Monday, June 06, 2016

Plant A Sapling, Grow A Tree

The Kochi-based 'Tree For Life' aims to bring in a culture of growing trees, in a bid to reduce environmental damage

Photo: (From left): Manju Mathew, Rose Paul, Bobby Antony and Sumi Thomas. Pic by Albin Mathew  
By Shevlin Sebastian

At the Ted Talks at Vancouver, in February, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said, “72 per cent of our country is under forest cover. And all that forest is pristine. That is why we are one of the few remaining global bio-diversity hotspots in the world. Out of 200 countries, we are the only one that is carbon-neutral. Through our Green Bhutan movement, we are planting trees throughout the country.”
In Kochi, two months later, restaurateur Manju Mathew, 40, saw the video on her Whatsapp. It created a jolt within her. Another trigger was an article in 'The New Indian Express' in late April. Reporters measured temperatures in areas where there are trees, as well as no-tree areas and published the results.
The temperature difference between the two was as high as two degrees,” says Manju. “I started wondering, 'All of us are complaining about the heat, but what are we doing to reduce it? Then I realised that the easiest way is to plant trees, just like the Bhutanese Prime Minister said.”
The final trigger was a news item which showed the number of trees per person globally. While Canada led the way, with 8953 trees per person, the US has 716, China, 102, and India a measly 28. “On the world stage, we were nowhere,” says Manju. “That proved to be the tipping point.”
And thus was born the group, 'Tree For Life'. The core group, apart from Manju, consists of Sumi Thomas, Rose Paul and Bobby Antony.
Altogether, there are about 45 women, consisting of homemakers, businesswomen, teachers, architects and interior designers,” says Manju. “It is a vibrant and multi-faceted group.”
But the group wanted to do things differently. “Many people get into a tree-planting exercise, for one day, like on World Environment day, and then forget about it,” says Sumi. “But we decided that we would plant a limited number of saplings, but ensure that it was looked after, so that it became a tree. Nurturing is a must.”
So they have got in touch with schools, colleges, and community groups.

One such group is the Giri Nagar Ladies Club. The Tree for Life held a meeting with the club members. In the end, the latter said they were interested. “About 45 saplings have been planted in various backyards,” says Rose.
As for the saplings, they have been sourced from the State Social Forestry department. “They gave us a list of ten saplings that can be used,” says Rose. These included guava, sapota and neem trees.
And when Tree for Life spread the word, through social media and mobile calls, the members got a shock. “In less than two days, there were 300 orders,” says Manju. “I believe this idea has struck a chord among people. Everyone is deeply worried about environmental destruction.” A couple of banks, as well as the Women's Rotary Club Milan have stepped forward to provide sponsorship.
Meanwhile, the Tree for Life will take the assistance of children to plant the saplings. “We want the citizens of tomorrow to know the importance of trees, and understand the need to nurture the environment,” says Manju.
In the second phase, the group has plans to develop urban forests. “If we are given a space, just large enough to park six cars, we will be able to grow several plants andtrees,” says Manju. “That will help bring down the temperature. Birds will get attracted. These areas will serve as hubs where clean air and oxygen are produced. That is the beauty of trees.”
For Manju, and for most members of the group, the tree is a symbol of womanhood. “A tree is like a mother,” says Sumi. “It houses birds and provides shade. The tree is strong, but when there are strong winds or thunderstorms, it will bend and become flexible. Just like a woman.”
And Manju is optimistic that once the message reaches far and wide, this could become a national movement. “I am hoping we will make a difference in the entire country,” she says. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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