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Refugees in Uganda Launch “Laudato Si’ Garden” to Address Country’s Growing Deforestation

Youth at Don Bosco Refugee Services, Palabek in Uganda's Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu during a tree planting session at the refugee center on 16 August 2021. Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

Students at the Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services in Uganda have launched a tree planting drive aimed at ending deforestation in the country by planting thousands of trees at their facility.

The Director of the refugee service in Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese, Fr. Lazar Arasu, says that the East African country that once boasted of richness in tree cover has started experiencing severe effects of deforestation, adding that young people at the refugee facility have taken a lead in protecting the country’s environment.

“It is needless to say that we have already begun to suffer the consequences of climate change caused by this devastating deforestation in Uganda. Rains have been irregular, water levels in our lakes and rivers are too low, floods and landslides have become a common feature, and not to forget the rise in temperatures,” Fr. Arasu says in a reflection he shared with ACI Africa Tuesday, August 31.

Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

He adds, “Deforestation in Uganda is doom for the income earning tourism, which brings in hundreds of millions of hard currencies.”

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According to the member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), Uganda has lost many other valuable resources due to deforestation.

These include medicinal plants and trees, depletion of timber, fish, animals, flora and fauna, “not forgetting the beauty of Uganda which is proudly considered as ‘the Pearl of Africa”, he says.

The Priest reported that students at Palabek Refugee Services planted 4,500 indigenous and exotic trees in a 25-acre piece of land at the facility and made a number of resolutions to end environmental degradation in the country.

Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

Most of the students at the facility are refugees from South Sudan and neighboring countries who are pursuing various technical courses to improve their livelihoods.

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Highlighting events of the tree-planting ceremony in the report shared with ACI Africa August 31, the Indian-born Priest says that the students vowed to care for the project they dubbed “Laudato Si’ Garden” by watering it and taking turns to care for it.

Additionally, the students made a commitment to manage wastes in the right way and to care for animals under their care and never to cut trees aimlessly.

“The young people made resolutions to always turn off lights when not in use, to close taps when not in use and to use water sparingly,” Fr. Arasu tells ACI Africa.

The Indian-born Priest who has ministered in East Africa for the last three decades notes that African societies are largely agrarian.

Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

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“Most people of the continent live on subsistence farming. For their daily sustenance many of them have to physically till their garden so as to find food in their homes. Fortunately, a good portion of land is blessed with fertile soil, enough water, favorable climate and most countries have millions of young people who are in their productive age, able to engage in the agricultural sector,” Fr. Arasu says.

He adds, “With better planning and utilization of resources Africa can do better than what it is now.”

The SDB Priest however notes that Africa is likely to suffer the negative impact of pollution and wastage of resources more than any other continent if it fails to pay attention to the ongoing global environment degradation.

“Monitoring the continuous degradation of natural resources makes us realize that the imminent environmental disaster is coming sooner than later. The rapid population growth and the related mismanagement of resources may quickly become an environmental tragedy for the coming generations,” Fr. Arasu warns in his reflection.

The Priest notes that Uganda’s population has been doubling every 15 years, a situation he says puts a strain on the country's natural resources.

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“There is an ever-increasing need for fuel energy for domestic use,” he says, and explains, “Out of the current population of 44 million people in Uganda, 95 percent use either wood or charcoal for fuel energy.”

The demand, Fr. Arasu says, has led Ugandans “to destroy their forests indiscriminately.”

Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

“Districts and vast areas of land which had natural forests are no more. Charcoal trade has become a lucrative trade for persons who are either in high positions or have links with highly placed officials,” the Priest laments.

It is estimated that over a quarter of Uganda’s trees were cut down between 1990 and 2005. Reports further indicate that since 2005, over 2 percent of forests have been destroyed in Uganda every year.

“Some even claim that 80 percent of forests and natural vegetation has been destroyed in the last five decades,” the Salesian Priest says.

At the August 16 event on a day that members of SDB celebrate the birthday of their founder, Don Bosco, the young people also pledged to reduce the use of plastics and to always collect them for recycling.

The youth also promised not to waste paper, not to waste food, to make compost manure and to grow their own vegetables and fruits.

Credit: Fr. Lazar Arasu

Apart from the indigenous and exotic trees, the “Laudato Si’ Garden” also has a few acres of fruits and vegetable gardens.

The produce, Fr. Arasu says, is generously shared by the students who planted and cared for them. Vegetables and fruits also boost the diet at the refugee camp where most meals include boiled maize and beans.

At the end of the Launching Day of “Laudato Si’ Garden”, refugee students were given fruits and vegetables to take home.