Pounding For Pemba 2014

by Jeff Schnurr on June 10, 2014

Canadian tree-planters have the hardest job on the planet. Each day they wake- up at the crack of dawn to pull on wet clothes and muddy boots before rolling out of the tents they live in. They scarf down breakfast and pile into decommissioned school buses or pick-up trucks and are spirited away to some clear-cut wasteland - a forgotten and forlorn patch of ground; a drop in the vastness of our country. These rough agents of the land toil for the next 8-12 hours, weaving across the devastated landscape two steps at a time. Every two steps planters bend at the waste, open a crevass in the ground with a shovel, and plant a tree. 

Two steps, plant a tree... 

Two steps. Plant. 

Plant. Plant. Plant. Over and over again. 

The work is demanding. Planters carry 40lbs worth of tree seedlings on their hips as they crisscross the abused earth. When the trees are gone they load up and start over again, covering vast areas of open ground as the sun tracks across the sky. The bugs are horrendous, covering ears, eyes, necks and arms with countless bites. I’ve seen planter’s eyes and throats swollen with so many bites that sight, taste and breath become a chore. 

The job is like war. 

Planters live in camps, work in crews and attack the land. Planters labour through the rain, through injury and pain. Tree-planting is a world unto itself - everything is different when you live and plant in the bush. The sky looks different, the food tastes different and the planter sub-culture has crafted a language riddled with colloquialisms and lingo. The top planters are labeled high-ballers or pounders. Pounding trees is a good thing. Pounding trees means that thousands upon thousands of trees are planted each day. Pounding equals more money, more planted land and a special reverence throughout the camp. 

Somewhere along the line planters decided to Pound for Pemba.

Let me take you back a few years. CFI was founded in tree-planting camps when Zach Melanson, Daimen Hardie, Estelle Drisdelle and I were all working in Northern Ontario just outside of Thunder Bay. Like many tree-planters I had spent the “off-season” travelling and had found myself on a small tropical island in the Indian Ocean called Pemba. When Pembans asked me what I did for a living I said tree-planting. At that point in my life tree-planting was the closest thing I had to an identity. The tree-planting culture had made me. It had made my money and gave me a sense of true community – a duty to work and support the people around me. Tree planting had given me the iron hard resolution that can only come from working with those you know and love to rebuild a forest from the ground up. 

Most Pembans thought that tree-planting was a crazy way to pass the time, but my best friend on the island, Mbarouk Mussa Omar thought different. Mbarouk wanted to try out Canadian-style planting in Pemba. He wanted to challenge the land with the idea of renewal. He wanted to work with his community to transform a landscape, so he and I worked day and night until seven communities on the island of Pemba had collected seeds from around their village homes and grown over 100,000 seedlings. As I waited for the trees to grow, I found myself back in Northern Ontario planting trees, making money and dreaming Pemban dreams.

My Canadian friends wanted to help. Around campfires in the Canadian North we plotted a course that would lead to the incorporation of Community Forests International. Planters in my camp knew what community meant, knew they wanted to help and knew how to work hard for what they believed in. Since the beginning, planters have donated their earnings to help the Pemban cause in one of the most unique and inspiring partnerships for global change I have ever heard of.

To this day Pembans continue to plant trees. They’ve planted 1,300,000 trees to be exact. They’ve also grown their own food, generated solar energy and harvested rain. They’ve transformed their culture and landscape into something truly sustainable and Canadian planters have supported them every step of the way. Canadian tree-planters have planted and donated over $100,000 to support their Pemban co-workers to date. Over the past few years, Canadians and Pembans have been working together, as one community, to plant trees and fix our broken world. 

Thank-you planters. You have inspired a world of change.

-Jeff Schnurr

Zach Melanson is currently traveling around to Brinkman and Associates Reforestation tree-planting camps to check in with planters as they Pound for Pemba. You can follow his journey @ZachMela or @Canadatrees

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