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No Trees Planted: No Diploma!

carlos_headshot_cmpCarlos Euraque, EcoLogic’s technical coordinator at our project site in Olanchito, Honduras, was recently invited to the United States to present at a conference organized by Our Water Commons in New York state. Carlos gave a presentation on “MACO”—an alliance between EcoLogic, our nearby local partner, the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB), and the Municipality of Olanchito—to restore and protect a 6,500 hectare watershed that provides fresh water to more than 40,000 people. After the conference, Carlos visited EcoLogic’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts to meet with funders and staff.

Carlos is a trained agricultural engineer, a passionate conservation advocate and an innovator who finds ingenious ways to get people involved and engaged. During his visit to our offices, Carlos told us about how Olanchito started a program to encourage high school students to actively participate in reforesting of the watershed.

Honduran students on their way to plant trees.

Honduran students on their way to plant trees.

We have established a green house, and I and a few others started seedlings for hundreds of native trees for reforestation. But the question was: how to get the trees planted at the Uchapa and Pimienta watershed when we don’t have enough people, or the money to pay day laborers. I take student groups up to the forest all the time to raise awareness and teach them about ecology, so getting the young people involved seemed an obvious answer. In Honduras, we have a tradition of having students do “social service” as part of earning their diploma, so I approached Olanchito’s vice-mayor with the idea that we require high school students to plant a certain number of trees before they can graduate. She agreed, and she and I drafted an agreement for Olanchito’s secretary of education to sign which requires every graduating senior plant ten trees at the watershed in order to receive their diploma.

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Students planting trees.

The agreement came into effect in 2012. Graduation happened just a week or so before the Christmas holidays, so for the first couple of weeks of December I was regularly taking students up to the watershed, up until the day before graduation. Then on graduation day I had a break. The very next day a group of students showed up at my office with their parents; their principal refused to give them their diplomas, so they had finally gotten the message we were serious! Altogether the program’s a great success—in 2012 almost 400 students participated in the reforestation effort, and several of those young people told me that they were interested in pursuing environmental science degrees. A couple of them have even come back to volunteer, and learn more about the watershed.

It’s people like Carlos who make EcoLogic’s projects such a success at the local level, by tailoring solutions to the needs and the possibilities of a given place and its people. This is one of the ways we expect to realize our vision of a future where rural communities lead in the creation of a sustainable world for both people and nature.