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A Trip To Zambia: There is So Much More To Planting a Tree Than Planting A Tree.

August 4th, 2015 · 11 Comments

There is something significant about planting a tree. It is a way to make a difference in the world. The thought of going to Zambia to plant fields of trees was one that appealed to me on every level. I am the kind of person that given the tools will put my head down and work through a task, I had a vision of “give me the tools, give me the trees and I will just get planting.”

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Photo Credit: Marike Herselman

What I didn’t realise was that there is something deeply significant about planting trees with others. It takes a lot longer to work as a team, and there is something in my western mind that says, “gotta get the job done” so that we can… tick it off the list of jobs to do. Even so, trees were planted and lots of them. Slow and steady wins the race, each tree planted with care and a team of folk to see that all the steps were followed to ensure that that tree gets the best possible start.


The Mechanics of Planting a Tree

The first step in our tree planting mission was to learn how to plant trees. We learnt how to plant trees alongside the school children we were working with. Volunteers and school kids learning the following se7en+1 steps together….

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  1. Gather all your tools and equipment together.
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  3. Your tree needs a hole and a bucket of water poured into it.
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  5. The compost and the soil need to be mixed together.
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  7. The tree needs to be gently massaged out of its black bag and the bags kept to plant next year’s trees in them.
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  9. Then place the tree into the ground with its soil and compost, and gather some more water.

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  10. Add some mulch, here we used newspaper and in other places we used bark and grass. And water your tree again.
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  12. Beautify your tree with a circle of stones and give your tree a name… this tree was named after the sun.
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    And the se7en + 1th step:

  14. Take a picture of your new friends and the tree you planted together.


The Heart of Planting a Tree


We planted trees with school children. Each volunteer was assigned a child. And in teams of four or five we set off to plant trees. This wasn’t just planting trees, this was a meeting of minds. This was waiting for one of the team to fetch a bucket of water, this was walking through the field looking for stones to beautify our tree. This is talking to each other, our hopes and dreams, this is connecting with folk and thinking of a name for our tree. On a hard muddy field planting trees, the differences between our worlds evaporate as we focus on the job at hand.

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Later in the week we met up with a girl we had planted trees with at school. She was so proud to take us to her home, for us to meet her family, we had our own personal tour guide of the market place. It was a beautiful thing.

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Another time I planted trees with a family. They didn’t speak English and I was limited to greeting them in their language. It was hard work, the ground felt like solid rock and was filled with stones. It took time to dig a hole. The compost for our tree was far away and it took time to fill the fragile wheelbarrow more than a few times before there was enough compost for a fledgling tree… and new trees require water, there was another wait for bucket after bucket of water was collected and carried across the thirsty ground. The father did the digging with a pick, the son fetched the compost, the mother gathered the water… I was there for beautification… gathering stones for the base of the tree and mulching and planting friendly little plants around the base of the tree that will ultimately provide nutrients for the tree.

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We were busy, it was hot, and dry, and hard work, and for folk that couldn’t communicate there sure was a lot of chatting! Many trees were planted this way, one after the other, after the other… there was no streamlining of the system. A team didn’t dig a row of holes, a team didn’t provide a continuous load of compost. But tree by tree, lovingly planted, placed in the ground… these trees hold hopes and dreams of future fruit, of shade. After a morning that began awkwardly, it was planting trees and work that had us laughing at each other’s jokes and sharing orange slices together by tea-time.

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I might plant a row of trees because it is good for the environment, someone else might plant a row of trees because they would love to supply their school with fresh fruit, someone else might plant a row of trees to bring back their diminished woodlands… The point is we can all make a conscious decision to make a difference according to our values, despite our circumstances. Yes, planting a tree takes time and effort, but it takes a lot more than that it also takes communities.

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If I were to find a way to take our kids to Zambia to plant trees with GreenPop, it wouldn’t just be for the work of planting trees but it would definitely be for the heart of planting trees.

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Photo Credit: Marike Herselman


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Tags: Outings · Zambia

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