This piece originally appeared at www.mennonitemission.net on August 30, 2023.
In early August 2023, Q'eqchi' Bezaleel Mennonite Educational Center students and Iglesia Nacional Evangélica Menonita Guatemalteca (INEMGUA, National Evangelical Mennonite Church of Guatemala) church leaders planted 367 Hass avocado (Persea americana) trees at the education center in San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Funds to purchase the trees were provided by Mennonite Men through the JoinTrees campaign to plant one million trees by 2030. This campaign targets climate change by increasing tree and forest cover. Mennonite Mission Network provided an additional $500 for transporting the trees, organic fertilizer and other materials.
Photo: Bezaleel agriculture teacher Alejandro Hub Caz (second from right) who coordinated the tree-planting project, celebrates the work they have accomplished with teacher Luvia Guillermo de Ac (third from the left) and four of the students who planted trees. Q'eqchi' Bezaleel Mennonite Educational Center in San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
With a deep commitment to spiritual growth and environmental responsibility, while serving as president of the INEMGUA, Santiago Iqui and former Mission Network international service worker Deb Byler envisioned a project that would not only contribute to the beautification of the education center's landscape and provide produce for the students at the education center but also serve as a tangible expression of the Mennonite faith's teachings on caring for the environment. Mission Network is a partner of INEMGUA.
Months of research and planning preceded the actual tree-planting endeavor. Church leaders collaborated closely with consultant engineers and an agricultural technician to examine the education center site for drainage concerns and exotic and endangered plant species. They also collected soil samples for testing to ensure the trees would thrive.
They chose to plant Hass avocado trees based on their ecological suitability to the region, as well as their ability to provide valuable ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, soil stabilization and habitat creation.
"Helping with trees in agroforestry projects like this is especially important because these trees not only help sequester carbon, cool the planet, and reduce deforestation but also support the livelihoods of families. So we get multiple benefits by planting trees in communities like San Juan Chamelco," said Steve Thomas, Mennonite Men Coordinator for USA.
The church leaders worked together with Bezaleel's agriculture teacher Alejandro Hub Caz to include the education center's students and teachers in the planting initiative to foster a sense of collective responsibility and ownership in the project. One of the project's stated objectives is to teach students to manage trees so they can help reforest their local communities once they graduate. Guided by environmental experts, the volunteers learned proper planting techniques, which ensured that the trees had the best chance of survival and growth.
Ongoing stewardship and care for the newly planted trees is important for food security and will benefit the students and teachers. A maintenance schedule was developed, which includes fence maintenance to protect the trees from animals and keeping the areas around the trees clear of any other plant growth.