Malawi, Central Africa … It all started with a disastrous fire in a managed forest in northern Malawi ten years ago. A careless employee had left a fire unattended, and a very destructive wild fire followed. The businessman who employed the careless worker was held responsible. He approached the Malawi Project with an idea, and after gaining approval he went to the Malawi Forestry Department with a proposal that would institute a major new program for the Malawi Project.
Instead of paying the massive fine for the mishap what if he organized villages to plant new seedlings. In turn the government would supply the tree seedlings. The Malawi Project would supply the incentive for the villagers to do the planting. The project would be called “Shoes for Trees”, and in the following years the Malawi Project would spawn similar programs in other parts of the nation.
Inspired by the success of the program, with its focus of Malawians doing their part in the creation of a better future, contributors in the U.S. and Canada started making shipments of brand new shoes available to the Project. These shipments often contained 7 to 8,000 pair of new shoes still in their original boxes. Each box was a treasure trove to its recipient. Before the shoes arrived, Malawian organizers would make contact with the forestry department offices to obtain hundreds of thousands of tree seedlings. Then agreements would be formed with village and tribal leaders, as well as government officials in each of the districts.
In 2005 the first two trailers of shoes arrived in Malawi. The planning program went into full swing, and the result was the planting and cultivation of an estimated 400,000 seedlings.
The following year two more shipments of shoes arrived, and two new programs were added; a “Shoes for Grades” program designed to encourage school children to excel in their class work, attendance and attitudes in order to obtain shoes. The second program, a “Shoes for Road” program spurred a remote village to build a new road all the way to a major highway. It would give access to commerce, and the villagers would obtain a new pair of shoes. That same year the children of Mtendere Village planted large numbers of seedlings throughout the village complex north of the capital.
In 2009 another trailer of “Shoes for Trees” added more thousands of trees to a mountainous area north of the Dedza Trading Center on land being owned and being developed by the Dzidalire Development Agency, with help from the Malawi Project.
On June 12, 2012 a trailer containing 24,000 pair of shoes brought to life a major conversation-tree planning program in southern Malawi. Again, the Malawi Department of Forestry participated, and village and tribal leaders organized the work. Members of the staff at the Namikango Mission insured distribution of the first group of shoes, and the government and news media participated in the ceremony at the conclusion of the planting.
Additional programs throughout the year will continue the success of a program that had its beginning during a very negative event for one of Malawi’s major forests, but resulted in the establishment of young new forests in a number of parts of the country.