Aayush’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.
Alaap, the organization I served with as an AIF Clinton Fellow this past year, works at the intersection of environmental degradation and poverty to ensure that both nature and people thrive in harmony. They do that by bringing back the native forests of the Himalayas, forest-friendly employment creation, and creating alternative livelihoods for local communities. Till date, they have planted 18 711 saplings and added the equivalent of 700 000 INR to the local economy.
I had been grateful to attend three of these forest creation endeavors. Reflecting deep on the lessons that the forests have for us, I decided to write about the life lessons I learnt from the trees while creating native forests in the Himalayas with the help of Alaap and the local community. I am also enclosing short stories and anecdotes to substantiate the point from my experiences.
- Strength — Trees teach us that no matter what the circumstances are, stand tall, and fight your way out of the problem with full strength. The women of Uttarakhand whom I had the pleasure to work with always used to say to me that their strength of working hard daily came from the daily dosage of inspiration they found while going to the forest to collect firewood. This was inspiring for me.
- Flexibility — Looking at the tree’s flexibility, one can easily learn how to switch one’s thinking as per the demands of the situation. Just like trees in the forest position themselves so that every tree can get the maximum amount of sunlight possible. I remember that once we had to organize a seminar in one of the places, but the venue was cancelled at the last time. My team was flexible and agile enough to find new place immediately and get all the participants there in time. Working in the social sector, one has to have a share of risk management and back-up plans ready in case something doesn’t go as planned.
- Patience — A forest doesn’t grow in a day. In the same way, many areas in life take time. Patience is a virtue. When planting trees to grow a forest, one learns to have patience like nobody else. I couldn’t learn more patience than by visiting government officials three times a week for the same issue. Maintaining patience and humility was important there, because not doing so would have harmed the people I was working for in indirect ways.
- Presence — Trees in the forest are always present and mindful of their surroundings and are responsive to the changes around them in real time. In the same way, it’s always important to be fully present. The field coordinator at my host organization taught me the importance of presence. He was successful in listening and observing his environment very minutely and then on the basis of that, he used to choose his communication style.
- Adaptability — Trees are good at adapting to different seasons and circumstances with their agility. In the same way, if we learn to be adaptable, we can also move around smoothly through many challenges of life. One of my Co-Fellows at AIF was based in Odisha and we used to talk about how the life was going on for us. The way he adapted himself to his remote location, I haven’t seen anybody like that. He told me: “Aayush, if people are living in the area, it means that you can live too.” This was a powerful statement.
- Survivorship — A tree can live in extreme conditions. And it offers a life support system to other organisms around it. In the same way, we don’t have to get bogged down by life’s challenges but do our best to support those around us. During the Fellowship, there were many ups and downs in my journey. But with the help of my colleagues and my own willpower, I was able to come out successfully from the program. The pine tree is also a symbol of survivorship in the sense that it tolerates an intense environment and is still able to thrive.
- Authenticity — No matter the shape, size, or color of the tree, a tree is always authentic in the way of its presentation to others without any trace of pretense. If one is authentic as a tree, one has to worry less and less about how one is to carry oneself according to different situations so as to manipulate them. This fact was shown in an exemplary way by one of the shopkeepers in my village. He was a little shorter than others, but his confidence was always high and he used to tell me that one doesn’t need to fret over the things one can’t change. It is not good to compare oneself to everyone, as everybody is unique in their own ways.
My colleagues and the people I worked with taught me so much by learning from the forests themselves. I firmly believe that the nature of trees has a lot to teach us and if we are mindful enough to observe and listen closely, it can help us to become stronger and more powerful in our own lives.