Planting trees with Greenpop

Photo by Bjorn Johannssen

If you’re thinking of volunteering, why not plant trees with Greenpop?

Greenpop is a relatively new organisation whose mission is to plant trees in schools, communities and deforested areas in sub-Saharan Africa. They are based in Cape Town, but are expanding their efforts with an upcoming tree-planting mission to Zambia.

Urbanisation in the Western Cape has destroyed much of the fragile indigenous flora, resulting in widespread soil erosion. In addition, the spread of alien trees and plants have caused water tables to fall and reduced biodiversity. By planting indigenous trees and teaching people about their true value, Greenpop is addressing some of these problems in a fun and engaging way.

Planting trees at Heathfield Primary

I joined Greenpop as one of their volunteers at a tree planting day at Heathfield Primary School. The volunteers were a mixed group of about 12 men and women; about half of us were Capetonian and the other half were foreign (mainly German), and everyone was friendly and enthusiastic.

Although Heathfield Primary’s catchment area is a traditionally middle-income suburb, the majority of the children who attend Heathfield come from poorer areas much further away. Though there were a few trees bordering the sandy school fields, they were alien species and the ground underneath them was barren.

We were welcomed by the headmaster when we arrived, and the Greenpop staff quickly set us to work mixing compost, cutting tree stakes, and making tree ties to secure the young trees to the stakes and protect against the wind. Misha Teasdale (the first of the three founders of Greenpop) gave the children and the volunteers a short talk on trees and showed us how to plant them. He was really informative and managed to meet the children at their level, yet also stretch them with new words and ideas. It gave me real joy to see how enthusiastic the kids were; they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

Besides mentioning the usual benefits of trees, Misha also explained about the pride that trees and green areas instil in people. This is such a crucial benefit, particularly to a city such as Cape Town. We’re only beginning to recover from deep socio-economic divisions, where green areas are a characteristic of rich areas, and barren areas a glaring sign of poverty. Planting trees in poorer areas could go some way in bridging this inequality, and increase the community’s sense of pride and dignity.

Highly recommended volunteering experience

I would highly recommend volunteering with Greenpop. They strike a wonderful balance between organised and relaxed, informative and fun. Real interventions for sustainability address the social side as much as the ecological, and Greenpop successfully integrates the two as they plant trees, educate kids, and help to instil community pride. This makes the volunteer experience all the richer and more satisfying. I feel as if I have not only worked towards offsetting deforestation, but have helped others to do the same, now and in the future.

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For more on Greenpop, visit www.greenpop.org                                                                                                           Published on Simply Green’s blog in June 2012

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