Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Celebrate this 4th with Hope for the future

by Corbyn Small
July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is adopted and the United States proclaimed its sovereignty from Great Britain. Fifteen years later the First Amendment declares the importance of securing civil liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment is passed, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” We continue our blogging celebration of  freedom parade through the week leading up to the 4th of July, and pause the celebration for a moment of consideration for two countries that Plant With Purpose works with in the Caribbean.
Basic Freedoms for Haiti and the Dominican Republic Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department released the 2009 Trafficking in Persons report. Human Trafficking is something thought by most to be a thing of the past, and you may never have heard of such a report. In fact, human trafficking is considered to be the fastest growing criminal industry in the world and an estimated $32 billion dollars a year are collected in revenue. The Trafficking in Persons report has been generated by the U.S. State Department for the last nine years and outlines the efforts, attempts, successes and failures of international governments' abilities to react and stop human trafficking in their respective nations.  Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, remains a special case for the fourth year in a row and has been unable to be included in the report due to governmental instability. Believe it or not, in Haiti there are still forms of human trafficking that aren’t illegal. Because of political instability there has not been policy or law making in Haiti to even provide avenues to prosecute people who are trafficking Haitian men, women, and children into the Dominican Republic, the United States, Bahamas and other nations in the Caribbean. Its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, remains on the Tier 2 watch list, which means they do not meet minimum the requirements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Acts and that it "is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor.” Forced labor is possibly the most common form of trafficking between Haiti and the DR due to the racial prejudices that exist between the Dominicans and the Haitians. The Haitians are considered by many Dominicans as inferior because of their darker skin and the extent of poverty in Haiti versus the Dominican Republic. Many Haitians seek economic opportunity by putting themselves at risk and illegally crossing the border into the Dominican Republic where the farmlands are still producing crops. This is merely an introduction to the longstanding rivalry between the two countries that has created a harbouring center for people to be taken advantage of. (To learn more about the history and cultures of the two countries, read on in this report titled "Illegal People" by Human Rights Watch).
Human trafficking and involuntary servitude is something that neither my generation, my parent's, or my grandparent’s generation have witnessed here in the United States of America because of  our nation’s steps to ensure that people are treated as equals(not to say that the U.S. has a clean slate; there are many places where it still exists right here in the U.S.). 
While we celebrate our freedom and the people who committed their lives to providing us with the liberties we have today, this Independence Day let us stop and remember the people all over the world who have not had the chance to be treated as an equal but instead are marginalized because of race, ethnicity, or social status. Let’s remember that regardless of nationality, we have all been created as equals and all deserve one of the most basic human rights, freedom. 
I can speak of these things with hope for the future as Plant With Purpose does everything we can to restore relationships between countries and people. Whether it be our transborder project at the Haitian and Dominican border, or helping Burmese hill tribe refugees living in Thailand receive Thai citizenship, Plant With Purpose is working as a voice for those who have none.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Plant With Purpose Freedom Parade

By Aly Lewis

I don’t usually like to talk about freedom. I’m more of an interdependent (not to be confused with codependent) type of philosophizer. Not that I don’t like freedom; I’m just more apt to find myself exasperated with the individualistic, isolated, and often disconnected culture in which I live. More often than not, I overcompensate by focusing entirely on our inevitable and undeniable interconnectedness—both with each other and with our environment. But this week I’m putting aside my desire to flaunt my counter-cultural dependency ideas in order to take a deeper look at freedom and what that means in our lives as Americans, as Christians, and as people living in this interconnected world.

As humans we all feel trapped sometimes. We get caught in toxic cycles of our own design and vicious cycles far beyond our control. We become paralyzed, imprisoned by real or perceived barriers from which we can see no readily accessible escape route or hope of a better day. As much as I’m enamored with the idea of interdependency and community and sharing, freedom is a good thing, a vital thing, a Godly thing. Freedom is the ability to choose, to live, to love.

In honor of the Fourth of July, this week we’ll be touching on different aspects of freedom—political freedom, economic freedom, spiritual freedom. We’ll talk about the ways Plant With Purpose works to bring freedom to rural farmers trapped in vicious cycles of poverty and deforestation. We’ll talk about the ways we can work toward greater freedom in our own lives. We may even bring out the sparklers and barbecue to celebrate Burundian Independence Day (which, by the way, is July 1st).

So pick up those visors and water bottle misters and join us for our week long Freedom Parade.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keep Your Coins, I Want Change

By Kate McElhinney This catchy and thought-provoking phrase was the headline of a recent article* I read that reviewed how people act with either contempt or compassion toward the homeless.

I consider myself to be on the compassionate side, (although I’m working on this, thanks to Aly’s last post.) But ultimately, this article sparked a tangent thought, (during English class in college this would have resulted in a stern look from my professor, but stay with me on this!)

People often ask how they can get involved with Plant With Purpose. Often times, they want to travel to one of our programs and see how we are working side by side with the poor. This is possible through one of our vision or church trips, but once there, people quickly find that there isn’t an opportunity to pitch in, such as building a house or tilling the land. We hire local agronomists and directors to offer guidance, but these are the only people who are necessary. Since the farmers are empowered, they don’t need our help with the labor and we become observers.

So how can people help? Serving the rural poor, our brothers in Christ, is the core mission of Plant With Purpose. But for those who want to get involved, sometimes the best way is to look locally. Plant With Purpose’s compassionate philosophy can be used as a model to help the local homeless.

A great example of this is Coast Vineyard Church. Every weekday at 11:15 a.m., a team of church members who call themselves “The Branch Ministry” meet at Mission Bay and hang out with the poor. They share food, stories, and the gospel. Over time they have forged friendships with the local homeless and many of them now regularly attend Coast.

So, from what I’ve seen, helping the poor is about more than giving change. Sure, money is helpful for buying clothes or food. But this is a temporary solution. To see a lasting impact, we have to offer compassion as Christians and walk with the poor. Many are looking for transformation, and giving a bit of time goes a long way.

*This article was posted on www.ecclesiacollective.org.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Compassion Wake Up Call

by Aly Lewis

Most of the time, I think I’m pretty great. You know, I’m relatively nice (aside from my biting sarcasm), I’ve never killed anybody (at least not to my knowledge) and on top of all the sugar and spice and everything nice, I work at a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the voiceless, forgotten, and overlooked rural poor. I am just stacking up those good person points.

So imagine my surprise when I was reading Compassion by Henri Nouwen—a book I thought would be about fostering all of this happy, selfless, compassion inside of me—and in the preface, before the book even starts to get underway, he dashes my hopes that people are naturally selfless and compassionate. In fact, he says, “For those who do not live in a dream world and keep their eyes open to the facts of life, compassion can at most be a small and subservient part of our competitive existence.”

At first I was slightly offended, thinking Maybe other people aren’t naturally compassionate, but not me, I am selfless and giving and have a heart of gold.

Then I realized I was guilty as charged: I had turned compassion into a competition. Appearing more compassionate than others is a vital part of my identity; however, being truly compassionate “would require giving up the dividing lines and relinquishing differences and distinctions. And that would mean losing our identities.”

Talk about a good kick in the compassion pants.

What I can rest assured in, however, is the idea that regardless of where I fall on the compassion continuum, there is always room to grow and improve. And ultimately, “I am not the esteem I can collect through competition, but the love I have freely received from God.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Successful event at Balboa Park!

Last Saturday, many of you here in San Diego participated in the first of many to come, Rock Church park cleanups. Over 1,000 volunteers came early in the morning to Balboa Park for planting, cleaning, landscaping, bbqing, and good times.
The day got rolling around 8am when volunteers lined up to get their shirts and sign in. Then people broke off into 3 main groups which then were regrouped and sent to every corner of balboa park to get their task completed before lunch. It was amazing to see the amount of work that was done all over the park in such a short amount of time. The Rock Church went through plenty of efforts and paperwork to get this event all organized and prepped to handle 1,000 volunteers, but they did it!
Plant With Purpose staff was there all day to meet and thank all the volunteers for giving their time to make this fine city a cleaner place. With a strategically placed Plant With Purpose table (right next to the start of the line for the bbq lunch provided by a local catering company and the Rock), our staff was able to talk to countless numbers of people about the work that we do in developing countries to improve the lives of the rural poor. The volunteers were already jazzed about their efforts there at the park and then the news about a Christian non-profit organization based in San Diego that has been teaching sustainable agriculture for 25 years really got them pumped. Plus they had to listen if they wanted to get their free bbq lunch, talk about a captive audience.
Some things you may not know about Balboa Park (info gathered from Worldsrevealed.com):
-Balboa Park is the largest cultural complex west of the Mississippi River. It is maintained by the City of San Diego and covers about 1,200 acres, and is only minutes away from downtown San Diego.
-Within the park there are fifteen museums and various performing arts groups, including the Old Globe Theatre, and a total of over 85 cultural and recreational organizations. The park also contains the world famous San Diego Zoo, which itself takes up 100 acres.
-Balboa Park is also home rose gardens, butterfly garden, some rare plant species, 58 different varieties of palm trees, and to top it off a Botanical Building with over 2,000 different tropical plants.
-Many of the museums are in Spanish Colonial buildings which were originally built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. This marked the first time that this architectural style was used in this country.
First photo taken by Jim Wanglund- Rock Church photographer

