Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 children descended from village chiefs in Malawi’s Monkey Bay. When it finally came time for her to take her place as senior chief – after spending 27 years as a secretary at a city college – she dedicated herself fully to ending the practice of child marriage among her people.
Kachindamoto never expected to become chief since she lived in a different town, had so many older siblings, and had 5 of her own children to care for. But her reputation as “good with people” led to her surprise election and her people told her she would have the job “whether I liked it or not”, she recalled.
While child marriage is a culturally accepted practice in the area and often the result of financial need, it’s also illegal as of 2015, though that did not put a stop to the practice since children could still be married with parental consent.
But Kachindamoto decided that she would no longer stand for a tradition that robbed young girls of their childhoods by turning them into wives and mothers long before they were 18.
While touring Monkey Bay to meet the people she would govern, she met girls as young as 12 with husbands and children.
“I told them: ‘Whether you like it or not, I want these marriages to be terminated.’”
During her time as chief of more than 900,000 people, she annulled 850 child marriages and sent all of the girls to school.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and a 2012 United Nations survey found that over half of the country’s girls were married before the age of 18.
There are organizations around Malawi that work to warn parents about the dangers of early marriage and childbirth, but parents are often so poor that they can’t afford to house and feed their daughters, so they feel like they have no choice but to marry them off.
But child marriage and pregnancy is a horrifying practice that often results in complications in childbirth because little girls’ bodies are simply too small to give birth safely.
On top of that, girls are often sent away to camps for “kusasa fumbi,” which means cleansing, but is actually a place for sexual initiation. These are places that train girls as young as 7 to perform sex acts to please their future husbands.
Kahindamoto took a hard-line stance against everyone involved in these practices, threatening to dismiss any chief that sanctioned it.
When parents protested Kachindamoto’s actions, she didn’t back down. Knowing that she could not change the mentality of the parents, she changed the law instead.
She got her 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to abolish early marriage and annul any existing unions in her area.
Of course, that didn’t stop some people.
In order to show just how serious she was, she fired 4 male chiefs in areas where the practice of child marriage was still occurring until they agreed to abide by the law, annul the marriages, and send the girls to school.
Despite receiving death threats, Kachindamoto was undeterred.
“I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” she said.
Kachindamoto also finds ways to pay for the schooling of girls whose parents cannot afford the fees.
As for those who still balk at their chief’s new law? She’s unconcerned.
“I’m chief until I die,” she said, laughing.
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When he got back to his family’s cattle ranch in an area of Brazil called Minas Gerais, he found that the former tropical paradise had been stripped of nearly all of its trees and the wildlife that formerly lived there had disappeare
The region had long been known for being green, lush, and full of wildlife, but deforestation had taken its toll.
“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” he told The Guardian. “Only about 0.5% of the land was covered in trees.”
His wife Lelia was equally upset at what they found and suggested the couple set out to replant the forest.
This seemed impossible at first, but Salgado knew he had to do something big in order to save his beloved homeland.
In 1998, the couple set up an “environmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce.” They named it Instituto Terra.
It took years of labor, dedication, and love to replant the entire 1,754-acre plot of land. But after the couple arranged for the planting of over 2 MILLION trees, the land slowly transformed back into a lush, green paradise.
The couple also arranged for the region to be designated as a Private Natural Heritage Reserve so that no more logging could take place in the area.
Now, the family cattle ranch is thriving again and hundreds of species of animals and plants that were forced out have slowly returned to the land.
The area is now home to 293 species of trees, 172 species of birds, 33 species of mammals, and 15 species of reptiles and amphibians – many of which are considered endangered. Even several springs that had dried up are flowing again
The millions of new trees have also had an impact on the local climate, reducing dangerously rising temperatures because more of the CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere can be absorbed and turned back into oxygen.
That’s why deforestation is so harmful to our planet – without trees, CO2, which is a greenhouse gas, stays trapped in the atmosphere, raising temperatures. Higher temperatures mean that plants and animals can no longer live in the same areas they had once adapted to.
Our planet is warming so fast that animals don’t have time to evolve, so they either move or die off. To top it off, a warming planet also has a gruesome effect on the water supply – the lack of water and land on which plants will grow displaces people as well.
As people migrate throughout the world, they move into areas already populated, leading to conflicts over resources and sometimes all-out war.
The good news is that 2 million trees and one man’s vision can make a difference in a small area. The bad news is that as of 2019, scientists no longer think we’re even capable of planting enough trees to have this effect on a global scale.
That means we’ll have to find other solutions to stabilize the climate.
But there’s a lesson to be learned from the Salgados’ hard work and vision and that is that we can do some good for our immediate surroundings if we care enough and invest back into the environment.
“All the insects and birds and fish returned,” Salgado noted, “and, thanks to this increase of the trees, I, too, was reborn—this was the most important moment.”
This incredible satellite image shows just how much the project changed Minas Gerais over a decade.
Even photos from on the ground comparing just a hillside illustrate the incredible transformation over 18 years.
Here are just a few of the species that have now returned to this lush sanctuary:
To learn more about Salgados and their inspiring labor of love, check out the video beloFaith Tap