As a child growing up in Ethiopia, Gashaw Tahir lived in a village so dense with majestic trees he couldn’t see the sky. But, as an adult returning to Ethiopia after years spent abroad, he was shocked to find his native country transformed into a barren land, stripped of most of its forests. The land erosion was not a mere matter of aesthetics. In Africa, many experts link deforestation and its consequences—lack of arable land; increased average temperatures; rise in malaria; and a scarcity of resources—with ongoing conflict and war.
“I saw so much hopelessness on the faces of people, especially young people—many of whom were children of parents who had passed away from HIV/AIDS—and I knew I needed to do something,” says Tahir. “I started talking to the kids and they said they wanted a job, they wanted to eat, they wanted money to buy materials to go to school; they wanted hope.”
Tahir’s plan was deceptively simple: Plant more trees. Put the young people to work. Restore community and ecosystem to his village in Ethiopia. The result? Tahir founded an NGO called Greenland Development Foundation that planted more than a million trees in Ethiopia and, in the process, put more than 450 young people to work, giving them not only a sense of dignity, but the ability to see a future in Ethiopia. As far as environmental recovery, Tahir says grasses and a variety of crops are growing, the climate is changing, and the wild animals that had become scarce are coming back to his village.
“If I learned anything through Landmark, it’s that if one person can enroll other people for a vision, then with collaboration we can make an even bigger difference,” says Tahir.