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reforesting the border

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic crosses some of the poorest and most environmentally sensitive areas of both countries. Despite rampant prejudice, Haitian and Dominican communities have interdependent economies, common environmental problems, and share elements of a growing border culture. Millions of Haitians cross illegally to seek opportunity in the more prosperous Dominican Republic, and relationships on both sides of the border are characterized by misunderstanding and often violence. One of Plant With Purpose's most exciting initiatives to date is its Trans Border Project on the Haitian/Dominican border. Through an integrated program of community development, innovative agriculture, reforestation, microcredit, and long-term discipleship, Plant With Purpose is holistically addressing the root causes of poverty and empowering these rural farmers to transform their lives and lands through viable, long-term solutions.

Check out this article recently reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune about the Dominican government’s plan to reforest along the border, and see why the work Plant With Purpose is already doing in the border region is so important.

Dominican Republic to Plant 5 Million Trees Along Border with Haiti

SANTO DOMINGO – The Dominican Republic plans to plant 5 million trees along the border with Haiti as part of a project to fight deforestation, environmental officials said.

The project, which will cost about 35 million pesos (some $972,200), will be carried out under an agreement signed by the Environment Ministry and the General Border Development Administration, or DGDF.

Pine, mahogany, mango, oak, tamarind and guayacan trees will be planted in the border region, the Environment Ministry said.

The agreement will be implemented via the Quisqueya Verde reforestation program in Montecristi, Dajabon and Santiago Rodriguez provinces in the northwestern part of the country, as well as in the southwestern provinces of Elias Piña, Bahoruco, Independencia and Pedernales.

Natural resources “are a national security” issue because “not just forests but also transborder waters” are at stake, Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal said.

“The production of charcoal is a threat to all of us, but when families join reforestation brigades you create green jobs, on the one hand, and reduce the pressure on resources, on the other,” Fernandez Mirabal said.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with Haiti in the western portion.

Heavy rains from tropical storms and hurricanes have caused mudslides, killing thousands of people in Haiti in recent years.

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, is prone to devastating mudslides and flooding because of man-made deforestation that has reduced the amount of the nation covered by forest from 25 percent some 50 years ago to just 2 percent today, while the neighboring Dominican Republic retains a lush tree canopy. EFE

Friday, June 19, 2009

Last Minute Fathers Day Present!

If you haven't found that right gift for dad you should check out our Tuesday blog posting for a great fathers day present. Give a gift in your dad's name to Plant With Purpose microfinance programs that help create enterprise and increase the quality of life for those involved. We have a great card you can send to him to let him know you love him. You could even send him the card in an email with a note typed along with it! Email Corbyn@PlantWithPurpose.org for the high resolution fathers day card!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Village Spotlight: Komalyangoe, Tanzania

Located at the base of the breathtaking Mt. Kilimanjaro, Komalyangoe is an area of great beauty. Yet in recent years, the area has experienced unrelenting poverty and deforestation.

Before Plant With Purpose began working here in 2003, the men in these villages had no jobs and were completely lost, struggling daily to feed their families. Many had turned to alcohol or drug abuse and the younger generation followed suit, perpetuating a vicious cycle of despair.

With unpredictable weather and a rapidly expanding population, farmers today face a daily battle against unavoidable circumstances in their quest to provide for their families. Formerly dependent on coffee production, which has plummeted as international prices have dropped, the families of Komalyangoe are dependent on their small farms for their livelihoods. Plant With Purpose is bringing hope to this desperate region and helping families to invest in a better future. Through life-changing projects like family gardens, the construction of fuel efficient stoves, micro credit, and reforestation efforts, Plant With Purpose is helping rural farmers to discover the tools and resources necessary for escaping poverty. Click here to join us in bringing hope to the people of Komalyangoe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

