One Man, 1,000 Trees

May 8, 2024

Claude and the CWS Plant Nursery he manages

*Warning: this story mentions violent incidents which may be difficult to read.*

Over two decades ago, CWS program participant Claude came face-to-face with death. Like many of his fellow Congolese, this close encounter was unexpected and came as a result of the civil war that erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996.

While at work one day, Claude encountered a criminal group who wrongfully accused him of turning them into the police. Despite Claude’s innocence, the group became enraged and took Claude to a field where they attempted to beat him to death.

Claude was beaten so badly that he lost consciousness, which convinced the criminal group that he was dead. Later that day a group of workers heading home spotted Claude. “They came to me and saw that I was alive. They asked what had happened and then I asked if they could take me to the village to get some medicine. Two days later, I fled to Burundi as a refugee.”

Certain that her husband had been killed, Claude’s wife anxiously remained in the DRC, until a miracle occurred and she received a letter from Claude in Burundi, urging her to leave their dangerous home and join him. The two built their life together in Burundi, and Claude found peace by volunteering at a local tree nursery. Unfortunately, in 2014, danger caught up to them when conflict broke out in Burundi and they had to flee with their nine children; this time to the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania.

At the camp, Claude and his family had to lay new roots and restart their lives from scratch. At the time, Claude didn’t realize that eventually, he would also be laying more literal roots. In 2022, Claude was invited by CWS to join a sustainable gardening program that provides refugees with the skills needed to grow their own food while simultaneously teaching invaluable lessons including leadership, gender equality and environmental protection. Perhaps most importantly, the program gives refugees the opportunity to build community, enhance their sense of purpose and thrive by applying their existing knowledge and experience to a program that feeds their community in more ways than one.

Thanks to his previous experience planting trees, Claude excelled in the program and was soon invited to become the leader and supervisor of one of the nurseries. Since joining the program Claude alone has planted over 1,000 trees. He told us, “This is my hobby and my passion. To feel peace, I have to plant trees. Without this, I have no peace. Planting trees in this program brings me joy.”

Claude explained to us that as a refugee, his greatest concern is ensuring he brings more good than harm to the environment of his host country. He shared that it pains him deeply when he sees people cutting down trees and hopes that one day his grandchildren will be able to see all the trees he has planted in Tanzania and feel the same love he feels for environmental protection. He added, “If I get the chance to resettle in the United States, then I will continue to plant trees. It is my dream to reconstruct the environment in the countries that receive refugees.”

Although Claude’s journey as a refugee began on the brink of death, it now continues with flourishing life through every tree he plants. With each new tree, Claude reminds us of the growth and beauty refugees can bring when they are uplifted and empowered by their communities.

CWS is grateful to our partners, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and Canadian Foodgrains Bank, for supporting this work. To learn more about CWS’ work supporting refugees all around the world, click here.

Note: For the safety and protection of the program participant in this story, faces have been hidden and a pseudonym has been used.