Posts Tagged ‘desertification’

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.


Transforming the Land

Our thanks to Timberland‘s marketing manager for Singapore, Cheryl Kow, for detailing her tree-planting experience in the Horqin Desert for us.  Here is the final installment in Cheryl’s Horqin Chronicles:

We move out early again for a full day of tree planting, which I’m really looking forward to. Our destination: Gabo Desert, just half an hour from the hotel.

Horqin dunes in the early stages of greening

The bus stops at the beginning of a dirt trail and we clamber 3 apiece into small Jeeps which will take us to the main tree planting areas. The back of the Jeeps are too small to sit, so we stand in a row holding the helm. The wind works up the cold in our faces and we watch the barren landscape give way to expansive fields of green grass and gold sunflowers and a sinuous sky of blue ice, against a faraway backdrop of layers and layers of swelling hills that seem to continue forever. We pass maize fields, rice fields. We see sheep, cows and tractors. It’s the pastoral life at its flourishing best and it’s stunning.

In about 10 minutes, we’re back in the desert. We disembark and Mr. Kitaura rounds us up to explain what we’re here to do: build a grid of squares using hay, called Si Fang Ge (literal translation: 4 sided box); the grids help to block the wind and hold the sand in place. Poplars are then planted within each square and the grids ensure protection against the elements and an increased chance of survival.

He speaks briefly of the severity of desertification.  The past saw the threat of invasion of proud warriors on armored horseback. While this may no longer pose a threat in modern times, the mainland and Japan are now seeing a second invasion, this time in the form of sand. The desert is dramatically expanding at 10,000 square km per year and affecting the quality of life of the two said countries, evidenced by the apocalyptic sandstorms from the north that assault both Japan and China, especially during the summer months.

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Introducing Green Net

Day Two of Cheryl Kow’s Horqin Chronicles, detailing her recent tree-planting experience in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia:

After a breakfast buffet of Chinese staples (fried and steamed pancakes, rice and millet congee, eggs and pickled vegetables), we set off for Agura Desert, where the bulk of the “Timberland Forest” stands. 

The road to Agura is lined with tall poplars designed to “catch” strong winds from blowing into the desert.  Beyond that, we see wide open sand spaces. There is some beauty in its desolateness.  

Tree planting volunteers in the “Timberland Forest” in the Horqin Desert.

Upon our arrival we are welcomed by Mr. Otaki and Mr. Kitaura, two guides from Green Net.  Established in January 2000, Green Net is a Japanese non-profit organization that has undertaken the uphill task of reforestation and education in an effort to reverse the desertification process.  Timberland has partnered with Green Net for the last 8 years.

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Horqin Chronicles

Desertification is a growing environmental problem, particularly in Asia where rapid population growth and land overuse are taking their toll in agriculturally-dependent communities. To help combat desertification, Timberland sends a group of volunteers each year to plant trees in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia – an ever-expanding barren region that generates massive migrating dust clouds which negatively impact air quality in China, Japan and other Asian countries.  To date, Timberland has planted approximately 700,000 trees in the Horqin Desert – major progress toward our commitment to plant one million trees by 2010.

Timberland’s marketing manager for Singapore, Cheryl Kow, was among the Horqin volunteers during the annual tree-planting trip in September and agreed to share her thoughts and experiences with us here on Earthkeepers.  Below is the first entry in Cheryl’s Horqin Chronicles:

Two colleagues and I touch down at the Shenyang Airport at around 11am via Beijing and meet the other Horqin volunteers from Taiwan.  Together we pile into a small van which will take us through Shenyang into Tong Liao province in Inner Mongolia, where the tree planting activities will take place.

It’s a 4-hour ride into the sprawling metropolis of Shenyang in Northwestern China.  I am surprised by its modernity.  Extensive, multi-storied shopping complexes peer out at us as the van navigates new and sophisticated highways.  The familiar red and blue Carrefour insignia whizzes past us.

The urban skyline falls behind the horizon, giving way to a deserted and rustic city as our van pulls up a dusty road to the hotel where we will set base for the next three days. After a quick check-in, we’re on our own until dinner, when the Japan team will arrive.

A colleague and I take a walk around the dusty town, wandering past dilapidated buildings and a couple of new construction sites.  A recently-built amusement park helps bring some tourists, which explains the surge of newer hotel establishments, but we still wonder about the lack of people walking the streets.

Our entire group meets for dinner at the hotel, chatting among ourselves about the next two days.  We are all anxious and excited to get to work in the Horqin Desert.