World Day to Combat Drought and Desertification

by Aly Lewis Working at Plant With Purpose has spurred a fine-tuning of my development vocabulary and equipped me with some pretty shnazzy terms to throw out in casual conversation: deforestation, microentrepreneur, beneficiaries, ecological latrine(okay, maybe I still haven’t found an appropriate way to integrate ecological latrine into a casual conversation, but I sure am trying). Here’s a doozy of a term for you: desertification. No, not dessertification, or the process by which someone either 1. becomes a dessert or 2. turns an ordinary food, say an apple, from a healthy snack into an ooey gooey, caramelized treat. Sadly, desertification is a much graver issue than a renegade apple fritter. While deforestation is the disappearance of forests, desertification is the appearance of desert wastelands in arid areas. Land that once bustled with biodiversity and productivity becomes dry and virtually unusable. Basically, overuse and abuse of scarce resources (such as slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation) has plunged desert lands (and people) into a deadly cycle of drought and decreased land productivity. The U.N. has declared today, June 17, World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. According to a recent press release issued by the U.N. Secretary General, “Desertification and land degradation affect one third of the Earth’s surface, threatening the livelihoods, well-being and development of as many as 1 billion people. Faced with long periods of drought, famine and deepening poverty, many have only one option: flight from the land. There are already an estimated 24 million environmentally induced migrants. That number could rise to 200 million by 2050.” This has huge implications for many of the world’s poor. Without short-term options and long-term solutions, the problem will only get worse as impoverished families continue to destroy their land in a desperate effort to survive. But there is hope. Just like it’s difficult to curb your sweet tooth, reversing such drastic conditions as deforestation and desertification isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Plant With Purpose works with communities around the world to implement sustainable agricultural practices that will actually improve and restore degraded lands while simultaneously improving farmers’ livelihoods and transforming their lives. We’ve seen hillsides be renewed and streams be replenished. We’ve watched as schoolchildren plant tree seedlings and learn the value of caring for the environment. We’ve witnessed entire communities joining together to establish sustainable land use practices. People and communities around the world are coming together to tackle desertification and are learning ways to build a better future for themselves and their families. Now you’ve got a shnazzy new word to flash around the next time you’re trying to impress your friends with your multi-syllabic-lingo. But more important than flaunting your verbal prowess, maybe take a minute or two to share about the devastating effects of desertification around the globe and what can be done to help. If you’re interested in learning more about desertification and what's being done to stop it, check out these links: http://www.greenfacts.org/en/desertification/index.htm#1


Also, check out our website to see how all of Plant With Purpose’s projects work together to restore the land, create economic opportunity, and transform the lives of the rural poor.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Father's Day to Remember

By Corbyn Small
As we approach Father's Day this Sunday the 21st, the age old question comes back to everyone's minds. Why is Dad always so hard to shop for? In my case, I think it is because my dad has been the dad that liked classic cars, watches and collecting vintage road signs. Items which generally have exceeded my budget or things that he has more than plenty of as it is (our household has reached max capacity of Route 66 memorabilia.)
The question still remains, what do you get for the man who has everything he needs? This year's hot items are likely to be more golf club covers, bbq sets, wallets and electric tie racks to give dad the ability to scan his plethora of neckties with the push of a button.
Why not give him a different kind of gift this year? Why not give him a gift that will mean more to him than a new watch or fancy alarm clock ever could? What if you gave someone else a gift in his name? Do you think your father would appreciate and be proud of his son or daughter for making the decision to give a gift to someone else in need while wishing him a "Happy Father's Day" at the same time?
Plant With Purpose works with rural agricultural farmers in some of the poorest and most remote places that don't have access to savings and credit from banks. Through Plant With Purpose, men and women are able to get small loans to start new businesses or grow their current one. What this means for the poorest people is the ability to increase their income and provide better for their families.
So this year as I sat thinking about what to do for my dad (well, Pop, as I have always called him), I thought instead of putting $30 bucks toward a new nose hair trimmer and grooming kit, I am going to donate $30 to empowering the poor and helping them to build a better future for their families. Here is where what you can do. Make a donation and then email me at Corbyn@PlantWithPurpose.org. I will send you a high resolution pdf that you can print off, fold up, jot a note on, and pass along to your dad to say thanks and Happy Father's Day. If you want to make a larger donation of $100 or more, you can click here and donate, otherwise click here to give another amount and I will make sure once you email me that your donation goes toward micro credit loans from the general donation page.
Check out the Father's Day card that will let your dad know how much you care about him and about helping others. For the man who has it all, give a humble little thank you card and a gift that will make a difference in the life of someone who needs it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Working with the Land

God calls us to new and reconciled relationships, and that includes our relationship with the earth. Part of healing our relationship with creation is learning to work with the land instead of against it. That means studying how it works and mimicking it in our own agriculture.

As we study creation we begin to understand God's endless creativity and the great love he has for diversity. This video reminds us that not only is biodiversity beautiful but it is critical for our survival. God's plants and creatures were created with a purpose and a role to fill.

It is also interesting to see that much of what we are trying to do in the tropics also has application in temperate areas and industrialized countries.

