Using small women groups, a high school principal raises over 50, 000 tree seedlings ready for planting

Forests, often referred to as the lungs of the planet, are disappearing at an alarming rate hence making it crucial for collective focus on restoration and conservation to combat global warming.

When it comes to sustainable tree-planting initiatives, it is important to involve individuals of all ages and genders, including youth, teenagers, women men, and children.

            Keeping this in mind, a remarkable woman in West Pokot county, who serves as a Principal of a high school who has received an Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW) award and Head of State Commendations (HSC), through her organisation Perur Rays of Hope has mobilised small women groups who have so far raised over 50,000 tree seedlings ready for planting when April-May rains commence.

            The women are paid a stipend for the seedlings they have raised as awareness about the conservation of the environment, and to demonstrate the benefits of tree planting and its impact on the environment.

            Caroline Menach the Principal of St. Elizabeth Girls’ High School-Morpus through a goodwill which goes beyond overseeing learning at the school, explained her unique and impactful efforts which she wants to contribute in assisting the government’s bid to plant 15 billion trees by the year 2032.

Women taking care of tree seedlings under the leadership of Madam Caroline Menach the Principal of St. Elizabeth Girls’ High School-Morpus.

            Menach, a brand name in West Pokot County, has also elevated her status as a woman who has given her all to champion the education of girls whose parents are unable to meet their family needs. Her role in the community has consecutively earned her the OGW and HSC titles.

            “My decision to have the women educated on tree-related matters was influenced by the presidential directive to plant 15 billion trees by the year 2032. Before involving the women in tree seedling planting, the women have been being helped to gain business skills, beadwork, and table banking,” she explains.

            She said President William Ruto’s directive to plant 15 billion trees would enable women to benefit from the trees they have raised because they would be able to earn income from the sales.

            She believes that women should take the lead in tree planting since they are the primary users of firewood and are often at home and can reliably take care of the trees planted.

            “At the Murpus community, approximately 50 women have been educated on the techniques of transplanting tree seedlings and planting the seedlings at home together with protecting them until they attain maturity. Women can generate decent incomes from planting trees,” stated Madam Menach.

            In the past four months, she mentioned, the group of women engaged in tree nursery activities within the school premises has successfully established 10,000 tree seedlings of different tree species.

            She further explained that the initiative stemmed from the idea that they would be able to plant fruits in their households, providing sustenance for their families.

            “Through the act of encouraging them to plant trees in their households, their children would not only enjoy health but also have the opportunity to attend school,” she posed.

            She lauded the women for their dedication to nurturing tree seedlings effectively.

            She mentioned that she initiated the tree seedling project in the area after gaining knowledge and understanding that a significant portion of West Pokot County, including the Murpus region where her school is situated, is semi-arid.

            While considering the types of trees that could be introduced in the area, she came up with the establishment of raised tree nurseries aimed at not only having indigenous trees in the region but also to include exotic ones.

            She said West Pokot Governor Simion Kachapin’s declaration against cutting down trees for charcoal burning has effectively addressed the challenges in the area for example erosion which has reduced and productivity increased.

            She noted that in 2019, the region encountered a significant obstacle in the form of a landslide, which was caused by the effects of deforestation.

            She stated that if given the opportunity, women would have the capacity to safeguard the environment as women have dedicated themselves to enhancing the county’s forest cover.

            “Aiding a woman is equivalent to supporting the entire community as it ensures that her children receive education and maintain good health,” she said.

            She revealed that through support from the International Tree Foundation (ITF) her Perur Rays of Hope and Lab Women Group organisations, a remarkable achievement of raising 60,000 tree seedlings has been accomplished and all set for planting as soon as the rainy season commences.

            Through the assistance of ITF, the groups will have successfully achieved their goal and will be capable of cultivating 100,000 seedlings.

            She also expressed her gratitude to the International Tree Foundation for joining forces and supporting the women in their efforts to learn about tree nursery management and providing them with valuable exposure opportunities.

            She revealed that tree-planting knowledge has impacted the students in her school.

            She said that following the presidential directive on enhancing the forest cover, the school successfully planted approximately 1000 trees last November using the tree seedlings established within the institution.

            The Teachers Service Commission and the Ministry of Education have jointly requested the school principals to work together with their surrounding communities.

            She said girls in her school have been actively supporting the women in their tree nursery activity by assisting them in watering the plants.

            She emphasized that understanding the significance of trees and acquiring the knowledge to nurture them should be a collaborative endeavor, with each individual contributing to the preservation of the environment.

            She said it gives her joy when she observes that the lives of women have been elevated from their previous state and they appeared contented with what they have accomplished. Moreover, when they step out of their homes, they radiate happiness.

            Menach says that they have considered the concept of table banking and have discovered that collaborating in a group enhances their capabilities as they gained experience and could share knowledge with other women.

            “The women who come here gain valuable experience which they take back home. They cultivate kitchen gardens at their homes because we provide them with agriculture training. We express our gratitude for the efforts made by these women,” she said.

