Students support reforestation in Africa

Katie Emick, of Rooted in Hope, arranged a sister-school relationship between Gilroy’s St. Mary School and a primary school in Kenya.  Here she shows a tree collage with photos of all St. Mary’s students.

Lent is the great Christian period of preparation for Easter. Observed in many different ways, the tradition at St. Mary Catholic School in Gilroy is to involve students in a service project, a chance to reach beyond themselves to help someone else.
These projects have taken many forms over the years, often focused on local needs like support for Gilroy’s homeless population. This year, however, students learned about the problem of deforestation in the African nation of Kenya and raised money to help alleviate it.
Katie Emick is a graduate of St. Mary and Live Oak High School. While receiving her bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she specialized in international business. Since then she has lived in Buenos Aires where she worked for the Argentine Network for International Cooperation.
Emick is now vice president of Rooted in Hope, a nonprofit organization devoted to “advancing ecological, social and economic developmental goals, fostering sustainable growth and creating a brighter future.” The organization promotes environmental and social development through reforestation and conservation efforts around the world.  She recently enlisted St. Mary’s students in support of this cause.
Kenya’s Aberdare National Park is a huge forest and a major watershed for the country. Development and poor environmental practices have caused deforestation, endangering wildlife like elephants and rhinos, as well as the water supply of the whole region.
In March, Emick visited every classroom at St. Mary, explaining the problem in Kenya and recruiting the students to help. They decided to form a sister-school relationship with Miaguya Primary School in the Kenyan village of Gakanga, and offered support through selling tree-planting kits containing seeds, soil and fertilizer in an easy-to-plant burlap bag.
During the six-week Lenten season, the students sold 130 kits to their friends, family and neighbors.  Kindergartners weren’t asked to participate in sales, but they collected $675 in contributions from friends and family. A rummage sale brought in another $2,700. All this money went directly to Rooted in Hope’s reforestation project in Kenya.
While visiting St. Mary, Emick took photos of the students and affixed them to paper leaves with students’ names and grades. She presented these as one large “St. Mary’s tree” to the sister school in Kenya and in return brought back paper tree cut-outs with photos of the Kenyan students with answers to questions asked of each (such as favorite animal or color, how far they walked to school, etc.). This exchange helped both groups identify with each other and enhanced their partnership.
In May, Emick revisited St. Mary and displayed the tree murals of African students’ photos in each classroom, and shared stories of her visit to Africa, videos of the experience and photos of the Kenyan school. She explained the process of planting 2,500 trees while she was at Aberdare and promised that an additional 2,500 trees will be planted there during the fall planting season. In total, St. Mary raised $3,800, which will be used to plant more than 1,100 trees in the upcoming reforestation project. The Gilroy students were very excited to hear the results of their hard work.
To learn more about this and other sustainable projects, visit

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