Can Forests and Cities Coexist?

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Happy International Day of Forests!

This year’s theme is “Forests and Sustainable Cities,” which brought to mind a revelation I had when I lived in the Aldea of Suyapa, east of Tegucigalpa, Honduras back in 2005. I had always assumed that when humans arrived anywhere, the general pattern that followed was of deforestation and natural resource degradation. I believed that the mango, citrus, jocote, avocado, allspice, nance, oak, acacia, guanacaste, and other gorgeous fruiting and flowering trees were merely what was left after human settlements expanded here.

But, the story is more complicated than that.

Suyapa has now been swallowed by the capital city but is populated by the descendants of indigenous laborers that worked in the silver mines outside of Tegucigalpa until the 20th century. The land was granted to the community by the Spanish crown, and as such, it is primarily made up of the same families who initially settled it. Because of its unique history, there is a rich historical record of the town, some of it captured in old, black and white photographs.

As I became more familiar with these photos, I noticed that the town and the hills around it were almost entirely stripped of trees in the early 1900s. While this may contribute to my initial point (that humans drive deforestation), the present day reality tells a different story. Looking down on the town from the hills above it, today the urban rooftops of Suyapa are almost completely hidden by a canopy of mature trees. Within one century, people living here wholly transformed their landscape.

Fire Prevention Suyapa 3
Residents of the Aldea of Suyapa in Honduras working together to keep their forest healthy and to prevent forest fires. Photo by Keisi Midence.

These trees were planted by local residents (and likely animals) to provide shade, fruit, timber, and firewood, to stabilize soil along ravines, and to color the town with their flowers. Secondary benefits include filtering some of the dust and soot from the city, providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and producing oxygen for all of us. These trees transformed what could have been just another concrete-covered suburb into what feels like a rural respite in an otherwise overcrowded city.

This revelation taught me two important things – 1. Urban development and tree-cover need not be mutually exclusive, and 2. Every tree we put in the ground TODAY will materially alter the landscape and produce benefits for future generations. Planting a tree is one of the easiest ways we can all leave a positive mark the planet.

Fire Prevention Suyapa 2
Suyapa’s youth volunteering as the fire brigade to plant new trees, cut firebreaks, deter poachers, and stabilize erosion trouble spots. Photo by Keisi Midence.

Today, Suyapa’s youth have formed a volunteer fire brigade that goes into the oak woodlands above town every spring to plant new trees, cut firebreaks, deter poachers, and stabilize erosion trouble spots. Threats to the local forests still exist, but teaching young people to value and protect trees and the services they provide is something that will ripple through generation upon generation. Cities in Central America have a long way to go before they can be considered truly sustainable, but I was grateful to walk away from Suyapa with my perspective changed about how humans, cities, and forests coexist.

Take some time today to think about the origins of the trees in your community, and about trees you could plant for those who come after you. And if you are passionate about getting trees into the ground, know that Trees, Water & People is always ready to turn your passion into trees for millions of people throughout the Americas.

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A Big Thank You to Lansing Catholic High School

by Eriq Acosta, National Director 

I recently had the pleasure to work with a group of Catholic high school students out of Michigan, Lansing while they were staying at the Sacred Earth Lodge. First and foremost this group of students and chaperones were truly amazing. The group was so eager to learn and put effort into the physical work as well; I was just blown away by their generous spirits.

While I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with this group and was humbled by their work ethic and joyful willingness to provide service in the form of maintenance and cleaning at the Red Cloud Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and tree planting at the new Veterans Memorial. They completed these tasks with ease and smiles on their faces.

tree planting at Veterans Memorial
Students from Lansing Catholic High School planting trees at the new Veterans Memorial.

Several times the students and chaperones asked me what more can they could do to help, how they could improve projects they already completed. From my point of view, they went above and beyond their call of duty. At RCREC we have several buildings on the campus, and they cleaned and did general maintenance on at least 90% of the facilities.

Cleaning RCREC
Working hard to tidy up RCREC

The respect that they gave to the residents, especially the children, on the RCREC campus was a beautiful sight to see. They had the opportunity to listen to a tribal member speak about Lakota history and culture, as well as participate in a round dance and play musical chairs in conjunction with the drum playing. I have found that at this age one or two students just aren’t “feeling it” and don’t participate, but what I noticed most about this group is that they acted as one cohesive unit. I found this to be very impressive, and I feel like speaks volumes about their leadership. This was the group’s second time being on Pine Ridge, and by the end of the trip, they were already discussing a third! As a representative of Trees Water, & People I would love to call Lansing Catholic High School a partner and would love to have them on any project we do!

You can learn more about volunteer opportunities like this by joining our email list! 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Birch Hincks, Superstar

Birch Hincks has already been our Featured Volunteer for her hard work and sparkling personality around the Trees, Water & People office. Now we get to give her another very special thanks, this time for the month of service she just spent at our project site in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Birch lived in and worked on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), helping improve the living quarters for trainees as well as generally improving and expanding the training campus with RCREC employees Henry Red Cloud and Leo Bear. She did an amazing job of reaching out the to the Pine Ridge community, reconnecting with previous solar air heater recipients to see how they are doing. In addition, Birch travelled with Henry and his crew to conduct installations and trainings on the Great Plains. Thank you Birch…we all love you!

To Our Amazing Volunteers: Happy National Volunteer Week!

April 10th-16th is National Volunteer Week!  Around the country, organizations are recognizing their wonderful volunteers and all the work they do to make the world a better place.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is extremely lucky to have a dedicated and hard-working volunteer base that offers hundreds and hundreds of hours each year to our organization.  Without these volunteers, TWP would not be the organization we are today.  Our volunteers offer their free time to do everything from gardening to preparing mailings, all of which are important tasks that help our organization thrive and grow.

Volunteers at the annual "Rhythms for the Planet" fundraiser smile as they help check people into the event.

From the entire staff at Trees, Water & People, thank you to all of our volunteers! We love you all and hope to continue seeing your smiling faces each day.

For more information on how you can volunteer with Trees, Water & People please click here!