I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Livingstone Zambia, atop the majestic Victoria Falls. I didn’t go for all the reasons people usually go to visit Livingstone – the falls, the sunset cruises and fancy hotels or the crazy adrenaline activities. In fact I wouldn’t really say I went to visit. This adventure, I went to share. I travelled approximately 2500km from my home in Cape Town to share with both local Zambian communities in Livingstone and international and local volunteers, and they shared with me too.
Trees for Zambia, a mass volunteer tree planting effort, are the brainchild of Greenpop, a local Cape Town non-profit, with a small presence in Livingstone. This was the backbone of our sharing experience. Since 2012, every year, more and more volunteers gather for a 3 week period to plant trees, educate, facilitate, share and learn from each other; in an environment fraught with rapid deforestation and serious poverty, hidden behind the luxury hotels and khaki-clad tourists.
In order to fund my participation in the trip, I was given the opportunity to fundraise, or ‘tree raise’, as each donation that came in went to fund a tree that was planted in Livingstone. When I signed up, I didn’t imagine I would ever reach my goal of raising 80 trees, or the equivalent of 800 dollars. Thanks to 35 different donors from my various life networks and circles, I managed to raise 84 trees before the cut-off date. It was a very nerve wracking yet exciting experience, slowly watching the donations grow, and getting to the point where I knew I would personally be going to Livingstone to help plant all those trees!
And that’s exactly what I did. For the one week I was at the event, we planted 502 trees, across 6 different sites including 2 schools, a police station, a hospital and 2 co-operative farm projects. The trees were mainly fruit trees, the added bonus that these provide food, as well as help offset carbon emissions and green the environment. The most exciting part was the sharing of knowledge. Local volunteers from the various institutions helped us plant the trees, and in the process knowledge was shared both ways and communities were educated, as workshops took place and contracts were signed to ensure ongoing care of the trees.
Of course, along the way, I gained plenty of knowledge too. At the Sons of Thunder co-operative farm, I learned about food forests and permaculture; how to clear land to build vegetable beds, which veggies grow well with each other and what other beneficial plants can be used to boost production and growth. We also planted a spekboom hedge – this tree/shrub is able to absorb exponentially more carbon than any other plant on earth, and the simplicity of planting cuttings from an older hedge, straight into the ground, with a little compost and mulch was quite amazing. By planting the hedge, I felt I could perhaps finally justify some of the carbon emissions that come from my various other adventures driving around in my 4×4…
Apart from knowledge, another important thing shared was pure joy. Planting trees with school children may be a bit chaotic, but it sure is fun, and there is plenty of joy and excitement to go around as the children grasp the concept of why and how to plant trees. It was easy to sense their pride and satisfaction and their own joy was totally contagious.
All in all with a shared drink around the camp fire at sunset, shared knowledge, shared experience, shared joys and a few critters that shared my tent, the somewhat rough and ready conditions of the week camping in the bush, along with the hard work of planting trees and teaching children was ultimately worth far more than I ever imagined.