December 26, 2004, while holidaying with her family at the Nilavelli Beach Resort in Sri Lanka, DG Gowri Rajan, District 3220, was almost swept away by the dark and angry waters the tsunami unleashed on this region on that day.
“The earlier day was Christmas, and I was fast asleep at the resort when I was suddenly woken up by the sound of crashing water,” she recalls. She opened her eyes to find black water pouring down, and thinking it was “water leaking from the AC,” closed her eyes to go back to sleep.
Luckily, she didn’t do that; getting up she drew the curtains to find a wall of water outside her room.
“I rushed towards the main door but couldn’t open it thanks to the pressure of the water.”
“As we were walking away, another wave came and my cousin asked me to climb a tree, which I couldn’t. But luckily a friend shouted to me to walk towards a tree where he was and pulled me up. So yes, I was saved by not one, but two trees,” says Gowri.
Soon the crashing water burst open the other door in her room, and while trying to get out; she fell down and was thrown against a tree. In desperation she clung to the tree, till the wave receded, leaving water stagnant around her. She hung on for 15–20 minutes, until her cousin came and rescued her.
So while researching for the Sri Lanka Rotary project termed ‘One Million Tree Stories,’ that aims to plant one million trees in Sri Lanka within this year, “we were discussing the findings of some research that says everybody has a tree in their life.” Being petrified of snakes and insects, Gowri says, “I keep far away from trees, so I said I don’t like trees.” But she was urged to look back and think, and she ended up with one of the most interesting tree stories that any human being can share.
Gowri adds that the objective of the project is “to have a greener earth by inspiring, engaging and supporting people to take personal responsibility of the environment, making it safe, healthy and sustainable and to share the process as a model for the country and globally.”
Sri Lanka Tourism Department in partnership with Rotary Sri Lanka and Hatton National Bank is sponsoring this project. “An objective research suggests that every human being is emotionally attached to a tree at some point in their lives, hence the name,” said the DG.
Miss World 2014–15 Rolene Strauss who visited Sri Lanka to attend the Rotary District 3220 Conference was impressed by the project and decided to plant the first tree. After launching the project she tweeted “Privileged to attend and speak at the launch of the ‘One Million Tree Stories’ project in Sri Lanka. Planting trees — Protecting our environment — Ensuring a sustainable future.
Welcomed by traditional dancers and drums. #Rotary International #Sri Lanka Tourism #Colombo.”
Rtn Rohantha Athukorala, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau said, “A report from the Forest Department of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Sri Lanka has revealed that the forest cover in the island has reduced from 53 per cent in 2012 to 29 per cent. This innovative project allows a happy tourist at the end of his holiday to sponsor a tree for $1.” This includes the cost of the plant and general maintenance for two years.
“We have both online and offline ‘Tree Purchases.’ You can view them on our website rotarytree.com. Every single tree is geo-tagged and is entered into the system with the help of Google Earth,” said Nirosha Kodituwakku, Chairman District Website. Catchment areas are marked in red and if somebody is interested in seeing the exact location of their tree, “they can see the satellite image. Of course they will not exactly see the tree but over a year or two the ground will be greener.”
Rotary Club of Ibbagamuwa, RI District 3220, in partnership with Department of Irrigation, Agrarian Services Development and Divisional Secretaries of the area, Sri Lankan Army and 2,500 farmers from Ibbagamuwa will help in nurturing the trees in 16 specific nurseries at Ibbagamuwa and Kurunagala villages. “As of now there are one million seedlings available for planting at specific geographical areas,” confirmed Athukorala.
He also said that “once the one million trees are planted, a certification for carbon credit (tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide or the mass of another greenhouse gas with a carbon dioxide equivalent) will be obtained. Sri Lanka’s export industry can purchase the carbon credits at a nominal price to ensure the neutrality of a brand on carbon footprint (the total sets of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organisation, event, product or person). Rotary plans to partner with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce to set up the first biodiversity bank in Sri Lanka in the third phase.