“It’s the little things that citizens do, that will make all the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”
Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011) is quoted with this wise adage. Maathai was a Kenyan environmental activist and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a part of a long list of women around the world who have created a deep and lasting impact through their conservation, education, community-organising and activism.
One such home-grown story of regeneration and community and culture-building is Tree Rites. Tree Rites is a NSW-based not-for-profit that facilitates the planting of tiny forests to celebrate rites of passage such as births, deaths, marriages and birthdays. Tree Rites was founded by landscape architect Barbara Schaffer who has dedicated her career to green infrastructure. Schaffer describes the organisation as "an attempt to reweave ritual into relationships between humans and nature”. You can find out more about Tree Rites and its sister project the Forest of Dreams here.
Known for its ancient ruins and temples and the vast Thar desert, the Indian state of Rajasthan is less known for its forests and female empowerment. And yet that is exactly what one village is all about. The village is called Piplantri and each time a girl is born, 111 trees are planted. The community ensures these trees survive and thrive as the girls grow up. This initiative is tackling two major social issues – empowerment of the girl child and afforestation. It has helped increase green cover – over the last six years, the village has planted over a quarter million trees.
“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope. We also secure the future for our children.” Another Wangari Maathai quote that speaks to our next inspirational story. Dr Grey Coupland is a Perth ecologist and leads Pocket Forest WA which focuses on cultivating Miyawaki forests in the urban landscape. The Miyawaki method mimics the way a forest would recolonise itself if humans stepped away. Only native species that would occur naturally in that area without humans, given the specific climate condition, are planted.
Coupland sees bringing the ideas of environmental awareness and stewardship to the next generation as important work. Pocket Forest WA is a dedicated STEM outreach program that works in schools and empowers students to take tangible environmental action while also providing them with practical and theoretical STEM learnings. The students act as citizen scientists under the program and develop skills for regeneration. Miyawaki forests are a great way of introducing nature into schools and the community, and to enable children and the community to feel that they can make a difference.
In addition to conservation, regeneration, and passing vital skills onto the next generation, the thread throughout all of these stories is one of collaboration and community. Whether the reason for tree planting or the instigators of it, women are playing a large and growing role in not only regeneration, but in leadership, education and building culture and community.