Indulge me a little. This summer was full of life-changing experiences for me, and many of the adventures directly relate to your classroom. And before I continue, yeah, that’s a lemur on my shoulder.
I need to share what I lessons I learned with a cast of dedicated professionals who want the best for every student. Even though school has begun, and many assigned the “How I Spent My Summer Essay,” please allow me to share mine.
How I Spent My Summer by Pattie
My husband I travelled to Madagascar this summer to visit the reforestation projects that we have sponsored for the last eight years. Although we sponsor sites in Ethiopia and Haiti with Eden Reforestation, they invited us to join them on their summer filming in Madagascar. We would visit the 60 million mangroves planted and thriving on the coast in the village of Mahabama and the many nurseries of dry deciduous ready to plant inland on the island.
MADAGASCAR! My mind was filled with adventure of lemurs, exotic foods and new sights, but nothing prepared me for the adventure we had and the wonderful people we met. Nothing.
A little background on Madagascar. It is an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, believed to have broken off of India during the great Continental Drift. In 1883 the French made Madagascar a part of their territories, and from 1895-1925, the island lost 70% of their forests under French rule. This was largely due to the farming of coffee and the slash-and-burn for agriculture. All of this has led to desertification, water resource degradation, and immense soil erosion that impacts the people of Madagascar plus the global environment. Madagascar could be saved, and it was so simple: plant trees.
Our adventure began in Antananarivo over breakfast where my husband and I met our travelling companions: one tall Texan (of course) and two energetic Canadians. The young men were relevant, adventurous, and committed to reforestation. The Texan, Chris, was an experienced photographer who had just returned from Nepal, and he was our video man for the expedition, equipped with a drone and more camera equipment than Best Buy. The two Canadians, Kalen and Stephen, were entrepreneurs from Saskatchewan who founded a t-shirt company called tentree and whose business supplied the Eden Reforestation site in Madagascar with $20,000 a month for trees. Since trees cost 10 cents to plant, that is quite a few trees making them the TOMS of the environment!
Deforestation of the mangroves on the coasts of the island is a serious environmental issue and this is because mangroves have the greatest impact on cleaning our carbon emissions from the air. Plus, the mangroves massive root system holds the soil in place, ending erosion. Ending erosion creates an environment for fish, shrimp and fowl to thrive providing a sustainable lifestyle for people of the island. And that is what we were there to observe, but I learned so much more.
Tramping through reforestation sites lush with mangroves planted by the people of Madagascar through Eden, I was reminded again and again that four years ago, this was a sandy wasteland, useless to the people and harmful to the environment. My excitement for the transformation was matched by the young men, especially Stephen and Kalen. I wondered what made those men so excited about something that was happening light years away from their office in Saskatchewan? So I decided to sit them down and find out, and although their stories of involvement and interest are completely different, they intersect, creating change in their lives, our lives, and the environment of Madagascar and the world.
Stephen’s Story: His name was Mr. Gibbons, and he taught first grade in Toronto, Canada. His project for his students their first year in school was to raise their every own African violet. So each student learned to care and nurture a plant that was all theirs. They also learned the importance of the environment, and were taught how to treat a the environment with respect. Sitting them down, his passion and common-sense approach taught them simple things such as the importance of a tree. He started an after-school horticultural club for first graders where they experienced first-hand the care and feeding of a plant. He grounded them in the importance of respect for the environment, mentoring them on the playground and in the classroom. He was Stephen’s first grade teacher, and Stephen’s mother still has the African violet thriving in her home. At an early age, from a wise teacher, Stephan learned to care and protect the environment.
Kalen, Stephan’s cousin, saw the need to create an on-line retail shop that protected the environment. Out on one of his adventures in the wild, he realized that there were few organizations that were actively protecting the environment he played in. He left a job with the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street, and began creating tentree, an on-line retail shop that supports the environment by planting trees. For every shirt a customer buys, ten trees are planted in re-forestation areas all over the world. Stephan saw this potential to reforest parts of the world, left his job in Toronto, flew to Saskatchewan and followed his cousins and friends in this enterprise that would require personal sacrifice to begin. They began selling cars, moving back with parents, liquidating assets to make it happen.
And it did!
- Today they have over 12 full-time employees.
- They support over 12 reforestation sites around the world, contributing $20,000 a month to the ones in Madagascar.
- This contribution allows villagers to have jobs as planters and as guards;
- It allows the village to hire their own teacher for their children from Mahajanga.
- Families are protected from human trafficking because they have jobs, and they are protected from loan sharks that prey on the poor.
- Their goal is to protect the world they play in and give everyone an opportunity to be involved in reforestation by buying their shirts.
- They reforest in India, Ethiopia, Canada, Malawi and on the list goes!
My trip to Madagascar was about more than playing with lemurs and planting mangroves: it was about meeting extraordinary young men who were touched by a wise teacher and the result changed their lives, the lives of children of the village, and our environment. I want this to be a story I can write about all professionals as they create lessons that move the curricular standards into the a world and create change!
Hey, you can do it!