By Anna Harris
This time last year I was visiting the Mbale Trees Programme in Uganda, the last of a series of visits to some of our forest projects in East Africa. I had the pleasure of spending International Women’s Day with an inspirational group of women from a village called Bisui in Mbale, Uganda: the Suunu Women’s Group.
To learn how tree planting and environmental protection, along with all the other associated activities of this group, had empowered these women (and as a result, their community too) was wonderful. It demonstrated not only the importance of empowering women but also the power a sense of solidarity and sisterhood can bring, for the individual woman, for the wider community, and the environment to which we’re so intrinsically linked.
As I arrived the women were performing a series of songs to a group of children from their village. They use these songs to educate the community about the importance of planting trees and protecting the environment. The words of the songs still ring around my head on a regular basis. Check out this video to get this earworm of a song stuck in your head too!
They then put me in a bee suit and showed me their bee hives. Each member takes responsibility for a hive. Locally, they sell the honey that’s been harvested from these hives and I can vouch that it is delicious honey! What’s wonderful about beekeeping and honey farming is that it goes hand-in-hand with what the message of love and care for the environment these women preach, and it provides an environmentally friendly and sustainable source of income.
I then had the opportunity to get my hands dirty (my favourite!) and planted a jackfruit tree. Now already a year old, it is expected to produce fruit in another 1 to 2 years. This tree was planted close to a primary school that sits within Suunu’s site. Once it starts producing fruit, it will provide the school with a fantastic source of nutrition. Here’s an example of the whopping size a jackfruit from a mature tree can grow to.
I was shown around their tree nursery by Anet, the nursery bed operator. Theirs is one of a network of nurseries around the Mbale region all distributing free seedlings to schools, churches, farmers, or absolutely anyone who wants to plant trees. Through the combined efforts of these nurseries the project is very close to planting their 10 millionth tree in the region!
Anet said “the project has proved that women can manage nurseries, in some cases better than men who traditionally have done this work. On a personal level, the project has raised my profile as a woman and mother as I have become known regionally and internationally as one of the leaders of the successful tree planting project.”
We then sat chatting, around a beautiful mature tree, whilst they showed me how they make a bracelet using a beading technique. They make all sorts of craft items such as bags, bracelets and earrings. They gave me a bracelet to take with me to remember the day – as if I could ever forget it – I also bought some of their beautiful bags for friends back home, and naturally, one for me too. This is another example where the united efforts of these women provides income and stability for their families, all whilst supporting the ethos and activities of their group.
I asked Deborah, the group’s chairwoman (and total force of nature) which, of all the activities, is her favourite. She replied ‘none’, going on to explain that all the activities are linked – for example they sing and dance about protecting trees and the environment, the drums are made from the trees, the beehives are mostly housed in trees, the bees source their pollen from the richly diverse trees and plant life on their site. It’s clear to see the lives of this excellent group of women quite literally revolves around trees.
Hear more from Deborah in this video below:
Myself and the team at Size of Wales would like to wish the Suunu Women’s Group, and women everywhere, a happy International Women’s Day – here’s to working together to strive for equal opportunities for all women.