Trees for Life

Huzzah for the Hoi Polloi!

For the last few years a bunch of us here at keepgoing have taken a weekend in the spring to plant some trees together. It’s been a tremendous experiment conducted with varying degrees of success by a great mix of people, some of whom actually know something about planting trees, and others who are just fun to drink with. But we all get along fine, work reasonably well together, and inspire each other on some level or another. We’re pretty awesome.

So anyway, there’s this organization called Trees for Life, and they also plants trees. They are a nonprofit, are apparently fiscally transparent, and are located in Wichita, Kansas. The trees they plant provide a self-renewing source of food and energy for the recipient community. According to their website, "Since our inception in 1984, more than 2.5 million people have participated in our programs and more than 30 million trees have been planted in developing countries." But there’s much more to these folks than that. They consider themselves a movement, and champion an oddly inspiring combination of empiricism and altruism. This combination creates the identity of Trees for Life, and is evidenced by their global view of community, the way they work together, and the way they serve the world at large.

So This Is Where We Talk About the Projects. The Immensely Interconnected Projects.

Trees for Life believes that the pathway to self-sustenance and empowerment is through the improvement of education, health, and environment. Each of these three elements appears in just about all of the projects they have going. In addition to planting trees, they aim to fight worldwide illiteracy and teach the English language. They educate their beneficiary communities about the planting and care of fruit trees and provide them with the tools they need to be self-sustaining using those trees. The propagation of moringa trees, whose leaves apparently pack the combined mighty nutrients of carrots, oranges, bananas, and milk, is presented as a solution to malnutrition in tropical and subtropical areas. To simultaneously improve health and encourage resource management and conservation, Trees for Life has helped households in Guatemala reduce their prolonged daily smoke exposure and wood consumption caused by cooking and heating with open fires by helping them design and build cook stoves.

Their work extends to the region of the world most affected by the 2005 tsunami, where “Destruction of crops and pollution of the soil with seawater is a big problem.” The solution? Soil regeneration via microbial rather than chemical means. Most distinctively, the Trees for Life Journal (ISSN: 1559-1891) is a scientific journal/publishing/mentoring/message board type deal fostering the research and development of new ways of assisting impoverished communities. The journal is open access and welcomes research reports in a variety of areas, one being the growing and distribution of trees. They solicit clinical research data involving different manipulations of moringa tree parts and by-products. The community at large is encouraged to perform its own research on the benefits of microbial fertilizer and to submit the results to Trees for Life.

Do You Have It In You?

Trees for Life is at once about the exchange of information and the discussion of the value of service in an open forum. The organization expresses a conscientiousness in its actions and calls on the world to do the same. To that end, Trees for Life does more than just plant trees, then make like trees and leavethe members bring their philosophy with them and use it to endorse the pursuit of new ideas as well as the collection and sharing of experimental and anecdotal evidence on the benefits of their ongoing projects. They also try different ways of passing on information, such as animated instructional books, so that literacy is not required to learn or teach a value or skill set.

Their philosophy is something more like a personal challenge that asks you to accept that there are only two ways of approaching life: victim mentality or responsibility. You have to make a choice: which do you most identify with? (Because of course it has to be one or the other, right? Just like there are only two kinds of people in the world?) In any case, there is an expectation that if you take responsibility, then anything you have to offer has value and anything you receive is worth sharing with others. Think of it this way: if something needs to be done, then do it. Meaning you. Yes, you. Or learn how to do it. Or ask someone to do it for you. That is what gets results. Trees for Life is interested in possibilities and in the reality of human connectedness. It’s that simple, really.

Volunteering for Trees for Life full time sounds like joining some kind of commune or cult activity and of course I am for that, too. I say this because you seem to have to either live around Wichita or go live there. Which means you live at Trees for Life and work there and are involved in decision-making and whatever else needs to be done in exchange for room, board, and a stipend that is approximately $60 per month. But they show pictures of everyone who ever volunteered therethey are of all ages and backgrounds and come from all over the United States and the world. When I remarked upon this, somebody said to me, "Maybe they’re Maharishis"or something, and I have no idea what that means because I don’t follow what I think sounds like hippy bullshit. But I’ve seen the family album and no one looks like some kind of commune or hippy freak. They all seem like well-adjusted people who speak straightforwardly and positively about their experience there. Trees for Life also speaks straightforwardly about its volunteering needs and what it expects of volunteers, right down to the Yet To Be Defined position. I love this part, which is taken word for word from the website:

Specific Duties

This position is not defined yet, because we haven’t met you yet. To us, working with a volunteer is an organic process. It is a dance between knowing who you are and where your passion is, and what Trees for Life is currently doing. We will work with you to discern what your strengths are, and areas where you can grow. It is a dance to see how your passion may fit into what Trees for Life is doing, and also to see how you can go furtherto things you haven’t even imagined.

Minimum Requirements

Passion for service, desire to learn and grow, flexibility, ability to work as part of a team, knowledge of self, ability to give and take constructive criticism, sense of personal responsibility, willingness to try new things. Requirements are weighted as 5% Skills, 5% Ability to work with a team, and 90% Attitude.

Whatever You’re Comfortable With. It’s All Good.

Straight up donations of cash are accepted, of course. But if you want to get creative, you can plant trees in someone’s name, as a gift or memorial, or even as a wedding party favor. Just buying a Trees for Life T-shirt mean 10 trees will be planted in your name, and then you get a certificate saying as much (if having such a thing interests a person like you). The T-shirt also comes with a Tree Adventure Kit, which sounds like the best part to me. You can buy those Tree Adventure Kits individually as well, which also means 10 trees are planted in your name; the kit also comes with the aforementioned certificate.

Trees for Life has also accepted needed equipment (computers, copiers), necessary services (electrical, plumbing), and serendipitous items (a bunch of doors) directly from the local community and private sector as donations. As of this writing, the following items are on their wish list: writers for the Global Circle of Knowledge; central A/C ducting; and two 24-inch ceiling fans. In fact, it seems that they will accept just about any amount of help, down to simply spreading the word (in the form of presentations, articles, and writing songs and skits) about Trees for Life and the work they do. There’s even a coloring poster for kids. No amount or method of help seems to be useless to them, which I find particularly endearing.

“You’ll Tell Two People, and Then They’ll Tell Two People, and So On, and So On …”

Trees for Life ostensibly and rightly seem to believe that community extends worldwide. I love that they believe anything is possible. Mostly I love these guys because I believe that anything is possible. I apologize. Really, I do. It’s a most irritating trait, I know. I like them because of my giant/ super/ happy/ fun/ interconnected/ experiment philosophy of life (yeah, I’m like that all of a sudden). And also because I respond to ideals of selfless good deeds/good citizenry/good Samaritanism as soul retribution. Plus, right! I totally know you see it, too! They’re almost like our weirder, far more industrious, do-gooder … um … second cousins twice removed or something. Which everyone knows we all have somewhere in the world (do you know which one you are?).

Images: Trees for Life

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