They say "a picture is worth a thousand words", and these pictures are proof. They are all trees planted by AIR, and they are 4, 8, and 12 years old. It demonstrates how barren mountainsides, prone to mudslides during the rainy season, can be restored to lush, beautiful forests. AIR technicos work with Mayan farmers for 5 years teaching the principles behind reforestation, and enlisting them as partners in improving life for themselves and their community. Some farmers have started their own tree nurseries which becomes a small business for them as they sell seedlings to their neighbors. Another aspect of AIR is stove building. The cook stoves are wood burning as is the Mayan tradition. The AIR designed stove uses far less wood than their traditional way of cooking, and they are vented to prevent inhalation of smoke, thus improving health. The lady of the house is consulted about the height and location of the stove, and later it will be a gathering place for the family.AIR has a curriculum in many schools that teaches agro forestry and sustainable farming. They offer scholarships to students to ensure that the principles can be carried on into the future. I have been privileged to volunteer on three AIR mission trips, and will continue to support this wonderful organization.
As a Ph.D. researcher in the field of public health, I have had the opportunity to work with numerous non-profit organizations both within the U.S. and abroad. The Alliance for International Reforestation without a doubt is a model organization - not only for the highly effective, responsive ways in which it serves and builds capacity across myriad communities, but also for the compassion with which it does so. Other organizations would do well to study AIR and learn from its strategies for effective and lasting community engagement. Truly, I have never encountered a group of more committed individuals. Led by Dr. Anne Hallum and Cecilia Rodriguez, the AIR team exercises the utmost care and compassion in all that they do. And the numbers speak for themselves - with a low overhead budget and a staff of less than 10 individuals, in over 20 years the organization has planted nearly 4 million trees throughout Guatemala and Nicaragua (most of which are still standing today).Given that Central America has some of the highest rates of deforestation and malnutrition in the world, and given that so many populations there depend upon a healthy environment for healthy food crops - it is safe to say that AIR is saving lives as it is saving the environment. It is an honor to continue working with them, and I hope to continue to do so for many, many years.