Reforesting the Future

Sustain Lane Article
Posted on June 10, 2009
by Scott Sabin
Executive Director
Plant With Purpose
How reforestation efforts can help prevent disasters in areas prone to hurricanes.
June marks the beginning of a period of dread for many communities around the world. It’s the start of hurricane season, and for the rural poor living in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic , this means storms and flash flooding, mudslides and destruction, lost crops and animals, and even death. Already this year, 11 people have died in Haiti from flooding and the season is just beginning.
During a recent trip to the Dominican Republic , I saw evidence of the destruction caused by hurricanes from years past. In May of 2004, the town of Jimani , which lies beneath a steep mountain range, was the victim of a 15 foot deep landslide of mud. Due to intense rainfall and a lack of trees, the wall of debris rapidly stormed down the mountain and wiped out one half of Jimani, killing hundreds of people. After seeing such devastation, it’s hard not to wonder how there can be hope in such a volatile environment.
In response to this question, Galatians 6:9 comes to mind: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
The organization I work for, Plant With Purpose, focuses on healing the root causes of poverty. One of the ways we teach communities how to restore the land is through reforestation efforts. Although we may not see results right away, reforestation is a necessary component in reversing the vicious cycle of poverty in rural areas. Planting trees, especially in places that have been severely deforested, helps tremendously in transforming a community’s quality of life. Trees hold the soil in place, restore the watershed, and provide food – which prevents landslides, provides clean water, and nourishes communities, providing hope in a place that once knew only despair.
Of course, Plant With Purpose also provides immediate relief when a disaster strikes. Last fall, when four deadly tropical storms hit Haiti in a three-week period, we were able to respond by distributing sheep and goats to over 300 families to replace their lost animals and providing bean seeds to replenish crops to nearly 2,000 families in 44 communities. This is already making a huge difference in the lives of people who had lost everything. The animals restore their economic safety net, and the beans give them hope for the future, as they will be able to plant their land and become self-sufficient again.
Additionally, it is equally important to have long-term goals to reestablish erosion control barriers and plant trees to make the next hurricane season less devastating. Since we began working in the Caribbean , farmers have constructed 238,833 linear meters of anti-erosion barriers. The hurricanes of 2008 demonstrated the value of these preventative measures as the farmers experienced fewer landslides than previous years.
Ultimately, the farmers are empowered to keep planting trees and crops not only for food, but to prevent the soil from eroding away. We have seen communities work together to build a better future for their families. As we head into hurricane season, despite the threat of devastating storms, we are encouraged by the small glimmers of hope and change we are blessed to witness and be a part of in this desperate region.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Village Spotlight: Nuxiño, Mexico

Nuxiño, Mexico, with a population of 1,000, is one of the larger communities where Plant With Purpose works. Located 2 hours Northwest of Oaxaca City, this community is a local capital and therefore the area has schools up to the secondary level, a jail, and a health clinic. Although community members have access to more services than many of the farmers in more isolated communities, poverty and environmental degradation are critical problems that threaten the very livelihood of the people of Nuxiño. To the north, the land is dry and barren; to the south, there are thinning pines. Without adequate access to water or proper forest management, the people of Nuxiño will become further entrenched in desperate poverty. Plant With Purpose's life-changing projects in Nuxiño include soil conservation, credit cooperatives, reforestation efforts, community tree nurseries, church partnerships, and handicrafts, and are designed to help farmers care for their land, provide for their families, and build a better future for their children. Partner with Plant With Purpose to plant hope in Nuxiño. Click here to find out how you can help make a difference in the lives of rural farmers in Nuxiño, Mexico.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gardening Update: Tomato Terror

by Aly Lewis

Responsible gardener-mother that I am trying to be, this morning I went out to water my seedling-children only to find that it was near impossible to find the baby spinach and strawberry plants beneath the threatening jungle the tomato plant has exploded into. I fear I’ve become one of those parents who gives in to a petulant child’s tantrums with such frequency that I have created a monster. Namely, a tomato terror.

So all of you green thumbed gardeners, I need your help. Do I need to stake the bullying tomato? Face it away from the sun? What is the plant equivalent of a time out? Will the neglected spinach greens and strawberry bud ever fully integrate into natural Earthbox life?

Any and all advice (of the gardening variety) is welcome.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

United Nations Observations

By Corbyn Small

Who knew there was an 'International No-Tobacco Day?' Yep, you just missed it too, it was May 31. Another international United Nations day that may have passed you right by was World Environment Day last Friday. We celebrated at Plant With Purpose by attending the Encinitas Environment Day fair that took place at beautiful Cottonwood Creek park in North County San Diego. We joined together with like-minded folks to celebrate the efforts of many to keep creation beautiful.

