By Jac Smith
September 4, 2012, marked a significant day for
environmental charity Plant With Purpose, as its
reforestation work hit a global milestone of 8 million trees planted worldwide.
Dedicated to sustainable development throughout Mexico, Tanzania, Haiti,
Burundi, Thailand and the Dominican Republic, this non-profit organization has
transformed thousands of lives affected by deforestation.
is a problem in these countries because rural farmers are dependent on the
forest for their basic needs,” explains Doug Satre,
development director of Plant With Purpose. “They clear the forests to plant
crops, and use wood for heating, cooking and construction. Trees are also cut
for charcoal production, which is sold in the cities. Most communities don’t
replant, so the forest is not restored.”
1984, Plant With Purpose was originally known as Floresta
USA — an organization created by Tom Woodward, Christian aid volunteer working
in the Dominican Republic. Realizing the devastating impact of deforestation,
he wanted to address the problem long-term, by providing sustainable
environmental assistance and helping develop enduring life skills and alternate
income sources, via reforestation, agroforestry, educational programs and
economic support. Consequently, impoverished rural communities continue to
prosper long after the charity’s involvement ceases.
charity, Plant With Purpose strives to strengthen community relationships, to
foster spiritual renewal and help villagers appreciate and understand their
environment. “We encourage them to focus on what they have,” says Satre. “They have each other, their land and God also cares
for them too. We teach that being a healthy and whole community is not just
about having more money, but about caring for everyone in the community and the
earth God has given us.”
Caring for the
earth is critical for these communities, as the results of deforestation are
“Once trees are
cut, the soil has no protection from heavy tropical rains, so it erodes very
quickly,” Satre explains. “Heavy rains sometimes
cause flash floods and mudslides that can wipe out whole villages. The forest
also naturally filters water; without healthy forests, waterborne diseases and
even malaria increase. Long-term, the soil becomes useless for farming and
families migrate to find work. This forced migration is linked to various
problems, including the spread of AIDS and other diseases.”
Since Satre started working with Plant With Purpose, the number
of trees planted by participant communities in Haiti, Burundi and the Dominican
Republic is triple that of non-participants, and he reports communities have
seen an average 25% decrease in waterborne illnesses, including cholera and
typhoid. Reforestation is also proving to be enormously successful in Mexico,
despite the initial skepticism by villagers.
With Purpose began these activities, some of the people said that even their
great-grandchildren would not see these pine trees,” says Señor
Raúl López from El Oro.
“But now they are seeing the results of their work and acknowledging that this
work of producing and planting should be a permanent program. Just as we cut
down wood and use it to heat tortillas, we should produce and plant the trees.”
Purpose also provides micro-credit loans and small-business training, teaches
agricultural skills and encourages communities to pool their resources in order
to help each other survive. In Tanzania, 2,436 people have collectively saved
$151,545 since collaborating with the charity, with 66% of participant
households earning through micro-enterprises, including a mother of eight, Elikao Lyamuya. Six years ago,
with just enough money to put food on their table, Elikao
despaired for her family’s future.
wished that my children failed their final school exams because I was unable to
pay for their school fees,” she says.
After joining a
community savings and loans group and receiving agricultural and business
training, Elikao launched her own poultry enterprise,
started a tree nursery, and even opened a small store. Her family eats well,
and Elikao’s children are being educated.
individuals like Elikao to realize their potential
and recognize how to utilize and nurture the environment, is an essential part
of the charity’s work, and many lives have improved beyond expectation. A
recent impact evaluation concluded that families in Thailand boast double the
children in high school to that of non-participants, and 77% of participant
Mexican farmers are cattle owners, harvesting 22 different crops — nearly three
times that of the non-participants. More success stories are reported
throughout the 275 communities aided by Plant With Purpose.
hopes growing awareness and continued support will enable Plant With Purpose to
provide hope for many more rural communities struggling for survival, focusing
next on Ethiopia and Guatemala.
“As we are
able, we want to expand to help more people,” he says. We especially want to
concentrate on countries where rural poverty and deforestation occur together.
For these countries — trees mean life.”
information, visit: http://www.plantwithpurpose.org
Smith is a freelance writer, residing in the UK.