Unfazed by the heat and frigidness atop the San Cristobal Mountain in San Pablo, Laguna, volunteers pressed on with tree planting activities as part of Haribon’s Forest for Life movement. Various groups and individuals support this program that aims to restore the lushness of Philippine forests.
Forest restoration is a communal task made possible by the joint efforts of people’s organizations, donors, volunteers and supporting agencies. But just as the trek isn’t always an easy climb, so is the great deal of work and commitment involved in advancing the cause.
I remember a story from a farmer family in the San Cristobal Farmers Association (SCFA), one of Haribon’s partner organizations in its rainforestation program.
When Tatay Carding and Nanay Maring’s son got ill after coming home from Saudi Arabia, they had to take a break from their involvement in the program to attend to him. Unfortunately, he passed away.
Tatay Carding, Nanay Maring and I used to go up the mountains together in our reforestation drives so after only a few weeks, I suspected they would not be inclined to join me for a hike.
A month later, I saw the husband and wife on our next trek. Gloom can still be traced from their faces as I approached and asked how they are. “We’re okay. We came here so we wouldn’t feel too sad,” they said. “When we’re here in the mountains, the sadness goes away.”
I answered with a smile and thanked them for coming with us.
Despite what they had to go through, I admire how they could still make time to be part of change.
I got to know Tatay Carding and Nanay Maring in the two years of trekking to the mountains for our tree-planting program. There were many times when we shared stories while eating or resting under a canopy of trees.
I recall a moment when we couldn’t leave the site because of a storm. It was at night, when the weather suddenly went gloomy and raged on with strong winds and heavy rain. The wind almost blew away the sheets that we used as the cover for the nipa hut we were staying in that night.
Morning came and the storm stopped. We proceeded with our preparations for the volunteers who would come later that day to help us plant the future forests of San Cristobal.
Resilient tree planters
Then there’s Nanay Linda – a single parent who raised six kids through farming as a livelihood. Nanay Linda is among those who help in preparing and planting native trees even while having a regular day’s work.
She and I often go up the mountain together along with the other members of the San Cristobal Farmers Association.
There are times when Nanay Linda and Nanay Maring are the only ones who trek, since the others need to work in the village while some need to tend to their vegetable farms and livestock.
“We are happy with what we do even if others think otherwise. There are times when we bring seedlings and they ask us what we gain from this work or why it is so important to plant trees,” Nanay Linda once said.
“We told them it’s for all of us—because it’s important to restore the mountain of San Cristobal,” she added.
Nanay Maring also shared that even if other people don’t understand what they do now, they will see the benefits eventually.
“We also want them to join us in tree planting. Even though it’s hard, we know that it’s for us and for the next generation,” Nanay Maring mused.
Haribon and its partner communities work together to restore the Philippines forests in order to keep the balance in our ecosystem, and to conserve and protect threatened species.
The happiness in their eyes are evident when we talk about how the trees that the volunteers planted are beginning to flourish. They gladly shared their experiences to the volunteers and sponsors while making their way to the planting site: stories from when they were preparing the permanent planting spot, cutting down grasses that are twice as tall as them, plotting holes for the trees, and even the simple act of marking those holes.
Ensuring that the seedlings grow properly is like how a mother cares for her child. And like a child who was given proper love and attention, these trees also return the love given to them — as food, raw materials, clean water and air, and shelter for various forms of life.
On every laborious yet fulfilling trek, more stories are still to be told – stories of healing, hopes, and dreams.