Brazilian couple planted 4 million trees within 18 years to form a large forest.

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has seen a lot of devastating things in his life, but the state of his family's land in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1994 likely ranks at the top.

He had just returned from reporting on the genocide in Rwanda which was traumatizing in its own right, but seeing his family's land that has previously been a fecund rainforest stripped of vegetation hit him at his core.

“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Sebastião told The Guardian.


What happened to Sebastião's land is far from unique. Over the last 30 years, the world's forests have been disappearing at an astounding rate. Between 1990 and 2016, approximately 502,000 square miles of forest have been lost, according to the World Bank, largely due to agricultural and industrial development. That's about the size of South Africa.

Not only does deforestation account for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, it's responsible for countless species of animals and plants losing their habitats, which ultimately endangers their survival.

Sebastião and his wife Lélia knew they could turn the deforestation on their land around. So, for the next 20 years, with the help of a small group of volunteers, that's exactly what they did.

 

In 1998, the Selgados founded Instituto Terra, a nonprofit dedicated to "ecosystem restoration, production of Atlantic Forest seedlings, environmental extension, environmental education and applied scientific research."

The nonprofit's theory is that trees produce oxygen and life, so the best way to re-invigorate land is to bring its native trees back. That's why they've spent the majority of the last two decades planting over 4 million tree seedlings from plant species found in the Atlantic Forest in the Rio Doce Valley.

Photo via Instituto Terra.

The results speak for themselves.

With the return of the rainforest came many species of animals that had previously abandoned the area. This includes 172 bird species, six of which are threatened with extinction, 33 mammal species, two of which are endangered, 15 amphibian species and 15 reptile species.

Photo via Instituto Terra.

Their re-forestation work is incredible, but it will only last if people in the surrounding areas learn to respect the importance of such ecosystems. That's why they started the Center for Environmental Education and Recovery (CERA).

By December, 2012, CERA had developed over 700 educational programs reaching up to 65,000 people. The aim is to educate farmers, teachers, businesses and government officials about environmental recovery and conservation methods and why they're vital to keeping lands (and the people living on them) healthy. The hope is that they'll help inspire those working on and near the land to adopt more sustainable practices.

Deforestation will affect animals and humans in a significant way if we let it continue at such a rapid pace. Organizations like Instituto Terra are doing their part to protect their revitalized jungle, but that's just one small area of the 30% of forest that covers our planet. It's going to take more individual support to save the rest.

If you want to learn about what you can do to help, the Rainforest Alliance offers several great ways you can get involved and make a difference.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.