One Tree, Two Tree, A Million Trees

A rampant worldwide issue, deforestation is a particular problem in rural and impoverished Central America, particularly Guatemala. Following a decades long civil war, often backed by US interests with a Cold War fever, and culminating with reports of upwards of 200,000 indigenous Mayans being killed, things are slow to turn around. Seeking safe ground often pushed populations farther and farther up into the hills, and mountains, to eek out a subsistence living on the steep slopes. Trees were felled for fuel and to clear ground for crops. Surviving on a dollar a day puts added pressure on getting the most out of the land you work; you must first take care of your family before you can concern yourself with the future. Reports have indicated that 17% of Guatemala’s forests were felled in a 15 year period between 1990 and 2005.

Guatemala sits in a narrow strip of land between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans making it a frequent target of hurricanes. When rains batter these fragile mountainsides the land sloughs away destroying roads, communities, and livelihoods. I was informed it is impossible for them to plan a Tour of Guatemala bike race (following the European icons, or others in Latin America) due to the regular landslides. Road building has also been a prime source of corruption resulting in poorly constructed roads that deteriorate quickly. Guatemala is on a steady rate of reversal following the end of the civil war in 1996. And, where there is a will, a problem, and a way, someone steps in to turn things around.

Such is the case with the reforestation work at Chico Mendes, headed by Armando, just up the road from Quetzaltenando in Pachaj. Lining the river and road along the 20 minute bus ride up to his farm are tall and mature trees that his organization planted. This year they have nurtured 50,000 trees up from seedlings and are one step away from recovering a hillside; they need May to bring the rains. The large planting efforts become a huge community event, connecting the people to their forests. Seedlings have been started for a round of 150,000 trees next year. Once his idea is planted in the minds of Guatemalans, and the successes are witnessed first hand, this project will continue to grow exponentially. What is starting in the highlands near Xela, will spread out across the sweeping hills and valleys of Guatemala.

Baby trees
Baby trees

Bringing the trees up to saplings requires tedious hours of watering, monitoring, and moving. Most of which is supplied by a flow of eager volunteers from Xela’s nearby language schools, and is where I come into the picture. Idle time in Xela has gotten the best of me, but I was never willing to commit to a volunteer position for fear I would have to back out early and get back on the road. I saw a few fellow students come into the school one afternoon tired, dirty, and sun-burnt – my ideal state. Last week I tagged along and contributed to a future life for a few thousand trees; very rewarding work. The sun at this altitude is abusive, and my body has lost its familiarity. The dust and dirt of the roads and the farms form spindrift in the wind, and my lungs have lost their filter. Grit and grime on the hands rub my palms raw and dry. Soon, little green trees will cover a lost and abandoned hill-side providing needed stability for the ground, increase the local water supply, provide local and renewable resources, and bit by bit taking in a little of the pungent polluted air and giving back a bit of fresh oxygen. A real win-win situation. I was let loose to play outside in the dirt under the screaming sun, and Armando was able to further along his vision for a reforested Guatemala.

One Response to “One Tree, Two Tree, A Million Trees”

  1. Nathan Haley says:

    Strange thing… I was at Armandos house a few days ago! Beautiful big dog. We’re just setting up a new hike with them at the moment. Come and do a hike with us mate… its easier than planting trees.

Leave a Reply