure.

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