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Awareness Magazine
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The Green Milestone

 
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.

“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.”

Founded in 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.

A Christian 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 often dire.

“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.

“When Plant 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.”

Plant With 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.

“Sometimes I 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.

Empowering 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.

Satre 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.”

For more information, visit: http://www.plantwithpurpose.org            

Jac Smith is a freelance writer, residing in the UK.