She Went from the Sidelines to Helping Save the World and You Can Too
By Joy Elkayam
I often find myself in awe that someone “like me” would become a longtime member of Parvati.org, working to establish the biggest marine protected area in the world: MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. Though I have always been interested in the environment, I was also one who typically hung out on the sidelines. Yet once I dived in with MAPS, I realized that I could not imagine doing anything else with my time.
Before I joined Parvati.org in July 2015, I was aware that Parvati, a dear friend, had founded Parvati.org after she learned of the imminent seismic testing and oil exploration plans in Canadian Arctic waters. Seismic testing seeks out oil and gas reserves by blasting the ocean floor with sounds 100,000 times louder than a jet engine, every five to seven seconds, 24 hours a day, for months at a time. Without question, this would devastate all life in the Arctic waters, including whales, which communicate through sound.
I still get goosebumps when I think of Parvati’s recurring dream of a blue whale calling her to the North Pole. Parvati pivoted her life to follow that call. In the High Arctic, she met two elders who said, “We knew you were coming—the whale told us.”
This life-changing trip culminated in the creation of Parvati.org. The desire to stop seismic testing seemed perfectly suited for Parvati, with her deep connection to whales. However, I never imagined that I would be part of it too. When she invited me and others to join, I hesitated. I wondered if I would be dismissed as a stereotypical “tree-hugger”, or if I would find myself screaming “Save the whales!” at protests. I questioned how a timid individual like myself could make an impact. However, despite my insecurity, I trusted Parvati’s instinct and said yes.
Our mission expanded over the next few months and it became clear that we needed to end all exploitation in the Arctic Ocean immediately. I realized that this had never been just about whales. Protecting the Arctic Ocean was a baseline essential for all life.
One of my first tasks, with my colleague Uttama Anderson, was to find certified translators who would work pro bono to translate the MAPS Treaty into the official UN languages. I doubted we would find translators. But within days they appeared, and most still work with us today. My detail-oriented nature and previous work experience in health care served me well. After much trial and error, with numerous spreadsheets, cover letters, labels and envelopes, Uttama and I mailed the MAPS treaty to 193 world leaders in November 2015. It was a monumental experience and the enthusiasm that propelled the execution of it became the inspiration to which I would default on a regular basis. Looking back, it was the first of many stepping stones that enabled me to take on more complex projects. Over the last few years, I have led the social media and administration portfolios. I also serve as Production Manager at Parvati Magazine, in addition to collaborating with yoga influencers for our Yogis Unite grassroots campaign to educate and bolster a global team of yogis to become MAPS ambassadors. Plus, I assist in the wider distribution of articles in support of Global Education for MAPS (GEM).
Like my colleagues who have shared previously in this space, I too have felt stretched beyond my capability. There have been times where I have felt the lack of endurance to continue, or faced misunderstandings about our mission and my choices. However, I have discovered so much gold in this work that has kept me rooted in my dedication. I have learned that possibilities are endless, flexibility makes unexpected turns easier, and humility serves best. I’ve seen my confidence grow and a wide range of skills emerge. My heart has expanded and my judgments have faded. I’ve watched solutions materialize when I thought there were none, and I’ve received support from colleagues in the face of loss. Parvati’s “open door” policy has been a tremendous help; her guidance and care for us all is a source of renewal when we feel uncertain. My admiration for my teammates has grown immensely and I continue to be inspired by their talents and heart.
Most of all, I am inspired to be part of an organization that is singularly focused on love for our planet and for all life, beyond the “us versus them” mentality that is common these days. As we face this global crisis, I firmly believe that each of us, in our own way, has the capacity to literally help save the world. I could not be more grateful to be a part of doing so.
Joy Elkayam is the Executive Director of Parvati Magazine. She is also a volunteer at Parvati.org, dedicated to realizing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary. Before a pivot to teaching in a kindergarten, her career started out in health care as a coordinator in research and cancer screening.