Editor's Note: With the recent release of the movie The Lorax based on the famous Eco-tale by Dr. Seuss, we have a modern day "Lorax," an American credited with planting 1 million trees in his native Ethiopia. The amazing personal project of Gashaw Tahir (SAY: Gah-sha Ta-ear) is even promoting understanding between Christians and Muslims.
As a child growing up in Ethiopia, Gashaw Tahir lived in a village so dense with majestic trees he couldn’t even see the sky. But, as an adult returning to Ethiopia after years spent abroad, he was shocked to find his native country transformed into a barren land, stripped of most of its forests.
And, the land erosion was not a mere matter of aesthetics. In Africa, many experts, including Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, link deforestation and its consequences — lack of arable land; increased average temperatures; rise in malaria; and a scarcity of resources, such as traditional medicines made from forest plants and lumber (used for both shelter and cooking fires) — with ongoing conflict and war.
“I saw so much hopelessness on the faces of people, especially young people — many of whom were children of parents who had passed away from HIV/AIDS — who felt they had no future, and I knew I needed to do something,” says Tahir. “I started talking to the kids and they said they wanted a job, they wanted to eat, they wanted to money to but materials to go to school, they wanted hope.”
Tahir’s plan was deceptively simple: Plant more trees. Put the young people to work. Restore community and ecosystem to his village in Ethiopia. The result? Tahir, who founded an NGO called Greenland Development Foundation, managed to plant more than a million trees in Ethiopia and, in the process, put more than 450 young people to work and gave them not only a sense of dignity but the ability to see that there is a future in Ethiopia. And, as far as the environmental recovery goes, Tahir says grasses and a variety of crops are growing, the climate is changing and the wild animals that had become scarce are coming back home to his village.
“If I learned anything through Landmark, it’s that one person can enroll other people, and register them for a vision and that you can make a difference,” says Tahir. “And, more importantly, if one person can do this, then with collaboration we can make a an even bigger difference.”