As Sister Alecia Brewster of South Carolina Interfaith Power & Light and I walked along the shoreline of historic St. Helena Island and made our way back up into the shade amidst the trees, I had a flashback of going into the forest with my beloved Merkin Sistah Akilah Jaramogi of Fondes Amandes Reforestry in Trinidad. The moment that we touched the soil there together to replant a tree, I could feel our ancestors’ hands with ours pushing the soil over the roots. Yeah, webe de tree planted by de rivers of wata. We shall not be moved!
This immovable spirit must be what rooted us in our cultural traditions that we both were fighting to hold onto on different shorelines as we literally worked to keep the sand beneath our feet. Our souls spoke volumes to one another the moment Brother Frances Morean introduced us and she welcomed me for an afternoon luncheon at the site of Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project (FACRP). This welcome home meal was part of the Trinidad & Tobago Hill Rice Symposium that I had been invited to provide the keynote address for. I had no idea that I would come to personally experience the “hill” aspect of the name of the event when I first arrived, but this was a much more blessed journey than climbing “The Hill” to convince politicians in the United States of the importance of actually taking climate action.
Given that I was with Merkin Famlee, I was with kinfolks that knew what action truly was and we proceeded to take some action together and climb off some of the calories that was in the rich meal that had been served by Chef Benjamin Dennis and another Merkin Cousin Sister Leonis. Brother Morean had gone over the itinerary and I thought that this tree planting was going to be some symbolic photo opportunity until I got to Fondes and Sister Akilah and I started to discuss this location and how she and her late husband had founded it in order to help prevent the continued deforestation of their beloved island. Brother Morean even showed us how rapidly the waters move when there are massive rains and I could easily see how this could lead to dangerous mudslides especially if an earthquake struck and their was rain or a hurricane came through.
As I started to get more educated about Fondes and purchased some items and made a donation to the cause, the phone rang. There couldn’t have been a more blessed moment than when I heard Sistah Akilah greet the one and only Mama G Gloria Simms of the Maroons in Jamaica. Mama G and I had connected years before during the “Gullah/Geechee Seminole Maroon Reunion” that we hosted as part of the “Gullah/Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival™.” It was Divine Order that the three of us would unite during my first reconnection with the additional link to our Gullah/Geechee Diaspora-the Merkins. We all gave thanks together!
After the reunion, I tied up my gown so that I could make the necessary steps up the mountain to the site where the trees were located. As our entire delegation journeyed together, we discussed various healing herbs and trees along the way. I thought that this was one of the most outstanding environmental efforts I had ever seen run by natives of one of our islands.
FACRP is a community based non-governmental organization which began in 1982 when the late Tacuma Jaramogi and his wife Akilah Jaramogi, commenced work to protect the environment against man-made threats of forest fires. This organization began as a movement of community members, working together to eradicate the annual threat of forest fires within the Fondes Amandes watershed.
As the organization grew and evolved, the FACRP team addressed more environmental challenges facing their community and across Trinidad and Tobago. To date, some activities being undertaken include reforestation, forest fire prevention, forest fire suppression, organic seedling propagation, implementation of surface water management systems, national environmental education and awareness programmes, climate change adaptation and resilience research, facilitating regional and international student exchange programmes and implementingeco-system services as FACRP works towards becoming a sustainable NGO and Social Enterprise. Amidst the cool shade of Fondes Amandes, you feel at peace.
Those of us at South Carolina Interfaith Power & Light seek to bring the type of peace that I felt at Fondes Amandes to others throughout our home state and around the world. We know that trees improve the health of those in close proximity to them. Trees not only cool down the areas which is becoming even more appreciated as deathly heat waves continue to happen in different parts of the world, trees also remove pollutants from the air. Scientists have also concluded that trees reduce depression and stress and increase lifespans. I know that my life force was increased by the journey to higher heights with my Merikin Famlee in Trinidad and I pray that the trees that were planted will speak to the souls of future generations that sit beneath their shade and share our cultural heritage traditions and connections as we did during that journey. Juss likka de tree, we rooted een who webe!
Git rooted wit we and support global reforestry! Gwine ya fa gee: