LUBHU — How do you celebrate your birthday? By throwing a party and cutting a cake? In Nepal some people plant a tree instead.
Making tea at home in her village 11 kilometers outside Kathmandu, Sunita Poudel says, "Forests are everything for us. We are dependent on wood and grass. Some of my neighbors cook with small sticks from the forest — they are very poor and can’t afford gas stoves. I have some cows and goats, so I also need grass from the forest every day."
But due to mismanagement, the forest around the village of Lubhu is in a poor condition. Local farmer Shreeram Poudel describes the area as "like a head without hair. There were very few trees that could easily be counted."
Although Anui Mahat’s day job is running his own banking training company in Kathmandu, his passion is saving the country's forests. With the help of four friends, he came up with the idea of a Birthday Forest — where people can give trees as gifts.
"Each tree has a separate URL in each receiver's name. Whether you're in Nepal, or Indonesia, or any country, you can see your planted trees online," he says. "Every year we will send you an update on the tree so you can see how it is growing. So, in this way, you'll get attached to it — as you grow, the tree does too."
To date, they have planted more than 1,000 trees — mostly Camphor, Alder and Bottle Brush varieties, along with some native trees too.
Ajaya Budhathoki celebrated the anniversary of his college by buying 15 trees. "I heard about the Birthday Forest from Facebook. I found the Birthday Forest page so interesting and convincing. So we collected money from each student and contacted the group through Facebook. We felt so lucky and proud, because we are also protecting the environment," he says.
Each tree costs around $25 and local communities in four rural areas around Nepal's capital are paid by the Birthday Forest group to look after the forest.
"They came to us and wanted to plant some trees in our community forest. We loved the idea," says Poudel, adding that it has been great for the community. "It really should be the government's responsibility to protect forest and promote the plantation campaign. I think the government should support the young people who have come up with this idea."
The Nepalese government says they are putting more money into rehabilitating forests, and deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests Yagyanath Dahal says that this year, a campaign called the "Decade of the Forest" has begun. "We are promoting plantation and allocating more funds towards forests. With the support of local people, NGOs and voluntary groups, we will plant more trees and will increase the areas covered by forests and maintain our environment."