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Planting trees in Soacha

Colombia, September 14, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Steve Nantz/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Soacha is a city south of Bogota that is plagued by gangs, groups affiliated with the country's armed conflict, and abject poverty. The community was created by impoverished families who had fled violence by armed groups in other parts of the country. Residents of Soacha include Afro-Colombians, indigenous groups and, most recently, poor families from Bogota pushed out by gentrification. Because these settlements are not recognized as legal by the government, residents do not receive municipal services we take for granted such as garbage collection or running water. Photo: Steve Nantz/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps  </span>
    We’re helping local residents nurture hope for the future through community projects like clean-ups and tree plantings. With Mercy Corps’ assistance, the community has planted 600 trees of alder, laurel, oak, cedar, rubber tree, acasia and Colombian pine. The species were selected because they grow fast and can thrive in Soacha’s degraded soils. The landscape here is barren and the trees make a big difference. We’re hoping to raise money to plant 63,000 in total, which will help protect people from the intense sun, improve the soils, reduce the risk of flooding, and stabilize hillsides to prevent landslides like the one that destroyed 170 homes last year. These activities will also create employment for local residents and small business opportunities for tree nurseries, as well as have a positive psychological impact on the community. Photo: Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps  </span>
    One of the ways Mercy Corps is countering the affects of decades of conflict is to focus on the children. By creating safe spaces for them to learn and play, we’re helping them to envision a life without constant conflict and poverty. Photo: Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Local residents call September “El mes del vientos,” the month of wind. On this beautiful Sunday, 150 local residents turned out to tend to the trees they had planted, which involves fixing the mesh nets which protect them, adding mulch, pulling weeds and picking up trash. Meanwhile, the children were taught to make simple kites. These are activities that we would take for granted in the States – but in impoverished Soacha, they’re helping to bring diverse groups of people together in a positive project which helps strengthen the entire community. Photo: Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps  </span>
    I loved watching this boy soar over the land, he was so full of life. You can see the young trees below, along with other children flying their kites in the background. All are signs of hope for a better life for the people of Soacha. Photo: Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps  </span>
    By working hand-in-hand with locals, we’re turning what was a barren, garbage-ridden area into a park where the community can come together in peace. When we first proposed the project, we were told by the government environmental agency that it wouldn’t work. They had hired workers to plant trees here before, and people would pull them out. But our approach was different: We worked together with the community to plant the trees, and community volunteers have continued to care for them. It was put to the test when a local landowners threatened to remove the saplings, but the community stood up to him and said no, and explained to him why it was important that the trees remain. Photo: Jennifer Schmidt/Mercy Corps

Soacha is poor but full of pride. We're helping residents beautify their community by planting trees and caring for them. It's one step toward turning a barren field into an active park for children and their parents.