Helen Dodge’s background is mainly academic. Around 2000, Helen Dodge started working in journalism on a part-time basis, sub-editing and writing pieces on the arts, mainly for City Press and Sowetan. Along the way, she also worked as a copywriter, translator and technical editor for a range of organisations and publications. Since living on the South Coast, Helen has worked at the Herald (as a sub and journalist), taught at a few schools and put more focus into her visual arts, producing a series of paintings of indigenous flowers and butterflies/birds (Fabulous Flowers) that are printed onto textiles to produce soft furnishings such as cushion covers, bed linen and wall hangings. Helen had long been aware of ongoing environmental destruction in the region, but by mid 2019 it was possible to discern a real growth in the number of local individuals, organisations and businesses carrying out environmentally constructive work, and the time seemed right to begin linking all of these people into a supportive and powerful network that could help facilitate truly sustainable development on the South Coast. Helen believes it’s working!
Let’s get to know Helen Dodge a little better!
How did Green Net come into existence – and how has it impacted your life?
I began the group in May 2019. I had been trying to gather local environmentalists into a network for some time, and Afrika Day presented a good opportunity. Five of us presented our ideas and/or products at a small gathering, then continued getting together and working out what exactly we wanted to do. Along the way, we undertook (and continue to undertake) various activities on a volunteer basis – including beach clean-ups and beach bins, awareness-raising meetings, petitions, press releases and information sheets, school visits focused on waste management (especially recycling, plastic and eco bricks), and organic food gardening.
We formally registered The Green Net in 2020 and held a launch event on February 29th – literally weeks before lockdown. Lockdown enabled us to identify those members of our immediate community whose food security is most threatened by social and environmental problems, and our focus during lockdown was directed to establishing and supporting community-based organic food gardens. Apart from advising many local organisations and individuals on organic gardening, we created Vukuzenzele Gardens in Louisiana township, just inland of Umtentweni, where close to 100 growers currently have a few acres under organic veg and are learning how to continue doing this without financial input. Meanwhile, our regional network of organic growers, markets (such as shops and restaurants) and other Green entrepreneurs continues to grow, expanding the options for all involved.
The Green Net has had a wonderful impact on my life, and continues to restore my faith in myself, other people, nature and God. I work with incredible people, who are immensely generous in spirit and happy to give of their time, knowledge, skills, patience and even finances, often despite personal difficulties, to uplift others and contribute to a healthy, harmonious world for all. The level of collaboration and kindness, at all levels, is inspiring, and of course the beautiful gardens provide very tangible motivation.
If you had a theme song, what would it be?
On a clear day you can see forever – probably the Johnny Mathis version
What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
I guess I’ve done quite a few things that seemed risky or brave to other people (but not to me), but the scariest choice I’ve made has been to have a baby
If Mars were liveable, would you accept a one-way ticket there?
If you were given one thousand acres of land what would you do with it?
Build an integrated, off-grid reserve where humans can co-exist in nature with wildlife
Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
About 8, although I’m mostly barefoot
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Soup, salad, veg lasagne and fridge tart
How would people communicate in a perfect world?
Clearly, truthfully and kindly. In terms of the technology involved: real-life, face-to-face conversations are best; the internet and other online communications are growing into an amazing way for people around the world to communicate, but certain aspects of the technology and devices are problematic and need reworking.
When you have 30 minutes of free time – how do you pass it?
Tidy the house, meditate, sleep or make a phone call
If you woke up to 300 unread emails, how would you prioritise which ones to answer?
Begin with the most current matters and core correspondents, mark secondary messages for later and delete anything irrelevant. Work before personal (unless it looks urgent). I use lots of lists.
Where do you go and what do you do to find peace and recharge?
Friends and nature – veld, mountains, trees, water, animals, birds, insects, clouds. I love walking and sitting in nature. Also live music and dancing.
If you could write one new law that everybody had to obey, what would it be?
Listen to your heart
What, if anything, have you ever re-gifted?
Money, clothes, plants, appliances
What is the most interesting thing you have seen or read this week?
Documentary film “Kiss the Ground”
What skill or craft would you like to master?
Play the piano or cello
What would you say are some small steps that people can take to improve their relationship to the environment?
The main thing is awareness – notice the natural beauty that’s around you and take cognizance of the impact you’re having on the world. We are all connected and we all make an impact, positive or negative.
• Our environment, local and global, is polluted and we all need to clean up. Don’t litter; make use of the waste disposal and recycling options available to you, and create your own if necessary; pick up other people’s litter if that’s what it takes to keep it out of the soil, rivers and ocean. Compost your plant ‘waste’, including kitchen scraps and lawn cuttings.
• Be aware that petrol, electricity, concrete and meat are major contributors to global warming. Every other object also has an impact: materials, manufacturing processes, transport and disposal of materials and products; these all contribute to greenhouse gases and pollution. Don’t waste anything. Use only what you need.
• As a consumer, you determine what products sell. Check product labels and try to buy products that are most beneficial for you, the producers, the local economy and the natural environment. Avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as they are detrimental to your health and immensely destructive to the soil, air and water. Try to support local producers and businesses.
• As far as possible, avoid packaging and opt for ‘loose’ fruit and vegetables. Where packaging is unavoidable, opt for reusable, compostable, biodegradable and recyclable options.
• Remember the three Rs of waste management: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Recycling is the last option, not the first.
• Plant. Plant indigenous trees, fruit trees, hardy perennials, vegetables and herbs. Give plants as gifts. Feed yourself and your community, improve aesthetics and air quality, and enhance community spirit. Educate yourself about alien invasive plants (AIPs) and keep them out of your area. Plant fruit trees and vegetables on your pavement, for the benefit of pedestrians and the homeless.
Ed’s Note: Even if your space is very small – you can grow a veg garden!
• Speak. Share information and skills, and speak up for the Earth. Talk about environmental matters, support those doing constructive work and speak out against destructive practices.