Amira Odeh: Planting Fruit Trees for a Resilient Puerto Rico
Hi people! My name is Spiffy, an interplanetary journalist stationed here on Planet Earth to interview the entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. Today I’m in Puerto Rico to meet Amira Odeh, co-director of Caribbean Youth Environment Network, Puerto Rico. They're making an impact on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Hi Amira, thanks for meeting with me today, what challenges are you working on?
Amira: Of course, Spiffy. In Puerto Rico, we import more than 85% of the food that we eat. Even though we have the perfect climate and rich soils, decades of colonization have weakened our local agriculture and caused dependence on imports. The impact of recent hurricanes has made this problem worse. Since the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017, we have been leading an initiative to reforest Puerto Rico. We have been giving out fruit trees and seeds to families in all 78 municipalities of the islands. Most recently, we are working on creating fruit tree parks where communities will be able to access safe and free food all year long and also be more food secure when another natural disaster happens.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do this work?
Amira: I have been passionate about protecting our planet since childhood. Even though we can still stop the worst of climate change, we will face effects that will put millions of lives at risk. I want to establish systems now that will help people survive and recover from extreme weather events. I focus on making sure that everyone has access to water, food, and shelter. I also want to help communities create safe spaces where they will be able to rebuild and restore after disaster hits.
Spiffy: How are you working to create a more equitable Puerto Rico?
Amira: We are doing our part to reduce the need to import so much food. We also want people to have access to safe fruits and vegetables. This will stop them from being scared about finding food if they don't have the financial means for it. Additionally, we are working to reforest and replenish the millions of trees we lost during the hurricane, which protects natural life and our water.
CYEN volunteers and community leaders at a tree planting event in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. (Image courtesy of Amira Odeh)
Spiffy: What’s a recent milestone you’ve reached with this project?
Amira: We have now created 20 fruit tree parks across Puerto Rico, supporting 20 different communities in reconnecting with the soil, learning about agriculture, protecting their resources, and working together to access free and healthy food.
Spiffy: Tell me about a time you failed and how you recovered.
Amira: At the beginning of this project we had many doubts about what we were doing and were scared to impact in a way that was negative. We quickly learned that by holding back we were only affecting our own reach. By doing this work with love and honesty, we could actually have an even better impact than what we had planned.
Spiffy: What’s something you’ve learned unexpectedly recently?
Amira: Friendship and good relationships are not necessarily about how long you’ve known the other party, it's more about establishing good bonds and being comfortable to learn from each other and have fun.
Spiffy: Well put! And if I might say, I feel a real bond forming between us. Thanks for taking the time to tell us all about your work, it’s been an honor!
Amira Odeh is a scientist, environmental activist, and co-director of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network, Puerto Rico. Since an early age, she has been interested in conservation and has led various campaigns and projects to protect nature.
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Elias Ross Trupin. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.