“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The Lorax doesn’t lie; in fact, he speaks for the trees. Since you found your way to this page, it's clear you care an awful lot about our planet. But is "caring" and "doing something about it" the same? By volunteering to help with reforestation efforts abroad, you will add some serious credibility to your mere “interest” in a meaningful cause. You'll get your hands a little (ok, a lot!) dirty, hug trees a little tighter, make our air a little cleaner, and keep our Earth a little greener (and ultimately please the Lorax).
Why Volunteer Abroad in Reforestation
Reforestation projects serve to restore and reverse the effects industrialization and development have had on forests across the globe. Although reforestation initiatives differ by location, all of them have similar goals: reconstruct forests in order to improve quality of life, rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems, and mitigate the impact of global warming.
Turn over a new leaf (pun intended) as you volunteer with reforestation projects abroad. For the outdoor enthusiast or anyone studying environmental science or sustainability, reforestation volunteering placements are ideal. Reforestation volunteers will able to explore some of the world’s most beautiful, rugged landscapes while protecting them for future generations to enjoy.
While we’re sure your home country has no shortage of beautiful areas in need of reforestation, taking your talents abroad will expose you to a wider variety of flora and fauna, and really challenge you to comprehend the immense biodiversity of our planet. You might not get a spandex suit and matching cape, but you’ll certainly be saving the world.
Volunteering abroad in reforestation will take you off the beaten path to beautiful, hidden places that not just anyone gains access to. Countries that have spent decades practicing unsustainable land management, relying on timber and slash and burn agriculture, are now suffering the consequences as resources deplete. Reforestation volunteers will work to save these natural areas and help preserve the local way of life by teaching more ethical and sustainable practices.
Cambodia is known for its stunning temples (Angkor Wat) and its lush greenery. Between the rainforests of the Cardamom Mountains, the Central Indochina dry forests, and the Southeast dry evergreen forests, Cambodia has a lot to lose. Cambodia is also unfortunately known for having one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Illegal logging, creating fields by cutting and burning plants, and uncoordinated mining have significantly exhausted Cambodia’s forests. At the center of Cambodia’s reforestation efforts lies Tonle Sap Lake, named a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1997. The lake is a driving force in the Cambodian economy, producing up to 400,000 tons of freshwater fish each year. However, the erosion of flooded forests surrounding the lake have led to a steep decline in fish populations, provoking an immediate need for reforestation efforts.
Paraguay is known for its red soil, beautiful hills, and diverse culture. Due to uncontrolled forest clearing in the past, Paraguay is now known as one of the countries with the highest level of deforestation in the Americas. On a larger scale, the Eastern region of Paraguay seems to be the spot that needs the most help; it is the hotspot of endemic Paraguayan species and unique ecosystems. After years of damage, what remains is a highly fragmented forest, which is an extremely difficult environment for vegetation and wildlife to flourish. Volunteering in central South America will surely be a unique experience: you will meet the locals that not only speak Spanish but also their indigenous language, Guarani.
Zambia is best known for the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, stretching nearly a mile along its border with Zimbabwe. However, it has also joined Cambodia and Paraguay on the list of countries with the highest rates of deforestation. Unsustainable agricultural practices, charcoal burning, and mining have all contributed to the diminution of Zambia’s tropical forests and natural biodiversity. As a reforestation volunteer in Zambia, you will get a firsthand look at the cultural, as well as environmental, impact of urbanization and industrialization. In addition, volunteers will become immersed in the more traditional and varied cultural practices still flourishing across rural areas of the country.
Reforestation Volunteer Work
Volunteering in reforestation is unlike any other volunteering opportunity abroad; you will reconstruct landscapes, protect the environment, conserve natural resources, and provide education to prevent further mismanagement of the world’s forests and land. From small scale, grassroots efforts, such as setting up family gardens, to grander efforts like piloting a tree-planting program, reforestation volunteer work varies as much as the trees themselves.
Generally speaking, reforestation volunteers aim to reverse the negative effects of years of environmental harm from outdated agricultural techniques, excessive logging, and efforts to meet high global demands for charcoal. Since the primary concern in reforestation projects is to restore native forest and habitats, volunteers oftentimes collect seeds, seedlings, and young saplings to nurse in a greenhouse or plant directly into the Earth.
Other reforestation volunteer projects include the overall maintenance of endangered habitats or species. Weeding, removing invasive species, or surveying wildlife all help us to collectively understand nature’s course.
A cornerstone of reforestation projects, and most environmental volunteerism, is education. Agriculture and dependence on charcoal burning are two main causes for deforestation in rural areas. Volunteers will spend time educating locals on best practices to make farms more sustainable and profitable, ultimately helping to lift rural communities above the poverty line.
Benefits & Challenges
One perk of reforestation volunteer work is getting down and dirty, and we don’t just mean in the dirt. Reforestation volunteer programs are often run by locally owned and operated NGO’s; these host organizations are excellent resources for learning more about the specific environmental issues facing your volunteer destination of choice. Just be sure to ask for cultural and historical contexts to better understand the overall challenges!
Reforestation volunteer work can be long, hard, tiring work; sweat beads dripping down your forehead, blisters on your hands, your shovel starting to feel like 30 pounds instead of five, the sun beating down on your neck, the bugs-a-buzzing. While some might read that and think “Heck yeah! That’s what this is about!,” it is likewise important for volunteers to consider the physical demands of reforestation volunteer projects (rewarding, yes, but not without WORK!).
Are you ready to give AND receive? Rebuilding deforested areas requires ongoing, global efforts; by doing your part, you will tap into a community of volunteers near/far and old/young with one underlying motivator: flourishing new life on our precious planet.