            She added that the women who are engaged in tree nursery projects have also been trained on business skills, beadwork, and table banking.

            Joseph Loriso, the Assistant Chief of the Murpus location, expressed his gratitude to the Principal, terming her a heroine for bringing together the women who used to engage in unproductive activities and were unaware of their family responsibilities.

            He said the women faced challenges within their families and Menach’s assistance is greatly appreciated in the community.

            “Madam Caroline’s efforts in providing space for a tree nursery within the school compound are highly appreciated. Your work is commendable and we are grateful for your contribution to the community,” Loriso said.

            He added the initiative has fostered a sense of unity and collaboration among women and the community at large.

            He noted that in society, a lack of activities often results in conflicts hence the move has helped the community attain stability.

             “Whenever in the office, there used to be frequent family conflicts but since the start of progamme, the cases have gone down. This is due to the women’s empowerment where the participants have saved proceeds, purchased chickens for eggs production among other small enterprises,” said the Assistant Chief.

Women taking care of tree seedlings under the leadership of Madam Caroline Menach the Principal of St. Elizabeth Girls’ High School-Morpus.

            Joshua Muthambuki, programmes officer at ITF for the Western region, stated that they have partnered with the Perur Rays of Hope and are carrying out a project called “Trees for Livelihood Support Climate Project” this year to plant 50,000 tree seedlings.

            He said that trees would be planted in forest areas in West Pokot, as well as by individual farmers for agro-forestry.

            The project’s objective, as stated by Muthambuki, is to enhance the ecosystem and rehabilitate a deteriorated section within the Kapkanyar forest block.

            “At this project, we are not looking at tree seedlings. We are looking at also improving the livelihoods of the community because we are targeting other economic activities like beekeeping, equal stocks for the community, and also some land mismanagement practices in which they will be trainers,” Muthambuki explained.

            He said ITF is enhancing the efforts of Perur Rays Hope and fostering a mindset among children to safeguard the environment and appreciate its benefits.

            He said that ITF is additionally providing support to the communities in setting up tree nurseries, targeting a total of 100,000 tree seedlings.

            He went on: ‘‘We are also targeting working closely with Kenya Forest Services which will also be providing technical support to the organisation and also to the farmers around the region.”

            He said that the ITF acknowledges the County Extension Officers, as they play a crucial role in ensuring the effective implementation of land management activities and the establishment of community-based initiatives such as kitchen gardens.

            “We have been educated about the significance of cultivating native and foreign trees, including those that bear fruits such as Avocado and Mango, as well as those that provide soft and hardwood.  Until now, the tree seedlings have been transferred from the seedbed to the tubes,” Pauline Riwo, a beneficiary of the programme stated.

            In the region, they are the only women pioneers who have successfully established a tree nursery and even cultivate them courtesy of the winner of the award.

            “In the upcoming year, our location will be adorned with a single tree, and we anticipate that we will witness the growth of numerous trees, aided by the blessings of rainfall,” she said.

            Apart from their responsibilities of establishing and managing a tree nursery, they dedicate a significant amount of time, approximately 5-6 hours per week, to the tree nursery.

            Ms. Riwo expressed optimism about the impact of their actions, believing that it would empower them to become self-reliant and influential women.

            “We shall transform into formidable women who rely on ourselves rather than seeking assistance from others for meager sums to cover nursery school expenses,” she said.

            She said using the savings they have accumulated in their bank account; the women in the group can borrow loans to enhance their businesses.

            “Madam Menach is leading us on our extensive journeys, even to seminars held in distant locations, in order for us to witness various projects being carried out in those places,” she said.

            Jeniffer Yaraa, another beneficiary, embarked on a tree nursery project in the interior part of the county, despite lacking the necessary expertise.

            “We were once situated at our residence, comfortably sitting and tracing the shade as the sun gradually descended. We were engrossed in pursuing the sun’s path, and during this time, we became aware of the existence of Her Lab Women Group. Intrigued, we decided to join and were enlightened with valuable knowledge on conducting business. We persevered in this manner until we acquired the necessary expertise to successfully manage our businesses,” acknowledged Jeniffer Yarra.

            She said the intention behind being encouraged to plant trees in their homes was to ensure the well-being of their children by encouraging them to plant fruit trees in their homes for their consumption.

            “We used to visit our neighbours to borrow salt and sugar, a thing that is now in the past. People have become increasingly occupied with their various businesses, such as selling groceries, poultry, and maize, to earn a modest profit that allows them to provide food for their children,” she maintained.

            Ms. Yaraa added that some men who have absconded their responsibilities now have reasons to smile since women are occupied with providing for their families without much ado.

            She said through their collective efforts, all of their children have been enrolled in schools, recognising the importance of education in shaping them into future leaders.

            “We aspire to see our children become professors within our households so that they can assist us. We aim to ensure that our children do not end up like us, who received education but were limited in our achievements. We have come to realise the significance of education through the influence of Madam Menach,” added Ms. Yaraa.

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