The United Nations has a webpage where you can find out all of the days that the UN observes. Whether you are working for a non-profit and want to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity for publicity or just a passionate individual who wants to share your thoughts with others, click here and you will never have to miss another important day to raise awareness for your cause.

By the way, you probably missed World Oceans Day, which was yesterday, June 8th. Don’t worry, we forgot to celebrate too… next year. Look for blog posts from us in June on upcoming important world observance days in June such as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (catchy, huh?) as well as World Refugee Day.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Plant a tree and transform a life

Scott Sabin, Executive Director of Plant With Purpose, is featured on SDNN.com today. Read his article to find out why planting trees does more than just reduce your carbon footprint:

Scott Sabin: Stop the carbon footprints

While talk of carbon trading is all the buzz these days, I have to wonder, can tree planting have a greater impact than merely soothing our guilty, carbon consuming consciences?

For many of the world’s poorest people, their very survival is contingent on the health of their environment. Of course the same applies to us, but in a much more removed way. It’s easy to forget that our bottled water actually comes from a stream or our prepackaged food may actually have been grown in this thing called soil.

Around the world, small farmers, desperate to feed their families, are forced to cut down large areas of forested land, clearing it for farming or to sell as fuel wood. The resulting erosion and loss of soil fertility leaves entire hillsides desolate and barren, entrenching poor farmers in a vicious cycle of poverty and deforestation.

For these desperate farmers, their environmental impact is literally drying up the streams that sustain them, eroding the hillsides they farm for sustenance, and threatening their very survival. Now. Not in twenty years when more ice caps melt and sea levels rise, but now.

We all know trees play an important part in reducing global warming, absorbing harmful CO2 and releasing life-giving oxygen, but the full benefits of trees go much deeper. Trees’ root systems provide living barriers that prevent soil erosion, replenish the water table, and restore desolate, unproductive lands.

To the affluent city-dweller, these may sound like fringe benefits, but to a rural farmer, completely dependent on the land for survival, a tree can be the difference between life and death, the difference between hope and despair, thriving and barely squeaking by, a better future for their children and a life entrenched in a vicious cycle of extreme poverty and hunger.

When trees are planted alongside crops-a technique called agroforestry-farmers experience all the benefits of trees while also providing nutritious foods and a sustainable income for their families. For example, Floresta works with farmers to utilize agroforestry and sustainable farming techniques, empowering them to overcome poverty, provide for their families, live in dignity, and fulfill their greatest dream of all-leaving the world a better place for their children.

So for me, the excitement of planting trees results when I can see how caring for the environment actually improves the lives of the rural poor: it’s fighting global warming plus reducing poverty plus restoring environments plus transforming lives. All while leaving the world a better place for our own children as well.

For those hungry to reduce their carbon footprint and do something to alleviate poverty in the world, remember that offsetting our own carbon footprint by planting trees can actually transform the life of a rural farmer. Today.

So plant a tree and transform a life.

Friday, June 5, 2009

It takes a village...

The following article by Aly Lewis, Plant With Purpose's Grant Writer, was recently posted on SDNN.com, an online local news network. Enjoy!

Aly Lewis: A watchdog approach may be best

With drought, fires, and global warming, I think it’s no secret that we’re not as disconnected from the environment as bottled water, fast food, and Wii sports would lead us to believe. Nor are we that disconnected from each other.

The San Diego Water Authority recently proposed a water conservation plan in which they distributed Water Conservation Door Hangers to San Diego homes. In an effort to “help neighbors help each other save water,” residents can use these hangers to “tag” the homes of their water wasting neighbors. The public humiliation will hopefully be enough to squelch offending citizens’ water-guzzling habits.

Maybe it’s just me, but somehow I don’t think this will fly in a culture where ‘dependency’ is a bad word and ‘reliance’ is even worse unless it’s coupled with ‘self.’ What’s more, nobody wants to be known as the nosy neighbor. Here in the U.S., we cling to a staunch independence, self-sufficiency, and, in San Diego, an almost religious care-freedom.

But the ever-worsening state of our environment and the ever-increasing need for us to take action force us to re-examine this little thing I’d like to call ‘interconnectedness.’

I work at an organization called Plant With Purpose, an environmental non-profit that works with rural farmers in developing countries to restore their deforested, degraded land to productivity while also spurring economic growth and opportunities. The prideful, credit-claiming part of me wants to boast of all the innovative techniques we’ve taught these farmers; instead, I have to admit it’s these poor, overlooked and often disregarded farmers from the third world who are teaching me a thing or two about caring for the environment.

