Father Marcelinus Agot has a personal motto: “if you want to save the environment, start by saving it yourself.” It’s a motto he has certainly lived up to, as he has now planted an astonishing three million trees around the islands of Manggarai, western Flores. His efforts began in the 1990s as he saw countless forest areas on these naturally rich and beautiful islands turned into barren lands by the remorseless march of mining and logging contractors. The deforestation rapidly brought landslides, erosion and floods in its wake. The 61-year-old Divine Word priest started his efforts to redress the balance by buying two plots of land in Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggarai. On them he planted 13 different types of trees, including mahogany and local species such as narra. “I chose local trees as they were in danger of disappearing in their own land,” he says. He went on to plant 5,000 trees on another plot, which he has now entrusted to the Institute of Teacher Education. And he has kept on planting ever since. Besides preserving the environment, and as an unexpected bonus, his efforts have resulted in the emergence of several new wellsprings amid the newly established plantations. Lotus flowers have been planted in the first of them, which is developing into a small river. People around the other wellsprings now use them for their daily water needs. “The emergence of the springs really moved me. This is such a precious blessing as it is very difficult to get fresh water here,” he says. The work of Father Marcelinus has made him a well known character, with support from every quarter. Florianus Adu, who heads the People’s Movement for Anti-Mining, says, “he sets an example for local people and government, and reminds them of the importance of planting trees to save the land.” Zakarias Samuel Sem of the Swisscontact development agency says, “Father Marcelinus has encouraged young people to pay serious attention to the environment. Even the local tourist management body has made him its counselor.” Father Marcelinus accepts these plaudits with modesty. “I owe everything to the generosity of local people who wanted to join me in making this place green,” he says.
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