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3/22/09 Tree Planting!

Friday was the Spring (Vernal) Equinox, and Saturday was the "International Day of Trees". Here in Berberville, it's been a tree-riffic weekend. :)

I've spent most of the past week preparing for this weekend's tree planting. My sitemate "Fatima" and I have met with (and requested participation from) nearly every official and influential citizen in our village: the caid, the khalifa, the moqaddim, the president of the commune (the local legislature), the principal of the junior high and high school, the principal of the three local elementary schools, the president of the parent-teacher association, the president and treasurer of Berberville's biggest NGO, the local representative of the province's biggest NGO, the police chief, and teachers from each of the five schools in the region. We've been working for months with my counterpart, the engineer and director of the nearby national park, to supply and transport the trees from their nursery, about 6 hours to the northeast, into our village. And it worked! This weekend, we planted 500 trees and hosted a "Tree Summit" attended by 16 men (including the caid, khalifa, and most of the other men previously listed), 3 women (all teachers), 131 boys, and 66 girls. That's 200 people out of a village of 1500 or so. :D

Here it is: That was the indoor part of the tree-planting. It was scheduled for Saturday at 2:00, and I'd anticipated it would run 30-45 minutes. For a variety of reasons, it ended up starting at 3:00, and lasting about two hours. At 5, we headed out to Plant Some Trees. Fortunately, we'd done the legwork in advance...

The work started on Sunday, when we went to the junior high/high school campus (the two schools share a campus). We measured the dimensions of the school, decided where we'd put the trees, and figured how many we could place there. Then, on Tuesday, we took spray paint and marked the locations.

Monday and Tuesday, we met with the Caid, the Khalifa, the president of the PTA, and the president of the Commune. It took two meetings apiece, but we ended up getting tools - ten picks and ten shovels - donated by the Commune. I wasn't sure what the picks would be needed for, but I soon learned. Turns out that if you break up the soil with a pick, shoveling it out of the way is eeeeeasy. If you try to dig a hole in this abused, eroded, snow-buried, sun-baked soil with just a shovel, it's frustrating and very nearly impossible.

Armed with picks and shovels, we returned to the campus on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to dig the holes. We attracted quite a crowd, most of whom were happy to help out. :) (In the background, you can see the edge of a mural that we painted with our club students a few weekends ago.)

This shows "Fatima" and the principal of the junior high/high school, breaking up soil and preparing tree-holes. SouqTown's Chief Engineer for the High Commissariat on Water and Forestry and the Fight against Desertification - the official title of my counterpart - had advised that we wanted holes to be about a 50 cm across and about 50 cm deep. So we dug in. (Pun intended.)

Here I am, posing with two of our helpers, students from the junior high. There was a constantly changing flow of students, some of whom helped for a few minutes, some for hours. Due to the never-ending flux, I don't have a good headcount for how many students helped. I do know that we had girls, boys, young men, and young women. I counted as many as 20 at one time, and think it's fair to say that, between Wednesday and Saturday, at least 100, and probably as many as half of the 500 students on campus, swung a pick or hefted a shovel at least once. :D

Water and Forestry staffers drove the trees up on Thursday. They left half at the campus, and put the other half in Fatima's front hall. Saturday morning, we brought Berberville's elementary school their trees. We'd offered them as many as 100, but they had places for 64. Above, you can see three of the dozens of children and parents who showed up to dig the holes and plant the trees. The tree in question is tiny - barely a sprout - but we're hoping that the students will provide the TLC to encourage its growth into a big, strong Aleppo Pine tree.

Here are a high school teacher, a PCV ("Lahcen"), the principal of the elementary school, my 9-year-old host brother, and another elementary student, all collaborating to plant a tiny Cypress.

Here's a tiny cypress already showing signs of love. Without prompting, students watered it and made a protective ring of stones to ensure that it's not accidentally stepped on. :)

We planted about 300 trees on Saturday, all at local schools. On Sunday, the other 200 were planted, at other schools and here, at the caidat (aka the Caid's administrative compound). The big cypress trees were there already; the brown circles with nearly-invisible green sprigs at their center are the newly planted trees.

All in all, I'm completely thrilled with how well this went. We had help from six Peace Corps Volunteers, dozens of teachers, parents, and other Berberville citizens, and hundreds of kids. Over 200 people showed up for Water & Forestry presentations on the virtues of environmentalism in general and trees in particular, and many, many more helped to implant hundreds of trees in Berberville.

The continuing concern, of course, is caring for these tiny trees. My hope is that they will be a tangible contribution to Berberville's ongoing formal and informal environmental education. I love the idea of students protecting and watering these fledgling saplings, ultimately creating a forest of their very own. :D


  1. What a lot of work! Thanks for the wonderful pictures and information. Several questions come to thought. You showed a picture of a group inside, hearing about the project. What language was used? French? Tam? Dariji?
    How did you decide on cypress trees instead of fruit trees? Do they grow quickly, or are they native to the area, or good for the soil? Again, thanks for all that you are doing.

  2. Thanks for the comment! :)

    The meeting was conducted in Darija. Tam is never used for anything official, and French is only spoken fluently by the college-educated, which the schoolkids obviously aren't.

    We planted three species, actually, Aleppo Pines, Cypress, and "Chene Vert", which is some kind of Elm. They were selected by the Water & Forestry folks, from their high-altitude nursery. I'm not sure how fast they grow; it'll be interesting to monitor.

    Fruit trees are sold in souq, but are not available for free, like Water & Forestry trees are. For some tree plantings, PCVs make a deal with local people: so many fruit trees (which are valued for their produce) for so many forestry trees. As in, we'll give you 2 fruit trees if you'll also water and nurture 5 forestry trees, or something along those lines.

    The risk in Berberville is the sheep and goats. They eat...everything. So we planted inside the walled courtyards of school buildings and other official spaces, where the sheep aren't allowed to go, and therefore we didn't have to offer up any fruit trees.

    Thanks for your questions! :)


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