Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Pop of Green

Several months ago I made a delightful new friend, KAE, who grew up in Cape Town. Over a long dinner I heard about her childhood and recent visit home. She spoke in detail of a day spent planting trees for a friend's organization called Greenpop. When I was in the planning stages of my trip she put me in contact with two friends and suggested a day volunteering. To underscore how small the world is, KAE's friend who started the organization, Misha, is also a close friend of L's colleague, Ian. In fact, several years ago the guys took a six month road trip to London. Ian, who just left his job, asked in lieu of a going away gift for a donation to Greenpop. It seemed bizarrely coincidental when Ian asked us if planting trees was something we would want to do. It was obvious, L and I were destined to get our hands in the dirt in Cape Town.
Even though I had heard about Greenpop's initiative I didn't really understand it until we drove to Heideveld Secondary School in Woodstock with 30 plants, six of them donated in Ian's name, mulch, fertilizer, spades, and tubing. As we turned into the neighborhood the landscape turned bleak and barren. The huge disparity between the leafy privileged areas and desolate under-privilege areas was disconcerting. I wondered if thirty trees could make a difference in this community littered with trash and stripped of nature and pride. In the auditorium, we were greeted by 100 well behaved 16 year old students. Several of them rose to the podium and shared poems and essays about trees and what this initiative meant to them. I was moved, and my concern they would think this effort trivial, dissipated. Misha had their full attention when he spoke about reforestation, and the importance of coming together to replant under-greened communities. Since the social enterprise started 18 months ago, over 9000 trees have been planted. The best part of the day was interacting with the children. After Misha demonstrated how to properly plant and care for the trees, we split into teams of five and started mixing nutrients in the sandy soil infested with broken glass and trash. At first my group was shy, whispering to each other in Africaans, but they become more extroverted as the day progressed. After each planting, the tree was named for one of the students and we celebrated with enthusiastic high fives. When the recess bell rang their classmates hovered, one questioned if it was arbor day and another looked me in the eye and said, "It's just going to die." i vehemently disagreed. Back in the auditorium for a debriefing one of the students asked when they could get more trees. Greenpop will regularly monitor the trees and if in six months they're healthy and thriving, another day will be scheduled.

The experience was a gift, a day to interact, get dirty and reflect. I never thought about life without trees, a subject I photograph often, a place I go to seek shade, a source of fruit in my backyard. A life void of trees is a life unfathomable just like the atrocities suffered in this country.

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