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When I hear the saying “heart of gold,” Becky Rosaler comes to mind.
Feeling down in the dumps? Becky can lift you up. Need to plan a baby shower? She’s got you covered. Want a dose of inspiration to care for others and our world? Just turn to Mother Becky. We met while she was a pastor on staff at our church, working with the post-college group, when I had just graduated college and moved back to San Diego. The better I got to know her, the more I realized we were kindred souls, sharing a love for the environment and a desire to take better care of it.
For me, she is a breath of fresh air in a Christian faith I often find lacking this ethos, and so is the new organization she recently began working with called Plant With Purpose (PWP). I wanted to learn more about her role with them, and what they do to combat deforestation in communities of the rural poor. Here are the fruits of that conversation! Bon apetit!
*SLS= me & BR= Becky
SLS- Let’s start with a little background about you.
BR- I’m originally from Vista, CA. I headed up to beautiful Santa Barbara and studied Environmental Biology at Westmont College. Before joining the Plant With Purpose team, I worked with the Ocean Institute in Dana Point for several years.
SLS- When did you first get involved with Plant With Purpose?
BR- My involvement at Plant With Purpose started in 2009 when I had a chance to attend the Planting Hope Gala. Hearing about their three-part mission drew me in and I started volunteering at different outreach events when time and my schedule allowed.
SLS- What is the mission/vision of the organization?
BR- Well, the formal answer is that by reversing deforestation, Plant With Purpose helps the poor restore productivity to their land to create economic opportunity out of environmental restoration. Since 1984, Plant With Purpose has planted nearly 7 million trees worldwide to combat poverty and deforestation, helping thousands of people in nearly 250 villages lift themselves out of poverty through a holistic approach to sustainable development. Plant With Purpose has worked to create a victorious cycle of environmental restoration, economic empowerment, and spiritual renewal.
Breaking that down, we work with the rural poor in teaching sustainable farming technics, agroforestry methods, soil conservation work, restoring watersheds, training in micro-finances co-ops that we refer to as Village Savings and Loan Groups, as well as investing in the local church. All of this brings about holistic, sustainable transformation in the lives of the rural poor, while restoring the environment.
SLS- Where do programs already exist? Does PWP hope to start new programs in other countries as well, if so which ones?
BR- We are currently working in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Tanzania, Burundi, Mexico, and Thailand. The next countries on our radar are Ethiopia and Guatemala.
SLS- I saw that PWP has a 3-part environmental, economic, spiritual approach to sustainable development. Why are these three things are so critical?
BR- The founder of our organization started Plant With Purpose seeking a long-term solution rather than just an immediate handout. The three parts of our work encompasses the needs of the rural poor. They are so closely connected and dependent upon the environment that in helping to restore the land, it improves their lives. Economic opportunities are limited and often the lack of them makes people feel powerless. Through our Village Savings and Loans Groups, saving and investing is taking place providing more opportunities for the poor. The key piece of holistic transformation is providing for people’s spiritual needs which changes the way they live, the decisions they make, and open the door for a relationship with Jesus.
SLS- How do they achieve the stated goals of Improved Quality of Life, Restored Relationships, and Self-Sufficiency?
BR- For Improved Quality of Life we really work to meet the needs of individual communities and which means we see different impacts that improve the quality of life. As a result of our work, children and adults experience improved health from diversified diets, children attain higher levels of education as families can afford school and women experience greater equality and economic security.
For Restored Relationships, Plant With Purpose initiatives help strengthen family relationships, the relationship between people and their environment, and the relationship between people and God. In areas where racial tensions exist, we are seeing partnership. We just heard encouraging stories this week coming from Burundi where Tutsis and Hutus are trusting one another through their microenterprise loan groups known as VICOBAS. Similar stories exist with boarder groups with Haitian and people from Dominican Republic.
Finally, for Self Sufficiency, Plant With Purpose’s program encourages rural communities to take ownership of their own problems, giving them the self-confidence to seek out and apply local solutions. The rural poor must believe and trust in the abilities they have been gifted with, and must have ownership of the process of development. This takes time, but results are profound and long lasting as communities continue to thrive long after our work there ends. Farmers and rural entrepreneurs are able to support their families through greater economic gains and business often started through our Village Savings and Loans programs.
SLS- Why plant trees? How does this combat desertification?
BR- Planting trees is a topic we love to talk about. Trees go unnoticed and unappreciated for the many things that they do for us!
Around the world, small farmers, desperate to feed their families, are forced to cut down large areas of forested land, clearing it for farming, to sell as wood or turn into charcoal. The resulting erosion and loss of soil fertility leaves entire hillsides desolate and barren, entrenches them in a vicious cycle of poverty and deforestation.
Trees play an important part in absorbing harmful CO2 and releasing life-giving oxygen, but the full benefits of trees go much deeper. Trees’ root systems provide living barriers that prevent soil erosion, replenish the water table by helping the water break the surface of the soil and soak into the ground, they restore desolate, unproductive lands, provide organic mater increasing soil nutrience, and for most at the same time provide a source of food and possibly income.
It is a slow process to see a tree to maturity but there are so many benefits. As Thomas Fuller said, “He that plants trees loves others beside himself.”
SLS- What is the ultimate goal of Plant With Purpose?
BR- Ultimately, we’d love to continue our reach with assisting people in transforming their lives. We celebrate as villages “graduate” and no longer require our assistance. This frees up our local staff to continue investing in more communities and see more lives changed.
SLS- How would you answer people who might criticize the spiritual aspect of Plant With Purpose, arguing that the poor should get help regardless of whether or not they believe in God and Jesus and without having “western religion” pushed on them?
BR- Great question. First of all, Plant With Purpose works with anyone who is interested in participating in our programs regardless of their religion. The spiritual aspect is foundational to our identity as an organization. Jesus clearly calls His followers to take care of those in need.
The spiritual aspect also came into play once we saw farmers starting to become more successful and having some discretionary income. The money was often not invested in their families or put into saving rather it was spent on alcohol, drugs, gambling etc. By training up leaders in the local churches, they have been able to address some of these moral issues and refocus priorities.
SLS- What aspects of your relatively new position with PWP are you most excited about?
BR- I am most excited about engaging Americans (and the church) in the conversation about what is happening around the world specifically when it comes to the connection between the environment and those living in poverty. People’s hearts are being stirred for social justice and are making efforts to get their hands dirty with home gardens, local markets, cutting meat out of their diets…people are moving in a direction to be engaged in this conversation.
SLS- What aspects do you think will be most challenging?
BR- The same thing that I am most excited about I believe will be the most challenging. Our staff writer just wrote a blog post called Planting Trees is Social Justice. People’s attention is grabbed when you talk about rescuing girls caught in the sex trade. But what if we stopped the need for families to sell their children to unknown pimps by giving them the tools to take care of their families? Immigration separates families. We can provide tools that don’t cost much money (green fertilizer, compost, organic pesticides), provide a greater return and cut the need to leave the country to work. Trees help to stop these vicious cycle.
SLS- Any recommendations for books on social justice/environmental stewardship?
BR- I have a number of books on my bookshelf that need to be read! Top of the stack include, When Helping Hurts by Fikkert & Corbett, Almost Almish by Nancy Sleeth, Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
SLS- What events are going on that PWP is involved with? I know it’s been busy lately for you guys!
BR- Our staff and volunteers will be hanging out at Balboa Park for the Earth Day event. Please swing by and say hello! In addition we have been honored to be a part of a number of online Earth Day Campaigns for the month of April.
Currently, our projects in the Dominican Republic are being featured as the 58: Global Impact Tour with a matching grant for donations up to $10,000. Our goal there is to plant 90,000 trees, teach the farmers to care for them, dig about a mile of soil conservation barriers and see the soil and watersheds restored.
Project 7 sells every day products where funds go towards seven different areas of change. We’re one of the Save the Earth partners and get to plant trees when you buy Project 7, Save the Earth gum, mints, water or coffee. The gum is being sold at all Walmarts this month so grab a tube when you check out and we get to plant a tree!
World Vision ACT:S has also highlighted our partnership with Project 7 and is loaded with action items to move people towards activities that have a more positive impact on the earth.
Lastly, this week we have also been featured on Groupons branch of giving where you can get a deal on us planting trees in Haiti! It’s been super exciting to be a part of all of these campaigns and raise awareness of our work.
SLS- Thanks for all that great info Becky!
BR- No problem. I love getting to talk about the work we do!