Contributor Spotlight: May 2021

Hi everyone! Welcome back to Contributor Spotlights! Each month, we feature one amazing contributor from our global community! For today’s post, we interviewed Karen Nicolas, our amazing Treetracker Liaison!

Originally from North Carolina, USA, Karen spent her college years practicing yoga and mindfulness. Her adventures with other intentionally-minded people eventually led her to visit Haiti on her first medical relief mission. Karen told us that upon arriving in the country, she realized that many Haitians experience “a level of poverty that she had never seen [in the United States]”. Her eyes were opened wide, and upon returning to North Carolina, Karen continued her previous fundraising activities for Haitian relief efforts from the U.S. Eventually, The Haiti Tree Project was born out of Karen’s passion for helping environmentally and economically vulnerable communities.

After graduating from college with a Bachelor’s in biology, Karen moved to El Paso, Texas to learn midwifery skills that she could use to help Haitian mothers and their babies. At the same time, she taught high school math and biology in English and Spanish. She later used her teaching skills all over Mexico and Central America to train public school educators in hands-on environmental monitoring to teach students about climate change. 

After Hurricane Jean in 2004, Karen was invited back to Haiti to help rebuild affected communities. Rather than focusing on a particular area of relief work, Karen and her colleagues provided all-encompassing community services including building schools and clinics, reforestation education, natural filtration of drinking water, creation of seed banks, and even microloans for female entrepreneurs. 

In 2011, after witnessing the aftermath of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that hit the nation the previous year, Karen and her Haitian husband, Mackenson Nicolas, began their own tree planting organization, The Haiti Tree Project, to bring sustainable livelihoods back to the people of rural Haiti. The great loss of life and overall destruction in Port-au-Prince led tens of thousands of homeless to flee to the countryside where they hoped to survive off the fruits of the land. But most arrived to find the land so environmentally degraded from decades of deforestation that there was little hope of making a living there either.

The Haiti Tree Project’s approach is to support reforestation efforts initiated and run by the local communities, always placing the responsibility of goal setting and visioning on local leaders. This approach, coupled with ample education and motivation on reforestation, allows smallholder farmers to bring home and care for the maximum number of trees that they can grow successfully. Karen primarily utilizes website donations for continued support of reforestation efforts. She prefers private donations over grants so she can align funding to the right need at the right time. She ensures that financial support always works to bring a biodiverse selection of hardwood and fruit trees to mountain villages where not only will the trees provide food security, but also stop soil erosion and create more watershed for springs that have gone dry. 

Karen connected with Greenstand during the summer of 2020. She had decided to take a break from her teaching job during the pandemic to focus on The Haiti Tree Project. The Treetracker app was the perfect addition to her existing operations in Haiti, because the compensation offered by Greenstand’s verification model created an incentive for Haitians to prioritize reforestation. Villagers from all over started flooding to the nursery asking for trees in hopes of similar compensation for planting them on their lands too. Unsurprisingly, demand for trees has increased exponentially since introducing the Treetracker app and has taught Karen that farmers must be paid not only to plant trees but to care for them over time if Haiti is going to be successfully reforested. 

Karen’s unique position as Director of The Haiti Tree Project gave her the experience and insight to become our Treetracker Liaison at Greenstand. Since joining the team, Karen says that she has learned how tree captures can become a commodity that can be traded around the world with tree growers as the main beneficiaries.  She is in talks with planting organizations across Africa and the Americas who intend to track trees with Greenstand’s technology. 

We are so glad that Karen joined our team! She is a passionate advocate for reforestation and the tree growers that champion it. 

Do you have a planting organization of your own? Are you interested in tracking your planted trees to ensure survival and planter compensation? At this time, Greenstand is focusing on supporting our existing Treetracker projects as we finalize the core components of our technical service offering. New Treetracker projects will be considered for programmatic and ethical alignment during our next onboarding phase, anticipated for the fall of 2021. Please fill out our Treetracker survey to be considered during the next round!

Erin Baker

Communications Lead, Greenstand