Get to Know “Wild” Woman for Nature Jennifer Haddow
Featuring Women for Nature member Jennifer Haddow. Written by fellow Women for Nature member Caroline Casselman.
Jennifer Haddow is the owner of Wild Women Expeditions, an outdoor adventure travel company for women. She has led public engagement programs for a variety of environmental and social justice non-profit organizations, including Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Environmental Network. Jennifer is a passionate advocate for protection of wild spaces and promoting the value of women’s leadership in the outdoors. She is based in Quadra Island, British Columbia.
As part of the Women for Nature blog series, I asked Jennifer how her environmental activism has changed over the course of her career.
Growing up in Newfoundland, what influenced your decision to become a global citizen and environmental activist?
At 18, I had the opportunity to join the Canada World Youth exchange program. I lived for four months in Egypt, which opened my eyes to global issues around poverty, social justice, race relations, community development and the environment. The experience changed my perspective on what I wanted to accomplish in my life and my career. I studied international development at university and began my journey to becoming a global citizen. I worked for 15 years in the not-for-profit world, as well as in government on the International Campaign to End Landmines.
That is a major life change. Was there anything in particular that influenced your decision?
Like a lot of conservationists, I was extremely passionate about protecting the environment – almost becoming a martyr to the cause. Eventually, though, I became frustrated by some of the armchair activism we see in the movement. Lots of statistics and talk about saving the environment, but not enough on-the-ground experience or in-depth knowledge about the threatened places we were trying to save.
We also talked about having a balanced relationship with the natural world, but we didn’t have much balance in our own lives. I myself was working too much and losing my connection to what we were all fighting for – I call it the unhealthy saviour complex. I became frustrated and burnt out.
And then I became sick. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 10 years ago, a terrifying wakeup call. I decided to re-orient my life toward the natural world. I travelled to the Himalayas and trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest. It was incredible to wake up in a tent in the snow and watch the sun rise over the world’s highest mountain.
From then on, the compass of my life tilted toward fresh air, sunshine, being active and healing. I had gone on a few Wild Women expeditions and loved them so much, I bought the company when the owner announced her retirement. Intuitively, I felt I was meant to be the next owner.
How does the mission of Wild Women Expeditions align with the Women for Nature campaign? Is this what inspired you to join?
Yes, I think it is important for all of us to get out into the wilderness and get dirty! We need to engage in a physical way in order to fall in love with the natural world, otherwise we won’t really fight hard enough to protect it. That’s the premise for Wild Women Expeditions. We want to bring women into this supportive experience so they can fall in love with the natural world and do the necessary work to conserve it.
That passion and commitment is what I identify with in the Women for Nature campaign. And while I believe we need to physically engage in these issues, I also believe in the power of storytelling. We always read outdoor adventure stories about men but we need to promote the value of that experience for women. We need to connect the dots between outdoor adventure, protecting wild spaces and promoting women’s leadership in nature. The next issue of our Wild Women Magazine features Jane Goodall – the quintessential wild woman!
How is your health now?
I’m in the best health I’ve ever been. I consider myself to be in remission. I have a chronic condition but I am not sick; I am afflicted but not affected.
I am at my happiest being a mother to my 5-year old son and when we are home on Quadra Island, we spend lot of time taking hikes and communing with nature. But I want him to be a global citizen too. We visit incredible places – from the jungles of Costa Rica to the Egyptian desert and the elephant sanctuaries of Northern Thailand.
Any words of wisdom or advice you want to share with future Women for Nature?
I believe I had a physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown because – like a lot of women – I had too much stress and not enough space. And we need that space in order to balance our lives, maintain our health and be our authentic selves.
So I can’t emphasize it enough. Go outside, get dirty and connect to the natural world. And, share your stories of what it means to be a wild and adventurous woman – for your health, your spirit and for the environment.
To learn more about our amazing Women for Nature, please visit www.womenfornature.ca.