Sunday, October 04, 2009

Planting Trees, Growing Children - the Serafin Ramirez story

Bolivia, 2009

Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in Latin America, especially in the isolated mountain villages like Jatun Pampa. There, life is sustainable when good weather grows crops to feed families, but when the weather is disastrous, families are destitute.

Serafin Ramirez is a 47-year-old Bolivian with a wife and eight children. He is a skilled, gifted leader and tenacious about seeking solutions - solutions not only for himself and his community of Jatun Pampa, but for his children as well.

He knew something had to change. Once, the rain and sun provided good growth of crops and residents maintained their families on crop income. But lately, they were besieged with drought, and then flooding. They had little rain, new growth dried up, there was ice in the summer, and strong winds blew where trees once stood. It was the result of natural disasters, the need for firewood and climate change.

Making the Connection
Residents agreed it was a problem, but felt alone or resigned to their struggle. So Serafin traveled to Wayrapata, Bolivia, where Outreach International was working with another group. Serafin was persistent in requesting a facilitator come to his community and soon after, Outreach International was in Jatun Pampa.

“Trees neutralize the strong winds,” Serafin explained to Marcelina, the facilitator. “They hold the ground from erosion. We call the trees the lungs of the earth because they restore and replenish it. And when the ground is not eroded, we can also plant gardens.”

Through the process of authentic participation, a community group was organized of 16 families. They researched available services and resources, and acquired small trees from DESEC, a Bolivian forestry organization. But the trees were delivered to the valley and had to be transported by donkeys because the mountain road was not maintained. It was difficult work, and after planting the tiny saplings, many were eaten by animals.

So the community group petitioned the government for a better road and, once built, 9000 pine trees were delivered to the top of the mountain and 18 acres of the Jatun Pampa village were reforested with new trees.

Families then sought seeds for vegetables and apple trees for their gardens.

Now, after only a year, the trees have stopped erosion down the mountain, helping even the vegetable gardens to succeed. There is a surplus beyond feeding families, and vegetables are sold in nearby communities.

The greatest growth
But the greatest outcome of planting the trees has been on the children.

“I planted a pine tree with my children,” one mother says. “And I believe they will continue planting trees when they are older.”

“My children take the initiative to care for our trees. They are the first ones motivated to give new ideas, too,” another says.

“When I was a child, we didn’t have gardens and I didn’t know how to plant,” a proud mother says, “But my son Rodrigo is eating fresh vegetables and already knows how to plant. It is a good thing.”

And Serafin, who helped to initiate the transformation in his village? He just smiles and watches his own children watering the trees.

Outreach International upholds environmental sustainability along with the sustainability of communities and families. Jatun Pampa is just one of many communities in Bolivia, and one of thousands throughout the world where nurturing the environment is growing hand-in-hand with nurturing communities.

The Serafin Ramirez Story