One of the most important things I’ve learned has been that environmental protection and restoration is a community effort. The farmers we work with live on watersheds—an “area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place,” according to the EPA. Of course we’re a part of a watershed as well, but somehow knowing which watershed my friends and I belong to isn’t as pertinent as knowing which groups I’ve joined on Facebook. Basically, all members of a watershed—human and otherwise—are linked together by their common water source. This interconnectedness has implications for any community attempting to “go green.”

We see it in the field when a farmer at the bottom of a hill labors to construct anti-erosion barriers on his already eroding hillside. His efforts prove futile when the rains come and mud and silt pour down the ravine from his neighbor’s un-protected farm, ruining his crops and destroying his family’s only source of sustenance. Lasting environmental renewal requires collaboration.

We also see this with communities’ efforts to reverse and avoid water contamination. We’ve seen many families begin to use ecologically friendly latrines that keep toxic waste products out of the water table, but it just takes one family using pit latrines to contaminate the water source for an entire region. Not only is the health of the environment at stake; the health of the community is on the line.

I’m not denying the power of the individual or downplaying the heroic steps we’ve seen individual farmers and families take toward environmental renewal and transformation. In fact, they’re almost miraculous. But I would like to recognize the need for environmental stewardship to be communal—both in the developing world and in San Diego.

We blanch at the thought of policing our neighbors’ water usage, but I’m starting to think that perhaps the San Diego Water Authority is onto something with their watchdog approach. If we really want to tackle such pressing environmental issues as drought, fires, and global warming, maybe it’s time we let words like ‘dependency’ and ‘reliance’ out of the doghouse. It takes a village…

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tea Anyone?

By Kate McElhinney Have you ever read a book that’s so good you can’t put it down? You start the first chapter at 10:00 p.m., thinking you’ll read a few pages, and then drift off into a good night’s sleep. But instead, you stay up all night reading, quickly devouring every word until you triumphantly finish the story just as the sun comes up. From the moment I delved into the book Three Cups of Tea, this was the case. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but the story is about a mountain climber named Greg Mortenson who stumbles across a poor village in Pakistan during a failed attempt to climb K2. Appalled at the lack of school buildings in the community, which experiences freezing winds during the winter, Mortenson returns to the United States and begins raising money to build schools for children, particularly girls, in rural parts of the far East. Plant With Purpose has a similar story of altruism. But instead of building schools for girls, we focus on empowering poor rural farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by teaching them sustainable agro-forestry techniques. And in the past 25 years, we have seen tremendous progress as hundreds of hillsides have been reforested, thousands of micro-credit loans have been distributed, and farmers have experienced renewed hope. There are so many good causes in the world. People fighting against AIDS, sex slavery, hunger, and deforestation. What’s your cause?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Learning to Love, In Manageable Chunks

by Aly Lewis Paper or plastic? The haunting question of the millennium symbolizing the sheer volume of choices the average American makes on a given day. If I weren’t an avid supporter of paper over plastic this question would induce a mini-panic attack every time I found myself face-to-face with a checkout boy or girl. In theory. Despite my pleasure at feigning displeasure at all of the choices I have to make on a daily basis, the truth is I love being in control. What really stresses me out or leaves me beleaguered (my new favorite word) are the things I can’t choose. As much as we’d like to charge forward as autonomous, capable human beings, there are a lot of things we can’t control. Where we were born, for example. Who our parents are. Whether or not our retirement fund has decreased by 70% in the past six months—not that mine was anything substantial to begin with. Recently I’ve come to the mini-epiphany that regardless of my circumstance or how I feel about a situation or all of the million and one factors that conspire to render me paralyzed and hopeless, I can still choose love. Maybe you’ve all realized this years ago and I’m just a bit of late bloomer, but I find it incredibly empowering to know that I can choose my response. I can’t choose whether or not the world is fair or children die of starvation in Africa (well, not as directly as I’d like), but I can choose my attitude and my next steps. I wrote earlier about manageable chunks, or small things we can do to make a difference in the world, and still think they’re the best way to bring about lasting change, the best way to learn to choose love. And I guess this isn’t so much of a new epiphany as more of an addendum to my theory that baby steps get the snowball rolling (to mix metaphors). It’s those baby, baby steps of selflessness and compassion that spur us toward becoming more loving, more compassionate, and more fully engaged in our world. The knowledge that I can choose to love and empower and give through my thoughts and actions is becoming exceedingly redemptive for me. I can make a difference little by little. I can learn and grow little by little. I can love little by little. Hound me later if you think I’m being trite, but welcome to my new obsession: “manageable chunks of love.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I thought a wedding was just about two people?

