Planting ‘Wishing Trees’ in Schools
As part of our Plant a Tree Ng Schools’ Program and as a way to also mark the festive season approaching, we partnered with Humane Global Network and gifted dwarf coconut and African Pear (Ube) trees to Mictobiland Primary School, Lagos. We worked with the children to create ‘Wishing Trees’ in their workshop. They were asked to write their wishes on paper and tie it to their new trees.
Climate Illiteracy is a problem we face quite often when creating awareness of climate issues in Africa. Bearing in mind also that ALL of the young children we met with on our visit had never been taught about environmental issues at all.
By creating wishing trees we wanted the kids to consider climate change in an empathic way. To care about their environment, they must first care about themselves and self worth starts by teaching them to consider their wants, goals, and dreams within their personal spheres (self, home, community); a great way for them to set goals, share needs, and hone their identities. Taking this a step further and asking kids to consider some global climate problems like pollution, animal extinction, offers them a chance to practice environmental empathy and goodwill.
Tying Wishes to Trees
The practice of tying wishes to trees is shared amongst a number of cultures. The following are just a few of them:
- The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees, located in Hong Kong, are two banyan trees frequented during the Lunar New Year when wishes are written on paper, tied to an orange, and then thrown up into the trees.
- In parts of Scotland, Ireland, and England strips of cloth, ribbon, or prayer beads are attached to trees to wish for healing or good health. The adorned trees are called clootie trees. These regions also share a practice of making coin trees, where a coin is hammered into certain trees as an offering to make a wish.
- In Thai folklore spirits or fairies related to trees are known as Nang Mai (“Lady of the Tree”), the most well-known being Nang Ta-khian. Trees, logs, beams, or wooden boats that are home to these spirits have lengths of colored silk tied to them as offerings for luck.
- In Turkey people tie fabric tokens or paper tags with wishes and reflections written on them onto branches of wishing trees (Dilek Ağacı). Another tradition is hanging evil eye talismans on the trees for good fortune.
- In Japan, during the festival of Tanabata, people write wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on small pieces of paper and hang them on bamboo.
- Choose the site for your wishing tree. As our trees were seedlings and because we did not want to tamper with any of the young leaves, we cut bamboo into sticks to use as a protective shield around the trees and used the bamboo to tie our wishes
- Punch a hole at the edge of your wishing papers in advance of writing.
- Cut pieces of yarn long enough to tie around your wishing tree’s branches. Generally, four to five inches should be long enough.
- Hand out wishing papers to kids and instruct them to write one wish for themselves or their families on one side of the paper, and to write a big-picture wish for the world on the other side.
- Instructions can be modified to your program goals: Wishes can be geared towards nature, i.e., a wish for your school garden and a wish for our natural world.
- Once wishes have been written on paper, hand each child a length of yarn or twine and head to your wishing tree. Have each child tie their wishes onto the tree, thinking about their wishes as they do so.
The tree gifts certainly uplifted and energised both staff and students at this school as the kids were eager to complete their task. They also became very protective of the trees as they made the connection with the trees with their wishes. Many of the children wanted to care for the trees going forward and we instructed them on maintaining and nurturing their new gifts and goals. It was very heartwarming seeing this love for the natural world come to life.