RESTORATION – It’s In Our Nature by Jade Khoury
Longtime Greenpopper and environmental activist, Jade Khoury, shares her restoration journey with us. Read about how she turned anxious into action in her story below.
Restoration – It starts with you.
The first tree I was ever given was an indigenous Wild Olive sapling.
It was a “Thank-you & Good-bye’ gift from the parents of the little Kindergarten where I taught in a seaside neighbourhood called Scarborough, South of Cape Town. I was leaving, eight months pregnant and ready for the new big chapter of becoming a parent.
Three days after my son was born, on a chilly mid-Winter evening, when the stars were impossibly clear and bright and the air was crisp and still, his father dug a hole in our little garden and lit a circle of candles around it. At the bottom of the dark earthy pit, we laid something we no longer needed, the placenta, and then we planted the little tree over it and named our baby, who was now wrapped up snug in my arms, Luca.
The Placenta has an essential role in the time of pregnancy but after the birth, once it’s expelled out of the body, it still has another gift to give. To restore the strength of the mother for healing and making milk. All animal Mothers eat their placenta, and even some humans have kept that practice, but we buried it there, in the Earth.
On that night, it was more than a meaningful moment or a tree that was planted, for me it was also a seed of inspiration and a prophetic shoot reaching out into our future. I thought to myself “What if we, humans, were always planting trees as a common practice or ritual for our births, deaths, important days, and just a general act of gratitude to the Earth? What if restoration was part of our blueprint as it is in Nature? We are, after all, also Nature.”
Two years later, when I turned thirty, I had the grand idea to plant thirty trees for every year of my life. This wasn’t as an honour to myself but rather to honour the Earth and all the earthly resources I use whilst being alive.
But once I started to ‘action this plan I found it was not very easy nor very realistic. What trees do I choose? Then there was the expense of the trees. And then where to plant them so that they have the best chance of survival?
These challenges hindered my plan but they didn’t stop me, instead, they lit a fire within me.
On the right path
Lady Synchronicity sweetly starts to leave a trail of clues when you’re in your Flow and I discovered a newspaper clipping from my childhood. It was a grainy black and white photo of me, about 10 years old, kneeling next to two little trees, with 3 other children. It was Arbor day and we had just planted for our school and we had been selected as the planters. I had a flash-back to the knee-deep hole in the ground into which we gently placed this little tree and the heavy, full smell of soil and compost and I remember feeling like I was doing something really important.
Time was marching on and still, I couldn’t find a way to get, now thirty-one trees, into the ground. At thirty-two years old I became obsessed with making this happen! But not only how to make this happen for me but how to make it possible for more people. How could we, en masse, plant trees and be giving back to our Earth in a personal capacity through some kind of organized platform?
The same week I hit a dead-end was the same week I found the way forward. I was sitting in a meeting with the big guys that manage our local nature reserves and they had said that they don’t want or even need trees! What was more suitable for our Cape Town environment, where water is scarce but fires are common, are indigenous Fynbos bushes. I found out much later how amazing and giving Fynbos is but at the time I was still committed to the great and archetypal symbol of a tree.
At the end of the meeting, they mentioned a new and local initiative called Greenpop who, partnering with Platbos Forest Reserve, had just started something similar and they suggested I get in touch with them. Once again I found myself in the great sweet flow of destiny and that night, on our community TV station I saw a short and fun advertisement made by Greenpop about planting trees!
It wasn’t long after that evening when Luca, now 6 years old, and I attended the newly formed Greenpop Reforest Fest at Platbos in 2012. They had already done a smaller one the year before and this one was taking it to the next level with many more people, more trees, local music, and inspiring talks. Platbos Forest Reserve is situated about two and a half hours from Cape Town, near the southernmost tip of Africa. They are committed to protecting and restoring this unique ancient forest and its diversity of wildlife.
On the planting morning, I stood ready and fired up, with gumboots, spade, and gloves, in the fields of future forests. Little Luca at my side, with red war stripes on his soft round cheeks (face painting was part of the fun). This rugged land around us used to be thick forest, with roaming elephants and trees thousands of years old, but was cleared for potato farming and then left, depleted and bare for alien vegetation and fire-loving Fynbos to creep in and along with that more forest threatening fires. All the trees we would be planting were grown from their ancestors in the remaining parts of the Forest.
I planted my thirty-three trees! And then …I planted more. I planted for people in my family, for every year of my son’s life, for each of my friends, and then for every child in my class, then every child I ever taught. At the end of the planting day, I was bone tired, covered in sweat and soil but riding a high wave of soul satisfaction that felt new and familiar at the same time. Being part of this group of individuals, coming together to plant trees, to restore this area, was like coming home.
