Growing hope (and trees) in Africa

Name: Mary Schott
Graduate program: Horticulture
Year: Second-year master's student
Hometown: Attica, Indiana

Making a global difference: In 2008, Mary founded Trees for Tanzania (TFT). The organization helps address the detrimental impact of deforestation on the people and environment of one of the poorest places on Earth: the Kigoma Province of Tanzania. TFT helps establish sources of tree-based products such as firewood and timber. Mary also conducts research on native and endangered trees in her reforestation effort.

Early adventures: When Mary was 9 years old she took her first trip to Africa in the country of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Every few years her father, a talented diesel mechanic, would raise money to buy spare generator parts and bring them to Zaire to repair electric generators at mission hospitals. “When I was on my first trip, I saw such great need and realized my passion for helping Africans in the future.”

Reforestation research: TFT has 4,000 trees planted in a demonstration plot to research fast-growing and termite-resistant hardwood trees as renewable sources of timber and firewood. It’s also used to show the people of Kigoma how they can grow trees alongside crops without taking away valuable space. For example, TFT plants pigeon peas, an important legume crop with the ability to add nitrogen to the soil to help trees grow. Grown as food for humans and livestock, the pea plants are used medicinally as well.

Planting the seeds: A large initiative of TFT is to provide tree seedlings free of charge. So far, more than 42,000 seedlings have been distributed to church groups, schools, municipalities and individuals — along with lessons on how to plant and care for trees and why forestry is important.

Long-term goals: While providing agroforestry seminars, Mary found another need in the community — literacy. Even though materials on how to care for trees were translated from English into Swahili, several women refused to take them because they couldn’t read. “I have a new goal of establishing educators in Kigoma to teach the women how to read and write, and in turn, give the gift of literacy to their children who are not yet in school.”

By Emily Blue