Manzanita School’s Speakers Series brings campus to community for a multi-generational discussion of new paradigms that connect a deep understanding of nature to everyday living and to global concerns, like seeds that restore a decimated rain forest.
Artist, author, activist, rainforest advocate and Founder of iGiveTrees.com, Alana Lea, exhorts her young audience, “Never underestimate the power of a bake sale,” as she presented her story at the Manzanita School Speakers Series last month.
Organized by the high school students, the monthly event was created to engage families and community in “deep nature connection” in order to build a common language to grapple with existing paradigms and help share a “New Story.”
Lea’s story began nine years ago when she attended the Pachamama Alliance “Awakening the Dreamer” Symposium.
“From that event, I was inspired to start iGiveTrees. Being an avid botanical artist illustrating plants, as well as being passionate about gardening, I was committed to finding some way to use my skills to give back to my homeland forests, the Mata Atlântica [the Atlantic Rainforest] in Brazil.”
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Lea moved to the United States as a child, only to return half a century later with her teenage daughter and discover that only seven percent remained of what was once an immense rain forest. Slash-and-burn agriculture decimated the forest for crops of sugar and coffee, and now often grows massive GMO crops and paper pulp plantations.
When Lea discovered reforestation was possible, she took action and reseeded what is now newly forested areas of Mata Atlântica—an area of 390,000 to 580,000 square miles 500 years ago when the Portuguese colonized it—that has since been deforested by more than 85 percent.
Terry Krueger, formerly a teacher in her native home in South Africa, attended the same workshop and was inspired to bring Lea to teach a geography class to her Topanga Homeschoolers. Activated, the students held a bake sale at their weekly park day. Those pennies and quarters, along with Lea’s other fundraising efforts, bought the initial saplings and the first batch of 1,000 trees were planted.
Traveling to Brazil with the bake sale money and a video of the students from Terry’s class, Lea shared her United States’ students’ story with the children and faculty at a local private school. News traveled fast and the regional affiliate of Brazilian Globo TV covered the story of the first saplings being planted in 2010.
Lea, then returned to the U.S. to collaborate with Terry’s geography class students, as well as the homeschool activist group, Kids for Environmental and Social Action (KFESA). Led by teens Cole Gann, Keith Krueger and Jack Seres and about 50 more students and their families, they created KFESA’S “Benefit the Rainforest Concert” at the Topanga Community Center in 2011, and raised enough funds for Alana to plant 2,000 more trees.
In 2013, Lea showed a video of the Topanga benefit concert to a private school assembly in São Paulo for Earth Day. As a result, the students and families were motivated to create their own fundraising efforts to plant more trees and accomplished that goal.
With this, the iGiveTrees organization became truly international. From baked cookies supplied by homeschoolers in Geography class, to KFESA’s fundraising concert, along with the students of Brazil, the children and families across cultures helped Lea, now being called a “rainforest advocate,” launch the project.
Most recently, the iGiveTrees project was among the winners of the French Ministry of Environment’s “100 Projects for the Climate” initiative. After participating in a global consortium of citizen initiatives that mitigate the effects of climate change at COP22 in Marrakesh, they are now beginning the next phase of development: to scale impact through an intercontinental collaborative “afforestation” project in the city of São Paulo.
Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees in an area where there was no previous tree cover. Reforestation is the reestablishment of forest cover, either naturally (by natural seeding, coppice, or root suckers) or artificially (by direct seeding or planting).
Bringing Shubhendu Sharma from India, to teach the Miyawaki Method of Afforestation (named #15 of the top 100 solutions to climate change in Paul Hawken’s book, “Drawdown”), they will conduct training to inspire a new generation of environmental entrepreneurs to replicate their efforts. The pilot project will plant a 300-tree food forest in the space normally occupied by six parked cars.
Compared to a conventional plantation, these forests grow ten times faster, are 100 times more biodiverse and have 30 times more green surface area. The entire process is 100 percent organic and is giving hope to a rainforest that is 93 percent gone.
“Continuing the momentum of COP 21, ‘100 projects for climate’ aims to speed up the emergence of citizen-led initiatives to combat global warming. This new participative step, building on the valuable discussions of the Paris-Climate Conference, will enable the 100 most innovative solutions from around the world to become a reality.” (French Ministry of Ecology)
“There are solutions!” Lea concluded. “It’s a matter of helping the people who are already actively engaged in action to take the right actions. Everybody can do it at home, as well. Compost and harvest your soil!”
Recalling Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
To access Alana Lea’s talk as well as past speakers, connect to www.manzanitaschool.org or find it on Youtube via Manzanita Institute Speaker Series. Join them in giving hope to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil www.igivetrees.com.
Alana Lea’s botanical works, including several published books are available at: www.alanalea.com.
About Manzanita School—Situated on 21 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, Manzanita School (grades 4 – 12) combines classroom instruction with “deep nature connection.” By complementing classroom studies with strong mentorship and outdoor experiences, students are better prepared to step into our ever-changing world with confidence and a keen sense of their own intrinsic gifts. Because this educational model offers a paradigm shift away from traditional structures of education, Manzanita School is complimented by the Manzanita Institute, which organizes events—such as its Speaker Series program—for the public.
“The importance of the Manzanita Institute this year has been for the high school [students] to be a bigger part of the community by spreading our vision and ideas with the greater community around us,” said student Benjamin Schmid, one of seven high school students who play an instrumental role in organizing Manzanita Institute events. “The people we choose to be part of our Speaker Series have a direct correlation with Manzanita’s vision or curriculum.”
“We have believed from the inception of our school, that providing a powerful, alternative educational model is not enough,” says Director Paul Astin. “To move the needle of both culture and learning, our innovative approaches must be visible and replicable beyond the borders of Topanga. The Institute provides for that possibility through public events that are videotaped and archived on our website, becoming available to people all over the world.”
Additional contributors to this article were Alana Lea and Claire Walla.
By Paige Parsons Roache
Thank you for this beautiful article Paige, and to Manzanita School for the opportunity to share our story with the students, to Sue Moore for her lovingly prepared videos, and to the community of Topanga for supporting the early years of our project!.
I just wanted to give you all an update: our story will be shared in Paris as part of a TEDx talk in May 2019!
My topic is A Powerful Drop. I’ll tell a traditional Mexican story about a small cloud that felt urgency to offer herself as a drop of rain to green the desert, reflected in my own experiences as a single mom who felt the same compulsion to replant the rainforest where I was born, and that of Greta who is now breaking the drought of apathy around climate change.
And, the iGiveTrees project is growing internationally this year. More will be shared about that on the website soon.
THANK YOU TOPANGA!