Fellowship of Earthkeepers – Class of 2010

The following story of a first-time tree planting experience in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia comes from Arthur Ang, the regional marketing director for Timberland Asia.  Robert learned firsthand how impactful our tree planting initiative can be … not just for the environment and the local community, but for the volunteers themselves:

“You must plant your tree in our Timberland Forest in Horqin.”  Those were one of the first things that my colleagues told me when I joined Timberland.

I understand that we are an outdoor company but an annual trip to the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia to plant trees, are we stretching it just a little too much? I was intrigued, thought to myself that maybe there is more to this than just a casual, sightseeing, staff incentive trip.

The more I dug, the more I was impressed by the scale and commitment that we have towards the cause of reforestation globally and in Asia. The fact that we have been planting in Horqin for the past 10+ years (2010 was the 10th Anniversary) and that we planted the millionth tree there last April is truly amazing. What’s more impressive is that we started planting in Horqin even before we had an office or any form of business interest in China — this is so true of our mantra “it’s not what we do, it’s who we are”.

Last August, the marketing team from Timberland’s Asia headquarters, namely Robert Igabille (Trip Leader), Celine Teo and I planned the trip and were supported by the great marketing folks from the individual countries.

We decided to have a hard target of planting 2600 trees. The work would be done by the ‘Fellowship of Earthkeepers – Class of 2010,’ consisting of 129 individuals from all walks of life and from 6 countries.

It was the first time that I would be making the trip and I was totally buzzed the minute I stepped out of the door. The flight to Shenyang Airport was pretty straight forward, and from there it was another 4.5 hour car ride to the hotel that we were to stay in for this trip.  That’s when it started to get interesting.

The more in country we went, the more it was like turning back the clock, the pace, and ways of life became simpler.

It’s somewhat of a reality check and made us appreciate how much access and excess we readily have to technology and means of daily life that these villagers can never imagine existed.

For the next 3 days, bright and early at the crack dawn, together with the guides from Green Network (the NGO that we partner with in Horqin),we were herded into trucks and set off  into the desert. This is when it really hit home. We drove to a place with a huge plaque that says “Timberland Forest- since 2001,” we were told and showed in pictures that the vast expanse of trees in front of us was nothing but desert not long ago … and with the reforestation effort throughout these years, it’s recovered and is now a lush, green forest!

You could feel the sense of pride in the staff from Green Network as well as the members of our group that has been returning to Horqin year after year. For first timers like me, it was really motivating; you can’t help but feel that this is so right and that there is good in the world after all.

We were now really itching to do our part as well.

There were a few scenes during the 3 days of activities that really struck me and that I will always remember, Robert conversing with a local cobbler using the global language of craftsmanship, and making a friend in Inner Mongolia.  He also showed me the area that was planted when he was there in 2006, which was very special.

Robert showing me the trees from 2006.

Celine pointing to the row of seedlings that she planted last year; she started taking pictures of them, enthusiasm that is similar to a parent photographing her child! I could feel happiness when she saw them healthy and growing.

Proud Celine!

Lunch time was always fun, it gave us the opportunity to interact with the local villagers and share a table or mat, sample their local alcohol and foster camaraderie.

There was an unexpected event where the village chief surprised us and presented a flag to Stewart (Timberland’s vice president and managing director of Asia) as a token of appreciation for our efforts throughout the years and for improving the living conditions as well as providing a source of employment for the villagers.  This was really special.

However – the image that will always stay with me would be the one where everyone formed a human chain and watered every single tree that we planted; the cheering started from the first tree till the last (no joke!). That to me is when we truly demonstrated the meaning of  “The Fellowship of Earthkeepers.”

In reflection, being in a privileged position that helps set the vision of this program, I came away with an immense sense of pride as well as duty towards the good work that has already been done and realization that more has to be done.

The villagers as well as people in the town were skeptical of our intentions and commitment in the beginning but over time, they have come to realize our genuine good intentions, and now it’s a partnership based on trust and full of warmth.

It’s really satisfying to know that through our actions, the living conditions have improved as the trees have been effective in reducing the impact of sand storms, and it has also created jobs for the people throughout these years. Together with Green Network, we will continue to help in both areas.  We are committed to planting another 2 million trees in the next 10years (doubling our rate) and also exploring ways to further improve the living standard of the villagers, such as with a pilot project on growing cash crops like sweet corn.

In short, the reforestation of Horqin is not just about the environment and trees, it’s also about the human connection that comes with it, the bonding and the common understanding that we can play a part and do good …  not just for the time that we are in Horqin, but as an approach to practice in daily life.

I’m very proud to be part of this Fellowship of Earthkeepers. I believe that Commerce and Justice can co-exist, and it’s up to every individual to play their part.

In the spirit of The Timberland Forest in Horqin – 1 million Done, 2 Million More.


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