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  • Jessie-Lynn Cross

"We Listen To Communities, And They Help Guide Us" : Interview With Zach Melanson

Introduction : Words from ACIC’s HR Intern Jessie-Lynn Cross

Zach Melanson co-founded Community Forests International (CFI) while in his twenties, during a summer of tree planting in Ontario. In our interview, we discussed how he co-founded the organization, how many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) CFI is working towards, how these SDGs interconnect, and what the organization has done to help internationally during COVID. Community Forest International works in Canada and Zanzibar to protect and restore forests, support communities in adapting to climate change, build prosperity and champion social equality with a climate justice commitment. Learn about CFI here.


Interview with Zach Melanson

How did you first find out about ACIC? What drew you into becoming a member of the organization? What has ACIC done well for you and your work?

When we had founded Community Forest International, I found out about ACIC through my friend who worked at the Coady Institute. ACIC had a call for proposals, and we were interested since it isn't easy to get funding locally in New Brunswick. It was an opportunity to bring one of our co-founders from Tanzania and do a cross-Maritime tour with speaking engagements and his take on climate change. We learned so much from our partners in Tanzania about what development, the SDGs, and human rights look like to them. For us, cross-cultural learning is important, and it was a great opportunity to bring him here. ACIC connects us to a community of not only individuals who care about being global citizens but also to other organizations.

What human rights experience did you have before you became a member of ACIC?

Good question. I don't know if I had much. Maybe I'm too hard on myself. I was just hungry to learn more and do something of value with meaning. When we started the organization, it was out of a place of listening because we listened to communities and colleagues about how we can work with them to improve their lives and try to adapt to climate change.

What sustainable development goals (SDGs) have you worked to achieve either domestically or internationally?

The great thing about SDGs is that they are developed with a human rights framework. If you are doing one, you are contributing to others. I'm optimistic about our work across both the Maritimes and Zanzibar because we work intensely and locally in two different places. In the Maritimes, we protect old forests to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere, protecting the beautiful ecosystems. We still maintain our tree planting core by restoring forests with lots of different species. The better you manage the forest, the more people it takes, which is a more fulsome view of what forests bring to us.

In terms of our work in Zanzibar and with our partners, Community Forests Pemba, we work at the grassroots level to help communities adapt to changing climate through the livelihood approach. Our work focuses on forests and helping farmers and communities transition to agroforestry models that are climate adaptive. These rural communities rely on subsistence agriculture, but they are experiencing a negative climate impact. We're working with communities to help them navigate climate impacts so that they could thrive under those conditions. We worked on building remote schools that capture the rainwater so people can have drinking water. It's an amazing impact because now kids are going to school and have access to drinking water. We are always looking for opportunities to stack functions. That's how you innovate and come up with solutions. We cover many of the SDGs in our work in Zanzibar because we listen to communities, and they help guide us. Communities do have a lot of knowledge and know where they're going. A big part of it is just showing up, contributing, and listening.

How have you gotten youth to join the Plant 4 Pemba Project?

Plant 4 Pemba started when we were working as tree workers. It was hard work but we thrived in that environment. The organization grew into an international charity of four young people from the Maritimes. We didn't have a lot of resources but, we had relationships from travelling and connections to Zanzibar. They knew we were tree planters, and we wanted to help restore the island. Plant 4 Pemba was us scrounging enough money from donated earnings to send tree planters to do work in Zanzibar. It has continued as I was able to visit the camps and present our work to tree planters. They are one of our core partners and funders that allows the work to happen. They work really hard, and we are fortunate that they connect with the work.

What obstacles has this project, or your organization in general, faced with COVID?

Our work got harder and longer as an organization, and we started to worry about our partners in Zanzibar. In Zanzibar, they are not really admitting that COVID exists, so we spend a lot of the time providing information to keep them safe.

Remember how we were running out of toilet paper here? They were running out of planting material and seeds because people were hoarding them. With the help of the Maritimes and Canada, we purchase and secure some seeds so those rural farmers wouldn't have a concurrent food crisis on top of COVID. Thanks to our community coming together to help us get those seeds to farmers. That was a huge win.


Disclaimer: This blog is created from the transcript of an interview between the member and ACIC’s human rights intern, and is edited for consistency, while staying true to what was discussed.

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