Beaten and bruised, adrenalin rushing yet tired. That is what Maria Heriwa (not real name), of Thunga Village, Traditional Authority Bvumbwe in Thyolo, experiences when she has to fetch firewood. There is no forest in her village where she and other villagers can collect firewood for domestic use. All the trees have been lost to wanton cutting.
As such, she wakes up early in the morning and walks a long distance to the tea estates to collect tea bushes which she then uses for cooking. It is the only option she has.
The long distance between her house and the tea estates is the least of her problems. Rather, she worries that the situation makes her vulnerable to abuse by the estate guards. And she is not alone—many other women from surrounding areas undergo the same routine.
Realising that the threat of women being abused stems from the scarcity of trees for firewood in the area, Dapp Amalika Teachers’ Training College embarked on a reforestation drive which takes place annually. Unlike other similar programmes, Dapp Amalika not only helps the community to plant trees but also ensures that the trees are taken care of. Most of the trees that are planted are fruit trees.
Operations manager for Dapp Amalika Moses Bokosi says deforestation was a serious problem in the area and their organisation is trying to restore the environment by encouraging the community to plant trees.
“As a teachers’ college, we also rely on surrounding communities so when they have a problem, we are affected. Most of our students go to the communities for their teaching practice and they have to have a good life,” says Bokosi.
The organisation not only provides the trees for planting but also advises the community on how to care for them.
“Some trees that we give the communities to plant have medicinal purposes and we tell them how to prepare the herbs for their well-being. For example, moringa is well known as a cure of a number of health ailments,” said Bokosi.
And the communities are already benefitting from the trees as they have already started harvesting from their orchards.
“Those that planted the trees previously have already started harvesting,” says Kalitsiro.
Agricultural extension officer for the area Davie Kalitsiro says the Ministry of Agriculture is working together with Dapp to ensure that the environment is well looked after by communities.
“We are grateful to Dapp and we would like them to continue assisting us in restoring the environment,” said Kalitsiro.
Kalitsiro said the challenges that women face in their efforts to collect firewood are many, including long distances and the threat of being raped and abused since most of them leave their homes very early in the morning to fetch firewood. He said the project will help save the next generation from a similar predicament.
According to Bokosi, Dapp planted one million trees nationwide in 2013, while Dapp Amalika in Thyolo planted 70 000 out of the 90 000 seedlings that were in the nursery as of 30 December last year.