While driving from Moshi to Sanya Juu, Pastor Mosha, our Tanzanian board chairman briefed me on the event. “We expect 7000 people to be there. Six thousand Plant With Purpose/Floresta participants, and hundreds of business people, pastors, government leaders and others.”
While the dusty highway towards Arusha is always busy, today it was choked with traffic. “Those busses are all carrying Floresta savings groups to the event.” Sure enough, I noticed all of the passengers were wearing Floresta polo shirts or caps.
We drove in silence for a few minutes before he spoke again. “Did Richard [our local director] tell you about the problem with the guest of honor? He had an emergency and had to cancel. So Richard and I thought that since you were here, you could fill in.”
“Um, okay. Does it involve a speech?”
“Yes but it only has to be twenty to thirty minutes, since they know there was an emergency. I can give you a copy of the bishop’s speech to give you some ideas. It is in Swahili, but your translator can help you with the main points.”
In 2013, Richard, the new director of Floresta Tanzania, had an idea to spur tree planting and program participation – friendly competition. At the time we had 140 savings groups participating, and the first year of intergroup competition, participants went from planting 400,000 trees to planting 1.4 million. Savings group participants have planted at least 1.5 million trees annually and the awards celebration has become a part of the annual calendar ever since. Although I had seen photos, this was the first opportunity I had to attend one.
It should also be noted that those trees are planted on a voluntary basis. As much as possible we have resisted paying people to plant trees, instead promoting agricultural techniques that incorporate trees on farms, and encouraging communities to undertake their own reforestation projects to restore their watersheds – and take home the annual trophy.
The soccer field in Sanya Juu was still empty of people when we arrived, but thousands of lawn chairs covered it, set up under elaborate tents, with a colorful stage and enormous sound system at one end. Along another side, vendors and farmers cooperatives were setting up booths with farm tools, tree seedlings and organic vegetables.
A half-mile away we encountered a formal procession of farmers marching towards the venue led by a brass band. I was told that part of my duty, as guest of honor fill-in, was to lead the parade, so I joined Pastor Mosha and other local board members right behind the band.
To be continued…