Today is a happy triumvirate; the 21st March is International Day of Forests, the anniversary of the Mothers of the Forest and our CEO Tracey West’s birthday. Serendipitous coincidence indeed! Or is it…? In any case, we couldn’t have a better day on which to end our first Trees Are The Key Awareness Week!
The United Nations General Assembly declared this date the International Day of Forests in 2012 and it has been celebrated annually ever since. Organisation of activities involving trees and forests is encouraged in all countries on whatever scale – local, national or international. It’s a reminder to get out there to reconnect with and protect our precious trees, everywhere.
In 2018, 21st March marked the date of the inaugural meeting of our women’s empowerment group, the Mothers of the Forest. Founded by Tracey after her first fact-finding trip with her husband Simon (TWFO Managing Director and Chair of Trustees) to Boré, Kenya, 40 women began to meet once a month – they ate a cooked meal together, with clean water to drink, and had a welcome opportunity to talk and just ‘be’, all while sharing knowledge and acquiring new skills. Their first project was learning how to make reusable sanitary pads as most of them had little or no access to affordable sanitary products. They set up a table banking system, allowing them to support each other in various ways. Soon they were able to meet twice a month.
Many of the Mothers had not been able to attend school regularly: some had not been able to attend at all. In early 2019, they were asked if they would like the opportunity to learn new skills – the answer was a resounding yes and so, in February 2019, they began to have two hours of lessons before each meeting, in reading, writing and arithmetic, taught by Michael Jefwa who runs The Gracious Junior Academy, also in Boré. The Mothers took their first exams in the summer of the same year and passed with flying colours. It has made a profound difference to them in many ways – from being able to help their children with homework to reading road signs when travelling or using maths, which enables them to work out money exchanges. This and the table banking system have enabled some of the Mothers to set up and run small businesses – it really has empowered them.
The group is facilitated and guided by the extraordinary Eva Jefa, a woman whose drive, determination and enthusiasm knows no bounds. She has coordinated and organised many projects. She has also undertaken training in permaculture and run training for the Mothers and other local people, in order to disseminate the knowledge. The Mothers had worked hard to create a communal permaculture garden which unfortunately was flooded and destroyed when the rains came. This has been recreated at Kundeni Primary School where it is starting to yield crops and the hope is to create another communal garden for the local people to share. After lockdown ends, the Mothers will also be helping other schools to develop their own gardens too, which will increase both food security and biodiversity.
At Christmas, we were able to give each Mother a heavy-duty wheelbarrow – it may seem an odd present, but it will make transporting all sorts of things much easier, not least water. Many of the Mothers still have to walk to the river and return with a twenty litre jerrican balanced on their heads. Needless to say, musculo-skeletal problems are a frequent issue! Hopefully less so now!
Women are the backbone of the tree-planting community in Kenya – they work in the nurseries tending the saplings and do a great deal of the planting. They are strong and courageous in the face of unimaginably difficult circumstances and without them, we couldn’t do what we do. When the pandemic struck and Kenya went into lockdown, the Mothers were no longer able to meet, of course, and that is still the case. But they continue to plant trees on their shambas (homesteads) and look forward to the day that they can get together again. We wish them the happiest of anniversaries!
So to our CEO, Tracey, who is undoubtedly the Mother of The Word Forest Organisation. Without her tenacity, energy, dedication and selflessness, we most certainly would not be where we are today. Radiating positive energy and with an endless stream of ideas, she is like a firework lighting up the sky. Happy Birthday, Tracey – we hope that all the love you pour out comes back to you in abundance. We (and the planet) thank you.
To every one of you reading this: we wish you a happy International Day of Forests. Thank you for your support and for joining in our Trees Are The Key Awareness Week. We hope you enjoyed it!
The Whole Team