Why Dakatcha Woodland
Nothing resonates more with a conservation organization than choosing to spent a team building day planting trees.
Since 2014, A Rocha Kenya has been in the process of buying land in the Dakatcha Woodland in order to create a reserve (the A Rocha Kenya Dakatcha Nature Reserve). Dakatcha Woodland is an important ecosystem that is home to the Sokoke Scops Owl (an endangered species as per the IUCN list), the Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew (an endemic species that is only found here and in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest) and a breeding ground to the Clarkes Weaver (also an endangered species). However, the woodland is being cleared out at an alarming rate for charcoal burning and sisal farming. That is why we started purchasing land, not for farming or charcoal burning, but for conservation. Read more about this from our concept note here.
After buying, what next?
From 2014 to date, we have managed to purchase over 6500 acres of the targeted c.12000 acres (Thanks to our devoted partners in this, especially Rain Forest Trust, World Land Trust and IUCN Netherlands). Destruction in the bought pieces has significantly reduced and the woodland is booming again. However, buying land and having it under A Rocha Kenya’s ownership is just the first step, restoring the already damaged areas is the next step.
One of the keyways of achieving this, is tree planting! Planting as many indigenous trees as possible, in the areas where they have been cut down.
Forget the slippery grounds, let’s go plant trees
For the staff team building activity this year, we decided to travel to Dakatcha and be part of this noble task- plant trees! The rains are back, the soil is ready, and the seedlings are in place, just what could stop us! Our journey started early, 6:30 in the morning. With about 100kms to cover and a prayer in our hearts that it won’t rain before we got out of the woodland. Trust me, rain will always be good news in Dakatcha, but if it rains and for some reasons you are still in the forest, with an automatic Matatu that isn’t four-wheel, that good news changes to terrible news very quickly. You see, the Dakatcha soil is slippery, and I mean slippery…it takes patience and a miracle for even the four-wheel off-road land cruisers to pass through.
After enduring the long winding roads and 2 stop-overs by the traffic police (for the usual road inspections), we finally made it to Dakatcha, at about 10am. We dropped the utensils and left Francis roasting goat meat for later as we proceeded to the planting sites. And just when the engines came to a stop, at the heart of the woodland, it started down-pouring- heavily! According to KK, our tree nursery staff, there is no better feeling than planting trees in the rain. That is why we all alighted, stepped right into the rain and started the planting. I guess those who did the actual planting had more fun, but for the rest of us with jembes digging the holes, it was a whole lot less fun- but fulfilling nevertheless.
Five hours later
A team of 14, and 900 seedlings to plant, no wonder we finished at 3:30pm. My hands were hurting, and I had lost my shoes. Everyone was tired and, you remember the rain right? Well, it didn’t rain for that long to be fair, but 30 minutes is more than enough to cause the damage we so hoped we could escape. We had a passenger’s vehicle that was built for tarmac roads deep inside the forest, on a road that had just been cleared a few days ago and was slippery! Just what could go wrong?
Turns out, everything could go wrong
Well, we just had to enter the vehicle and barely start our journey before getting an answer to that question. Everything could go wrong, and everything did go wrong. With the driver’s foot on the acceleration pedal, the tires would rotate but the vehicle stayed stagnant! To make things even more juicy, we couldn’t reverse to gain momentum. The vehicle couldn’t go forward or backward, it appeared it was happy to stay where it was, much to our dismay!
After 45-60 minutes of intensive shouting, pushing, digging and the occasional pulling, we were ready to give up. The only thing that remained constant was the drizzling rain. Our faces dropped as our hearts sunk, were we ever getting out of here? Or camp by force? Not to mention that the well roasted tender goat meat was just waiting a few kms away. Goat! That is right, we can call for reinforcements from the team at the goat roasting. And so we did! They showed up, with the strength we so much needed. Their fresh and motivated faces, their psyched voices and the endless ‘we are going home’ assurances lifted us up from beneath the ocean of despair to take the fresh breath of hope that we so much needed, and boy we did.
Stanley started rallying everyone behind the vehicle. Asking us to stand up and push as he led by example. At some point I think he fell down and got back up, he must have! The mud left on his trousers and shirt was good evidence of the struggle we had. The vehicle got out alright, but we had to run and urge the driver not to remove hist foot from the gas, all the way from the forest. It did get stuck a few times but we are there, right behind it, ready to push. We made it out, with our voices dry, our legs weak and our hearts full of stories to tell.
We can’t finish this amazing story without thanking WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature Program. They have been kind enough to fund the practical restoration of the A Rocha Kenya Dakatcha Nature Reserve. Thank you for funding the planting of 10,000+ seedlings in the reserve. Here is the an update video about the A Rocha Kenya Dakatcha Nature Reserve
This was by far the best team building activity we have ever had. Planting trees was truly fulfilling but rallying behind one another as a team to get that vehicle out of the woodland was something else entirely. Being there to hold each other’s hand, showing up when one of us needed us, lifting each other up and staying in the fight long enough to seen everything through was probably the best lesson a team could ever learn. And am glad I got to experience that with my team!