Church partners with Kenyan Forest Service in ambitious project to plant and grow over a million trees.
The initial challenge for a tree-planting project in Nairobi was, as Rev Nthenge put it in an interview, that “Nairobi is not a place where you plant trees; the homes are so close together that even when you give people trees to go and plant, most of them will take them to the rural homes to go and plant them there.”
Through engagement with the Kenyan Forest Service, they identified the Ngong Road Forest in Mutuini as a suitable site for planting. The forest has suffered from encroachment for house-building and for fuel: “the city is growing into the forest; people have been getting homes closer and closer into the forest. Where we have planted trees, literally, you find places where the trees were actually cut. So we are planting next to dead trees.”
So, “The Kenya Forest Service gave us a small piece of the Forest and the community was mobilised to plant 2,000 trees in one section.” That was three years ago. For the last three years the project has been responsible for caring for those trees – weeding them and watering them where necessary. They are now just about ready for handing over to the Forest Service for their ongoing maintenance.
And it didn’t stop there: “Once they saw that we were doing good, they gave us another spot on the other side of Mutuini. And there we planted 3,000 Trees.”
Of course, the job doesn’t end with planting. Every six weeks the trees need maintenance – weeding and watering. To do this “we involve the priests who mobilise the young people.”
Which brings us to the involvement of the community, because without the community there would be no project and no trees. Participants range from the young to the very old: “They just came out and decided that this place is going to be ours as much as it is for the church. So they came with their children, some of them as old as 70 to 80 years. They just wanted to come and inspire the young people who had come in big numbers.”
And the young people – this was an opportunity to help them. There is a need for water, so “we give them work to look for the water. We send them the money through the pastor, and they go into the forest, do some work and get some money so that they can go and help to feed their families.”
Partnerships have been essential to the success of this project. We have seen how the project has partnered with the Forest Service and the local community. In addition, there are now Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with Netfund (a government environmental organization) which helps with resources and with Equity Bank, which provides seedlings so the project doesn’t need to buy them.
And then there is the Church itself. The National Steering Committee of the Green Anglican Movement is made up of experts who help in planning and design. Church Departments like the Mothers’ Union and the Kenya Anglican Men’s Association (KAMA) have mobilized their members to participate. And the Anglican Students’ Fellowship (ASF) and the Kenya Anglican Youth Organisation (KAYO) “have continued to rally members and the youth, teens, and children to join us in our activities at the national and diocesan Levels”.
And there is another aspect to the role of the church. Its participation in this project confers a certain protection on the trees we plant: “If we come up with sacred spaces within the forests, if the government would ever have some selfish interest of going into tree cutting, we can always say that the church is there and you respect the church. So that is another way in which the church stamps its authority on that space of forestry.”
Sharing the word of God
Rev Nthenge was particularly moving when he spoke of how the project facilitates pastoral work:
“Imagine this: you have young people who have come out with you from church, who have come to participate in the exercise. And there is no altar to separate you from them. There are no seats designated for the laity and clergy. We are all working on the ground; we all have our hands dirty and muddy. And we are all sweating.
I think that level of vulnerability and that level of exposure to one another inspires stories; because you cannot be working in a small area for more than four or five hours and you don’t get to start to talk about things. So you get to pick up pastoral issues; you get to encourage somebody; you get to share with people the word of God.
People have been hurt for many years, but they never found a way to communicate to the church or through the church. And this becomes a point of breakthrough for them, as they are all tired, and the sun is so hot on their back, and they have to finish the work that they came to do.”
The future – spreading and expanding
And the work does not stop with these 5,000 trees. Far from it:
“A month ago, we took 75,000 trees to Kirinyaga diocese, at their request. In the western part of Kenya, they have requested a million trees. We have gone to Machakos diocese which is the place where we launched the Green Anglican Movement. So they are still very much inspired. Wherever they’re going, trees must be grown. Ministers are doing planting and sharing on WhatsApp groups. And there is Mumias diocese, where they have started their own tree nurseries, and they are looking for resources with local banks to see how they can continue growing.
In fact, the next big project that we hope to achieve, is to have small nurseries. Then our youth can grow the seeds. Organizations come and buy from them, and the young people themselves can go out and plant and take care of these trees that they themselves have grown. And that gives them money. Then they can get out of some bad habits: staying in the markets, daily smoking and drinking will not help them in any way.”
In short, as Rev Nthenge put it, “the fire is catching on pretty quick.”