Tending the Trees

Date posted: Thursday 26 April 2018

"Catch! calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
It's a Truffula Seed.
It's the last one of all!
You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back."
-Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Climbing up the final hill to Iringa Town from the junction with the TanZam highway and the village of Ipogolo, you are able to catch a wide view of the surrounding valley and hillsides. For me, at least, it is always breathtaking and the source of one of my strongest sense memories of the region - barren hillsides strewn with house-sized boulders, stunningly beautiful in its own tree-less way.
Driving south from Iringa, along the mud roads to Bomalang'ombe, Idete, and Ipalamwa can be a harrowing ordeal. There are ruts and bumps to navigate, village buses careening around corners on their way to town, and then there are the timber trucks. Bearing loads that are likely well beyond the suggested capacity, they are stacked high with freshly hewn planks that were hand-milled locally in small clearings where forest meets road. Cut down and replanted, they are a renewable resource and income generator for individual landholders and communities alike.
In homes and in schools, soot covers the walls of courtyards and kitchens. Passing outside are young men riding bicycles with overstuffed bags of charcoal (made of burned wood) and bundles of sticks. In places where electricity and cooking gas don't exist or are expensive novelties, trees feed the fires that heat pots of ugali and beans that, in turn, feed millions. Left unchecked, these necessary daily activities can unfortunately lead to widespread deforestation and environmental degradation.
Walking out of the apartment I stay in, I see the leaves of a tree in the housing compound shaking on an otherwise still and quiet afternoon. I pause and watch as, one by one, mangoes start landing on the ground. Moments later, a pair of feet emerges from the branches as a neighbor kid hops down, picks up the fruit, and heads home with a snack.
Providers of so much to so many, and sadly all too easy to overlook, trees deserve our attention and care.
Since 2011, through the Millions of Trees project, the people of the Saint Paul Area Synod and Iringa Diocese have worked together to plant nearly 200,000 seedlings a year across the Iringa Region. Mostly pine and eucalyptus so far, beginning in 2018 they will add another 100,000 avocado seedlings to the annual mix to provide another source of food and income. Through this program, seedlings are given without charge to DIRA secondary schools, congregations, and leaders who are then responsible for their care. In addition to improving the environment, when trees are harvested the proceeds are used to replant twice as many trees and provide income to our companions. The survival rate of seedlings so far has been over 95% and demand for more remains strong.
Speaking for the trees, this week between Earth Day and Arbor Day, the Millions of Trees project leaders ask for your prayers in their ongoing efforts to make planet Earth a bit more green, nutrition in Iringa a bit better, and our friends there a bit more prosperous. To learn more about the project or how you might contribute to the cause, contact Pastor Kent Claussen-Gubrud at pastor.kent@christusvictor.org or Dr. Dave Klevan at david.h.klevan@healthpartners.com.
Here's to the trees,
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop