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Leading Tanzanian Wildlife Safaris And Planting Trees: The Perfect Pairing For Doreen Stokes
Montana Senior News, August/Sept. 2014
Migrating wildebeest herds, rhinos, and prides of lions lolling in the savannah sunshine initially lured Doreen Stokes to Africa in 1984. But it was the hospitable impoverished villagers Doreen encountered on her first safari that touched her heart. Meeting them prompted her to return to Africa six more times and eventually partner with Safari Legacy and World Discovery Safaris to lead some of their tours. It also prompted her to embark on a project she was well qualified to helm—reforesting an arid landscape.

“On my first visit to Tanzania, I saw the imbalance created because so many trees were being harvested. Trees in a third-world country are a life-giving force. They provide fuel and fodder for animals, medicinals, and carving materials for art which will bring in income. However, the population was growing faster than the resources could stand,” notes Doreen, owner of Future Generations Reforestation, which plants trees for entities such as the BLM, USDA Forest Service, the state of Montana, and private industry.

Over the past 30 years, this Plains, MT resident estimates her company has planted some 10 million seedlings around the Pacific Northwest. Along with her husband, Jim, son, Ian, and work crews, she has helped restore toxic mining sites with mock orange, bitterbrush, and sage shrubs; rejuvenated trampled stream banks with willow seedlings; and repopulated clear-cuts with evergreens.

So it is not surprising that the random logging she observed in Tanzania concerned Doreen. In addition, she noticed the meager resources available to the local Maasai tribe inhabiting the landscape.

“These people are happy for what they have but they have so little,” states Doreen. “As Americans, we are blessed in so many ways. Even the poorest of us are rich in comparison to the people in a third-world country. I felt like I had to do something.”

Consequently, when Doreen began leading safaris she included stops in Tanzanian villages, which acquainted Americans with the local populace. She soon discovered that the individuals on her wildlife safaris felt much as she did about Africa—very compassionate. And as her 15-day safari itinerary makes clear, she presents ample opportunities for travelers to share their abundance, should they choose to.
           
“The people on these safaris go to see herds of elephants and flocks of flamingos, the giraffes, cheetahs, and zebras but they end up introduced to the many different tribal cultures as well. They find it’s not about driving by the people and waving at them. They go to the schools and visit orphanages. When leaving the orphanages, even the most talkative groups are speechless,” says Doreen. “They see children wearing mismatched shoes and sharing beds and want to do what they can to help.”
           
When Doreen learned that the owner of one of the safari companies she worked with had donated seven acres to build a school for Maasai children, she set a goal of planting 4,000 trees on the land. She knew that fig, acacia, and breadfruit trees would supply everything from shade, wildlife habitat, and food to replenishing soil nutrients. She also knew these hardy indigenous trees would fare well in a climate where it is dry for a good portion of the year.
           
The project perfectly suited her tours considering that travelers could plant trees as part of their safari adventure. And she rightly suspected that participants might want to plant trees once they saw how much good that small contribution would make. But one stumbling block remained before the project could fully move ahead—water.
           
“The closest water source is a 50,000-gallon holding tank two kilometers away. We had to figure out how to get water to the school for the trees and for the children as none is available at the school. They have two latrines for 400 children and no running water,” explains Doreen. Additionally, the project will benefit the 3,000 Maasai making their home in this region of Tanzania.
           
To raise the money needed to build the gravity-fed system that will funnel the water to the school, Doreen mounted an Indiegogo online campaign. It garnered the$14,000 required to buy the equipment for installing the transport system. Labor will be provided by the villagers who will dig the pipe trenches and cover them with dirt so meandering elephants and buffalo do not crush the pipeline.
           
Although not everyone can afford to go on safari, Doreen points out there are other ways people can support her efforts on behalf of this magnificent landscape and the humble people who inhabit it.
           
“Fifty cents will buy an entire outfit for a child in Africa—shoes, shirt, pants, socks,” says Doreen. For a dollar, we can plant and maintain a tree.”
           
Despite the Tanzanian reforestation project being only in its beginning phase, Doreen feels encouraged about its progress and attaining her goal.
           
“Success in life isn’t about money and what you have,” she will tell you.”It is about acting on your passion and accomplishing your goals. It’s not the things you do that you regret but what you don’t do. For me, it just doesn’t feel right not to follow my passion.”
           
To learn more about Doreen’s African safaris or about donating to the school, tree-planting project, or Tanzanian orphanages, contact Doreen at 406-826-5766 or at herbs@blackfoot.net.