Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
A Persian-born member of the Findhorn Ecovillage community is answering a call to help heal the land of her birth in the Middle East with an ambitious rewilding project to restore degraded forests and encourage the return of wildlife."For many years I have heard the land of my birthplace on the south shore of the Caspian Sea calling out for help," Pupak Haghighi says, explaining her inspiration to convene a Gathering for Earth Healing in Eastern Turkey in April 2016.
"There, and in the greater region all around, I have seen the degradation of the soil, the pollution of water and air, widespread deforestation, and the life-carrying capacity of the land diminished. My heart cries for the suffering of life on a land I love and I know there are ways to help the lifeforce return.
"The simple act of planting trees can transform the land," she says. "Planting a tree is an act of hope which begins the process of ecological recovery and the revitalisation of the whole region. When we plant trees together it can also transform our lives."
Trees grow roots deep into the Earth, stabilising the soil and supporting networks of fungal mycelia that nurture other life. The trees also create shade and understory habitats for wildlife and attract clouds, which bring life-giving rain.For the dream to be realised it has to be shared by local people in the Middle East and to catalyse conservation and restorative action she is planning the bio-regional gathering – and fundraising to make this a reality.
Living in the Findhorn Foundation community has been the perfect place for inspiration and nurturing, a conversation with 95-year-old community co-founder Dorothy Maclean sparking the idea of calling the project Trees for Hope. And in an act rich in symbolism the first tree was planted in the woods adjoining the community on 22 February, with Jonathan Caddy, son of co-founders Peter and Eileen Caddy, helping choose the site and turn the soil.
Her life partner is Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of the award-winning Trees for Life conservation charity. A decade ago he accompanied her on a fact-finding mission to Iran to help promote and develop the concept of a Middle Eastern rewilding project.He reported at the time that many thought he was slightly crazy to visit a country that was perceived to be dangerous and hostile. "The people we met were the most hospitable I have ever encountered and all were very friendly, from cab drivers and farmers to government officials."
At the end of the trip he gave two talks in the capital city, Teheran, to university forestry staff and conservation activists about Trees for Life, the work of forest restoration and the vision for the Restoring the Earth project, which were well received.
Pupak draws inspiration from the impact of people like Alan and is grateful to be surrounded by a loving and supportive community.
"I find myself in a very privileged position of having so much support here in Findhorn to initiate the project. To make next year's gathering a reality I need to travel to the area and meet the relevant people. So I am acting on my love for the land, using the resources I have and calling for help to attract support to realise this dream together with allies. I know I am not alone in wanting to see a vibrant and healthy ecology for both humans and wildlife.
"I appreciate any funds and connections people can offer."
She invites anyone who might be interested or able to help to visit the Trees for Hope website.