Greenpop started in 2010 with a simple goal, to plant 1000 trees in 1 month. The best way to introduce them to you is with their own words:
“In 2010, Misha Teasdale was returning home to Cape Town after traveling 16 countries as part of a film production crew. Although the adventure had allowed for incredible personal growth, Misha was keenly aware of the negative impact of his nomadic lifestyle on the environment.
After discussing his concerns with nine friends over supper one night, the group resolved to come together and get their hands dirty for our planet. The goal? To plant 1000 trees during the month of September (Arbor Month) in Cape Town’s under-greened, marginalised communities.
They fundraised, researched appropriate planting locations, gathered like-minded individuals and the campaign came together. After the final tree had been placed in the ground, the group went back to their day jobs. But their phones didn’t stop ringing. Underprivileged schools who had heard about the project were requesting trees, companies were offering their support and individuals were asking to volunteer.
Misha, his partner Lauren and their friend Jeremy realised that there was an ongoing need for an organisation that connects people to the planet, each other, and themselves and decided to focus all of their energy on making it a reality. And, Greenpop was born.
Today, we focus on sustainable urban greening and forest restoration projects, spread environmental awareness, and activate people to become environmental stewards across Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Joining the TREEvolution!
In just over a decade, Greenpop has planted over 150,000 trees and 70,000 of those in the Uilenkraal area, where Platbos is situated and where Luca and I joined for our first annual Reforest Fest at Platbos in 2012.
Greenpop has achieved what they set out to do and much more. They plant forests, with a focus on restoration, and green under-greened areas in and around Cape Town and Sub-Saharan Africa.
They’ve created a vast and solid platform of pro-activeness, education, and awareness. They have been instrumental in growing a culture of festivals of Action that create awareness and connection, ignite change and inspire people yet also leave a very light footprint. And out of all this has emerged a large and growing community which I am so blessed to be a part of!
After that first festival, I’ve been a Reforest Fest die-hard. I’ve joined every Annual Greenpop Reforest Fest in Platbos, and Luca has come to most, growing through his stages of childhood into a young man.
I moved from being a planter to being one of the volunteer planting facilitators, one of the team! These festivals became my Christmas every year and the gifts I got were far-reaching and deep rooting. Yes, I planted many many trees and I did give back to the Earth but I was, in fact, given so much more in return.
I found the courage and confidence to move on from my teaching job and start my business Low Impact Living. I got the opportunity to speak on a few stages, which led to me being one on the front-line of the Zero-waste movement in South Africa and opening a Waste-Free Grocery store in 2017.
I won a competition of up-cycled designed goods that got me a fully paid trip to Zambia where I planted trees with Greenpop at the top of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. I was inspired to start a little Kids Nature connection club with Luca that we called Earth Champs. I was delighted to be selected as one of the poster girls for the Got Bush Campaign created by Greenpop to bring awareness to the many benefits of Fynbos. And within all of this, I made new and lasting friendships.
Now, a decade or so later, having the time to reflect on this journey, I am aware of how much I have changed and grown. Yes, of course, It’s a good and noble thing to plant trees and be an activist, but the Why behind anything you do will define the quality of the experience and the imprint it makes. I asked myself “What was I really looking for initially, when I was so obsessed and all fired-up? What was my ‘Why?”.
My honest answer is something I’m not proud of but I am grateful for it because it was necessary to get me to where I am now. The motivation to go out and plant trees came from a place of deep fear and trauma, a sense of lack in myself, the pain of disconnection, fear of the future, and also a sense of penance for the past. I was coming from a ‘should’ and a ‘shame’ place but I didn’t know that at the time of course. I was just compelled and propelled in this direction. The way back to wholeness and self-love lay within the shadows of my own wounds. Like that dark forest path in fairytales that the hero needs to journey on. Nature, authentic connections, and the sweat of the brow did their healing work on me, anxiety turned into action and fear turned into love. Love transformed fear.
Forests and trees taught me how to stand still and slow down and also how to stand up and reach out, speak out! Planting trees has taught me about community and connection. About humility and consistency. I was led back to a connection with the Earth, people, and myself. The journey of restoring the earth, the action of doing it, in return restored me and my hope in the future! Restoration is truly in our nature.
At the most recent Greenpop Reforest Fest this year in March 2021, on a Retreat called Bhodi Khaya, next door to Platbos, I stood once again on a field of a future forest. Heart ablaze with gratitude, gumboots, gloves, and spade, and my nearly 16-year-old son standing a head taller than me at my side. I said to him “So many years of planting trees and I’ve planted for everything I can think of, each loved one, every gratitude, every wish and now I wonder what I should plant for today.” and he said, “Well Mom, why don’t you plant a tree just to plant a tree.”
And so I did.
“Turn anxious into action!”
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