I spent a month volunteering with AIR after college and it changed my life. Nine years later, I took five of my own college students to spend a week with AIR, and--thoroughly exhausted from planting 600 trees on mountainsides, building 3 stoves, and playing a ferocious game of soccer with children at an AIR school--they didn't want to leave.When I asked one of my students why, they said: "The work we're doing, the place we're in, the people we're with... it's just incredible." And it is. Families invited us into their homes, and trusted us because AIR technicians had built deep relationships with them in their indigenous languages. They proudly showed us their nurseries and told of the tens of thousands of trees they had planted. Most moving to me, they talked about what this work--AIR and local villagers, side by side--is going to mean to the world they pass on to their grandchildren: a more productive, safer, and much more verdant and beautiful world.Time and money given to AIR are well spent. I've been twice now, give regularly, and can't wait to go back!
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.