Mathew Townsend: The founder
I was 18 months old when I lost hearing in both ears. From then on destined to wear hearing aids. Growing up with other deaf and hard of hearing students I quickly became an Australian Sign Language native. Even before I could speak English at age of 4. Can you imagine what your life would be like with this start?
To add to this I was diagnosed with high functioning Autism (mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome) at 12, as I was entering high school. At the beginning of my adolescence I had dreams of living in lush nature and by the ocean. And I could not reconcile with what the world was trying to tell me – that the rest of my life would be spent unable to excel in the outdoor adventure I loved.
After graduating high school in 2008, I left the nest to study Bachelor of Environmental Science at James Cook University. During this time I found my passion. Working in and with nature. Including recreational activities I was involved in as a kid.
I traveled to United States and Canada in 2012 my first trip abroad. My experiences and exposure to society grew by day to day. I found more passion in sustainability, community development and traveling.
To make it my profession I began a Master of Environmental Management. Specializing in Sustainable Development at University of Queensland in 2015. My passions grew as I explored many opportunities that my postgraduate course offered. They took me to Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Macau and England.
My academic years were quite challenging. I was on the receiving end of frequent bullying, trolls, harassment and prejudice because of my disabilities. Often because they couldn’t understand me.
I witnessed first-hand all the stigma and shame often associated with people with disability. Instead of raging against the world (like I used to do!), I realised much of it is rooted in ignorance, but not malice.
To address this important problem I founded Nature Freedom in May 2017. Its purpose, to break stigmas and stereotypes for those with disabilities. Through joint participation outdoor activities.
At the very heart of Nature Freedom is the desire to spread the spirit of empathy. To dispel the antiquated and misplaced worldview of disability. Adventures together in nature can create hope where once there was only despair.
Visiting the Grand Canyon, hiking the in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico ingrained in me the importance of nature for young people. Not just how we connect with nature, but by the empathy of other people sharing similar experiences, passions and values.
My experiences have shown me how an inclusive and accessible society should look like. That is the worldview I want to cocreate through Nature Freedom
Mathew Townsend- Founder
Lesh Prasad – Board of Director
Marcus Curcija – Interim Chairperson
David Toohey – Treasurer
Daniel Maloney – Secretary
Thomas McKenna – Board of Director
Liesl Fillippi – Board of Director