A husband-wife team works to heal their land — and finds healing for themselves, too.
In 1994, famous Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado returned to Brazil after a grueling job reporting on the genocide in Rwanda. He was keen to return to the childhood land he was taking over for his family — land that had provided him with many happy childhood memories, rich forests that offered an escape from the harsh realities he had witnessed in Africa.
To his horror, however, he arrived back to barren land, bereft of the lush green trees and shrubs and the rich variety of wildlife that used to everywhere — thanks to deforestation.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Salgado explained to a group of religious leaders during a summit on climate change in Paris over three years ago. In fact the photographer estimated that only 0.5% of the land was covered in trees when he returned.
Salgado’s wife came up with the wonderful idea of replanting trees on their land in Minas Gerais. Along with relatives, the Salgados set up the Instituto Terra, an organization that has managed to plant an impressive four million saplings over the years. The results are remarkable.
Land that was completely destroyed by the stripping of its forests is now carpets of green. And while the impact of the work of this devoted couple is impressive, Salgado also explained in the Guardian: “All the insects and birds and fish returned and, thanks to this increase of the trees I, too, was reborn – this was the most important moment.”
Back at the summit in 2015 Salgado stated: “We need to listen to the words of the people on the land … if we don’t have some kind of spiritual return to our planet, I fear that we will be compromised.” His words echo Pope Francis’ call to action in the encyclical Laudato Si.