Because of environmental degradation, Haiti has seen a dramatic decline in its forested areas. But during the 50 great days of the United Church of Christ's upcoming environmental initiative, Mission 4/1 Earth, participants from across the United States can help the Caribbean nation plant new foliage. Through a partnership with the Lambi Fund of Haiti, which began in 1994 to promote sustainable agriculture and reforestation in the country, UCC members can help put a little green back in Haiti's landscape.
"I'm very excited about that," said Karen Ashmore, the former executive director of the Lambi Fund. "Our local congregation (Park Hill UCC in Denver) has supported the fund, and the (United Church of) Broomfield has supported it too. From a local level, UCC churches (in Colorado) have been involved."
The UCC has tree-planting options available in the United States through the Arbor Day Foundation, and through several global partners, working to plant trees in China, Ghana, Nicaragua, and East Palestine and Jerusalem, Peru, Kenya and Haiti during the Mission 4/1 Earth environmental campaign.
While Ashmore, who has been a member at Park Hill for five years and Broomfield for 10, has helped Denver-area congregations contribute to the Lambi Fund, she's excited about the support on a national level. During Mission 4/1 Earth, anyone can donate money to plant a tree. The cost for a tree in Haiti is $22, which includes training and proper care for locals by the Lambi Fund. Donors can also plant a grove of 10 trees for $220.
The Lambi Fund is a non-profit organization that works for economic justice, democracy and alternative sustainable development in Haiti. Ashmore was its executive director for eight years, and has also been a consultant and a volunteer. She describes it as a grassroots organization that emphasizes community training in its environmental and economic sustainability programs — far different than a top-down organization.
"A top down would go in, not involve people, would bring people in to plant the trees, and then leave," Ashmore said.
But Lambi's approach is to offer education on why healthy forestation is important to Haiti and suggest alternative resources to create community support for environmental initiatives.
"The way to look at it, because you should look at it as how many trees survive and grow and help people in general, is to get the community buy in and get training so people understand why you shouldn't cut down trees," she said. "Those trees can be rapidly depleted if people haven't bought in."
About 50 years ago, trees covered almost 60 percent of the country, but in the decades since, and through a combination of factors, the forest area in Haiti has been reduced to 1 percent.
"It's a combination of things," Ashmore said. "A lack of education and people cutting trees down for fuel, natural disasters, a lack of resources to care for trees, and there is no forest policy on a national level."
There's a dramatic difference in the forest level between Haiti and the neighboring country to the east, the Dominican Republic, even though they share the same island. The Dominican Republic hasn't seen a spike in deforestation because of differences in resources, community awareness and national policies, Ashmore said.
Asked how long it might take to bring Haiti back to the level of forestation it once knew, Ashmore said it could be decades. "But you've got to start with a step at a time," she added.
With such a low number of trees in the country, reforestation is important to Haiti. Trees act as natural barriers to floods, provide soil with nutrients and reduce erosion, and slow the rate of climate change since they take carbon dioxide out of the air. Without trees, soil and nutrients are washed away during floods, and trees struggle to survive. Fruit-bearing trees, which the Lambi Fund also plants in Haiti, are an important food source.
"If [people are] environmentally interested, [donating trees] can be their step to reduce climate change. If they're interested in helping the poor it will help farmers in Haiti to raise crops," Ashmore said. "There are lots of good reasons, whether it's the environment or poverty or limiting the amount of damage from natural disaster."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information or join the movement on Facebook.