Brazilian Couple Created 1,502-Acre Forest In 20 Years, Which Houses 500+ Endangered Plant & Animal Species

Image Credits: Instituto Terra

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In the early 1990s, Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado was stationed in Rwanda to cover the horrific accounts of Rwanda genocide. The on-ground experience left him traumatised. In 1994, he was returning to his home in Minas Gerais, Brazil, with a heavy heart, hoping to find solace in the lap of a lush green forest, where he had grown up. But, instead, he found dusty, barren land for miles and miles, in place of the forest. In only a few years, his beautiful hometown underwent rampant deforestation, leaving it fallow and devoid of all the wildlife. For him, everything was destroyed. “The land was as sick as I was. Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees,’ he shared in an interview with The Guardian. Salgado was shattered.

Saldago’s wife wanted to recreate the forest

It was at this time that Salgado’s wife Lélia made a near-impossible proposal. She expressed her wish to replant the entire forest. Salgado supported her idea, and together the couple set out on a heroic mission.

Brazil Photographer Forest

Salgado bought an abandoned cattle ranch from his parents and started building a network of enthusiastic volunteers and partners who would fund and sustain their mammoth project. In 1998, the couple founded Instituto Terra – the organisation which tirelessly worked to bring a forest back to life.

Brazil Photographer Forest
PNHR Bulcão Farm | by Weverson Rocio – 2012

Salgado sowed the first seed in December 1999. The couple hired around 24 workers in the beginning and was later joined by numerous volunteers over the years. They worked day and night – from uprooting the invasive weeds to planting new seedlings. Soon, their hard work bore fruit as tropical trees native to the region started flourishing in the area. They received a donation of over one lakh saplings which gave rise to a dense forest. The handcrafted forest comprises mostly of local arboreal and shrub varieties. Latest satellite imagery revealed how a soothing green forest cover has enveloped the area which once was a devastating arid eyesore.

Since 1998, they have planted more than 2 million saplings of 293 species of trees and rejuvenated 1,502 acres of tropical forest. The biodiversity-rich zone has recently been declared as a Private Natural Heritage Reserve (PNHR).

The impact of Salgado’s forest

The afforestation project, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest environmental initiatives in the world, has also helped to control soil erosion and revived the natural springs in the area. Eight water springs which once dried up, flow at around 20 litres per minute at present, relieving the drought-prone region of its woes. Salgado’s forest also happens to solve the much-debated notion about climate change, proving that the trend can be reversed if tried. His forest has resulted in causing more rainfall to the area and cooler weather, bringing a drastic and desirable change in the climate.

Brazil Photographer Forest
Instituto Terra’s Fauna | by Leonardo Merçon – 2012

The most important positive aspect of the forest till now has to be the return of the lost fauna. More than 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, 15 species of amphibians and reptiles have been spotted in the forest interiors, something which was beyond imagination two decades ago. Many of the plant and animal species in his forest actually feature on the endangered list.

Efforts For Good take

Climate change is a harsh reality. Mankind is bearing the brunt of the relentless destruction they inflicted on the planet. Yet, people like Salgado and Lélia fill us with hope, proving that patience and persistence can be our keys to heal the wounds of nature. If two people can create a 1502-acre forest in just 20 years, then imagine how much can be done if everyone comes together to protect the environment. It must be reminded that for every tree we plant, we are adding 118 kgs of oxygen to the air every year, and reducing the carbon footprint by 22 kgs.

Efforts For Good urges all the readers to actively engage in planting trees and gradually turn this into a fixed habit.

Also Read: In 2007 He Planted Just One Tree, Now Every Year His Organisation Plants More Than 1,00,000 Trees

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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