Latter-day Saint Haitians Help Plant 400,000 Trees
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
A tree can represent many things. A tree can offer many people the sustenance they need to survive another day. For others, a tree provides a thanked-for moment of shade on a hot day. Some are drawn to a tree’s natural beauty.
For thousands of Latter-day Saint Haitians who continue to deal with the pain caused by the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a tree has come to represent hope for a future rich in abundance and spiritual beauty.
On May 1, members throughout this Caribbean island nation came together to participate in a massive, country-wide tree-planting project. Legions of saplings were planted on the first day of the project. Many more will be planted in the coming days. When the project is completed, it’s estimated that some 400,000 new trees will be growing in Haiti.
Various trees are being planted—including lemon, orange, coconut, papaya, and oak. In the future, it’s hoped that the members and their neighbors will enjoy the fruit produced on many of the trees even as they find shady relief from Haiti’s tropical sun.
The Church purchased the trees after the First Presidency approved the historic project. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve publicly announced the effort during his visit to Haiti last February.
Besides signaling the Church’s ongoing support of Haiti’s quake recovery, the tree-planting project also provided the members with a service-filled day to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Church here. In 1983, President Thomas S. Monson—then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve—visited Port-au-Prince to dedicate this land for the preaching of the gospel. With more than 18,000 members and continuing growth, Haiti is becoming a power for the Church in the Caribbean.
May 1 was an annual national holiday here, so parents and children were home from work and school, allowing them to show up early at their respective meetinghouses across the country to help with the project.
Following a brief devotional, members of all ages pulled saplings from local nursery delivery trucks and then divided into teams to begin planting across their respective communities. Many of the young trees were planted in urban areas, while others found new homes in the lush jungle regions high above this bustling capital city.
Bishop Lukenson Odney of the Cote-Plage Ward is old enough to recognize the extended horrors of the 2010 quake and its future ramifications—but young enough to be mistaken for one of the many missionaries who helped with the project. Each new tree, he said, signals a new day of hope for a damaged nation. “This project offers us as Church members and citizens of Haiti a special opportunity to make a difference.”
Improvements have been made since the disaster, he noted. New roads have been paved, and streetlights now illuminate some communities for the first time.
“But the people of Haiti still need help if we want to survive,” he said.
The bishop was thrilled to see so many young people spending their vacation day from school in service to others.
“These children are the future of Haiti, and these trees will become part of them.”
Twenty-one-year-old Reina Gaintil Guerrier told the Church News she would not have missed an opportunity to work with a pick and shovel next to her fellow members and Haitians.
“These trees will help our environment and add beauty to our country,” she said.
Reina’s enthusiasm was evident throughout the first day of the tree-planting project. Just minutes after the members in one corner of Port-au-Prince began pulling the saplings from the nursery truck, Richard’son Jean Baptiste began singing a hymn in Haitian Creole. His rich baritone could be heard across the Church property. Dozens of others joined in before he could reach the second verse.
“I wear a big smile so everyone can see my joy,” said Richard’son, a second-generation returned missionary here in Haiti. “I love my country, and we have been taught by the Church to be an example to everyone.”
Elder Fouchard Pierre-Nau, an Area Seventy and a Haitian, said his country was once known as a “pearl” in the Caribbean. But centuries of deforestation have dramatically altered the natural landscape and beauty here. The ongoing tree-planting project, he said, stands as a gift of beautification to Haiti from the members of the Church worldwide.
Besides offering fruit and shade, each newly planted tree is a symbol of the hope that defines the gospel, he added. One has to have hope for better days ahead to plant a tree. And fruit appears only after an exercise of faith and labor.
Elder Pierre-Nau said Latter-day Saints in Haiti have remained happy, hopeful people even as they have endured the pain of the 2010 quake and its ongoing impact.
“You will see that the members here are still happy because of the Restoration of the gospel,” he said. “When you have the gospel you are happy.”