This last week I was a groomsman in a good friend’s wedding back in Arizona where I grew up. Aside from the sweltering heat and the need to blast my air conditioner in my car at every hour of the day to stay cool, the wedding and events surrounding it were spectacular. The bride and groom met in China as counselors for a high school mission trip from which my friend returned posing the question to me, “would you like to see the girl I am going to marry?” It sounds like a line from a cheesy chick flick, but those were, in fact, his exact words and a year and a half later my friend married the girl of his dreams. I am writing about my friend’s wedding because they are a great example of selflessness in a world that can sometimes seem like “it’s all about me.” Always putting others before themselves, my friends chose to highlight a few non-profit organizations by putting frames on each table at the wedding that told about causes that they support (working at a non-profit myself, I cannot express how effective this kind of exposure can be.) Another gesture of goodwill that the newlyweds showed was to purchase TOMS shoes as a groomsmen present to be worn during the reception. TOMS shoes is a non-profit that is dedicated to giving away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes that they sell, “One for One” as they say. The wedding party was anything but small, the bride was able to cut her half down to just eight, which is impressive for a girl coming from a family of 13 kids (no wonder she is selfless too). With a large bridal party comes a large groomsmen party and because of the bride and grooms decision to support TOMS shoes and to represent them at their wedding, 8 children in need of a pair of shoes will have that need met by a great organization. At an event that is meant to focus solely on two individuals, more and more we are starting to see those couples turning the attention toward others in an effort to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. Here at Plant With Purpose, we have received sizeable donations contributed specifically for a wedding so that the bride and groom can tell all of their guests that a tree has been planted in each of their names as a thank you for attending their wedding. I would be curious to know if anyone else has ever seen charitable giving at a wedding and would love it if you would share! Best of luck to my newlywed friends as you continue in a life of love, happiness, and putting others needs before your own. Corbyn Small Outreach Coordinator

Monday, June 1, 2009

Planting Hope in a Season of Gloom: Farmers in Haiti work to mitigate the effects of devastating tropical storms

By Aly Lewis The verdict is in: the sky is drenched in clouds and temperatures have dropped. San Diego’s June gloom has officially begun. But the start of June marks another gloomy season for communities around the world: Hurricane Season. For many of the farmers Plant With Purpose works with in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Season means storms and flash flooding, mudslides and destruction, lost crops and animals, and even death. Already this year, 11 people have died in Haiti from flooding and the season is just beginning. Last fall, four deadly tropical storms hit Haiti in a three-week period. Families lost crops, homes, and hundreds of animals—their food, shelter, and emergency savings. Plant With Purpose was able to respond to these needs by distributing sheep and goats to over 300 families to replace their lost animals and providing bean seeds to replenish crops to nearly 2,000 families in 44 communities. This is already making a huge difference in the lives of people who had lost everything. The animals restore their economic safety net, and the beans give them hope for the future, as they will be able to plant their land and become self-sufficient again. Furthermore, as the animals have offspring, these will be given to additional families. In addition to direct hurricane relief, Plant With Purpose is working with farmers to reestablish erosion control barriers and plant trees to make the next hurricane season less devastating. Already farmers have constructed 238,833 linear meters of anti-erosion barriers. The hurricanes of 2008 demonstrated the value of these preventative measures, and many more people have shown interest in Plant With Purpose’s restorative work. These preventative measures are taking place on in Plant With Purpose’s Trans Border Project on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well. After just two years of working on the Haitian/Dominican border, 77% of farmers have reported a decrease in erosion, making them less vulnerable to devastating mudslides during storms. This year, some taller trees fell down during the storms, but most of the seedlings planted through Plant With Purpose survived. In fact, our Director in Haiti reports a very high survival rate among the 15,000 trees that farmers have planted. Overall, farmers have joined with Plant With Purpose to establish 11 tree nurseries, have planted 15,155 trees, and constructed 8 miles of soil conservation barriers. Because of these new techniques, 56% of farmers have experienced increased crop yields—which means more to eat. This may not sound like much but it is a remarkable change after only two years of participation. In a region where hunger is rampant and the average family eats less than two meals a day, more to eat can be the difference between life and death. Perhaps most significant has been the Haitians’ resiliency and tenacity as communities work together to build a better future for their families. Farmers are learning techniques for better management of their land, and there was less damage to areas where Plant With Purpose farmers have been participating in reforestation and soil conservation efforts. In the midst of devastating storms and a worldwide economic crisis, we are encouraged by the small glimmers of hope and change we are blessed to witness and be a part of in this desperate region. Click here to help farmers in Haiti plant hope instead of gloom.