Meet the woman on a mission to save Mother Nature through female-led reforestation
N ature has been speaking to us since time began, but it’s long overdue that we start to listen. Clare Dubois, passionate planet-lover and founder of tropical reforestation charity TreeSisters, answered the call of Mother Nature when her life was saved by a tree in 2010. Since the first seed, TreeSisters has funded the planting of over 22 million trees across 12 locations in Brazil, Borneo, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar, Nepal and West Papua, with a goal of planting 1 billion trees annually through monthly, one-time and partnership donations.
But the roots of this charity run deeper than native tree-planting, which is what makes it so special – and why we’ve branched out from the individual eco-efforts of our Considerate Collection hotels to partner with TreeSisters, for its holistic, community-based approach to reforestation and empowering women around the world. From an agroforestry project led by the Ashaninka tribe in the Amazon rainforest, to supporting small-scale farms on the slopes of Mount Kenya, these positive-impact initiatives are not only climate-cooling, but help improve livelihoods by focusing on gender parity and the participation of women in meaningful, impactful work.
Each SLH room night booked and stayed using the SLH INVITED member rate includes a donation to plant two trees with TreeSisters, so that our community of independently minded travellers can contribute towards restoring diverse forest ecosystems, protecting multiple critically endangered species, reducing poverty and mitigating climate change. Read on for some poignant, pertinent, and powerful words from a woman encouraging everyone to simply give back to the people and places they visit.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind TreeSisters? Why women, and why tropical reforestation?
TreeSisters was given to me as a fully formed concept, complete with its name, its function, and its purpose, in a car crash back in November 2010. I had been swerving on black ice and heading for a tight corner on a steep hill when a tree stopped me from going over the edge. It took me a while to recognise how life had given me the message that trees could stop humanity from going over a climate edge!
A voice started speaking to me, “You have to reforest the tropics within 10 years. You have to mobilise the women, the women are the missing piece. Women and nature share a common history, what has been done to one has been done to the other and it cannot continue. Feminine consciousness is the consciousness of seasons, life cycles, health and nature. Feminine consciousness has to be reinstated or it’s over…”
The inspiration continued, “Your project is called TreeSisters, it’s a crowdfunding mechanism, you have to make it as normal to give back to nature as it currently is to take nature for granted. Gather funds from the grassroots and channel them to existing tropical reforestation organisations.” Needless to say, none of this was my idea, and I fought it every step of the way. I did not want to be the figurehead for anything, although my love of nature forced me over that edge and out of my comfort zone again and again, and no doubt it always will.
So in answer to the question “why women?”, I will simply say because our world is suffering from an extreme lack of feminine leadership. What I mean by that is non-patriarchal, non-dominant, deeply relational, instinctual, and nature-connected leadership that considers ‘the whole’ in all it is doing. Leadership that is loving.
In terms of the tropics, because the tropical forest belt is the primary cooling and rain-creating mechanism on the planet. Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth, in her brilliance decided to put fast-growing tropical trees around the hottest band of her body, to use their bodies for filtering water and creating the flying rivers that hydrate so much of our world. Tropical trees sequester carbon between three and a half times as fast as temperate trees. If we lose the tropical forest belt, alongside the ice caps, (and both are disappearing fast because of us), then we have runaway heating on an already overheated planet.
What impact on the environment and local communities have you seen from empowering women within your projects?
The reforestation partners who we plant with employ as many women as possible, given the culture and the circumstances of each project. In every case there is an enhancement of livelihood, greater respect within communities, and better income which leads to improved nutrition and education for local children. In some cases, women have taken over leadership of the projects altogether. The project we fund in Nepal with Eden Reforestation Projects is now run almost exclusively by women. In Madagascar, the income gets some women out of indentured slavery, a horrendous state that can bring about the death of their own children through starvation.
As part of every project, women are taking leadership around the restoration of their own ecosystems, which is an act of empowerment and connection to the land. In Kenya, where they are growing agroforestry trees, this massively reduces the need to hike miles for firewood, or for fruit, nuts, medicines, or leaf fodder for their animals. Each of our projects has specific social benefits to the communities, and in all cases, whether directly or indirectly women benefit, and thus the children do too.
Ecologically, the mangrove restoration projects rehabilitate the coasts, improve fish yields, reduce soil erosion and provide a buffer against rising tides and storm surges. All the inland projects enhance soil, support water conservation and groundwater charging through rainwater catchment, and each project protects critically endangered species and so preserves biodiversity.
What does sustainable luxury travel mean to you?
That is a really interesting question, and one that I don’t have a well-thought-out answer to! I asked a colleague that very same question, and her answer was, “What is real comfort that is not at the expense of the planet?” She followed this with, “And really sustainable at this point requires giving back, much more than taking. We’re too far past sustaining.” This really resonated with me, as our planet is in serious trouble.
So I suppose one way of answering this question is, if you can afford luxury travel, then you can afford the luxury of giving back to whatever place you travel to, in as many ways as you can find to do so. How can you serve those communities? How can you tend that land? How can you connect in a way that is beyond simply being there for your own wellbeing, and include the wellbeing of the people and place in your journey? How can everybody win?
Which destination would you recommend eco-travellers visit in 2022 and why?
I’m tempted to say go to the big ice of Greenland because it’s disappearing so fast, or into the rainforest so that you can experience first-hand both the majesty and miracles of these places, but also allow yourselves to be moved and affected by their loss.
I think at this point if we’re going to travel, it has to mean something deeply to us beyond a holiday. Where can you go that you can really make a difference, where your gifts or your interests meet the place and the people? Where do you need to go to feed some element of your own soul that could provide a turning in your own life? Where, if there were only five more years of a habitable planet, could you not bear to have not visited before its possible loss, and how could you contribute to the resilience of that place?
How would you encourage travellers to find a deeper connection with nature on holiday, and in everyday life?
There’s something about not just seeing with our eyes or our minds, not just seeing what we think we’re seeing. “It’s just a tree. It’s just the sea. It’s just a butterfly”…it’s not ‘just’ any of those things. It’s so much more, and it’s probably more aware of you than you are of ‘it’. Opening yourself to that possibility can bring a different humility and curiosity that can help you see the world with new eyes.
What if we started to see with our hearts, and allowed for a deeper, gratitude-filled experience to have its way with us? Being utterly grateful for so many of nature’s gifts that we have come to take for granted, can be an incredibly moving experience, and a homecoming. Try saying thank you to the trees you meet, or hello to the birds, or bow to the sky – it has stood watch over you, every day of your life.
When we allow the sensory experience of nature’s beauty to have its way with us, she can climb inside and open us up to so much more of ourselves. With so much on the line, can we afford not to live in gratitude and wonder at the world that has given us everything?