Cathi Lundy in Oaxaca. Photos courtesy of Cathi Lundy
A dozen people gathered on a recent Saturday night in the living room of a Palos Verdes Estates home.
They were surrounded by conversation, live music, and the tantalizing smells of Thai-style green curry chicken, tilapia prepared the Burundi way, a spinach dish with origins in Tanzania, cheese from Oaxaca, chips made of cactus.
Their feast had been prepared according to a theme: each dish had origins in a country where non-profit organization Plant with Purpose is active. The dinner, hosted by Palos Verdes couple Albro and Cathi Lundy, was a culinary representation of the San Diego-based organization’s international impact.
Year after year the Lundys host this dinner to raise money for Plant with Purpose, an organization that has been part of their personal story since 1984.
As newlyweds, they felt drawn to the organization’s vision; 30 years on, they remain committed members of its team. They have each held positions on the Board – Cathi is currently serving her sixth and final term – and together they have taken their four children to the far-flung villages in which Plant with Purpose operates.
Their commitment appears to be contagious.
In recent years, Palos Verdes residents have pledged generous amounts of time and money to sustain Plant with Purpose. About a dozen local women have begun accompanying Cathi on annual trips to a rural community in Oaxaca. There, they work alongside and pray with local women.
A group of PV women in Oaxaca with Plant with Purpose.
“There is a growing number of people on the Peninsula that are thinking beyond the Peninsula and living beyond the Peninsula to help other people,” Cathi said. “It’s really exciting for me to have people come on board, whether that means going on a trip or donating to buy a stove.”
Plant with Purpose is a Christian organization that operates in over 300 rural villages in six countries – Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haiti, Tanzania, Burundi, and Thailand. It works according to the idea that reforestation is the foundation of rural development.
Deforestation triggers a chain reaction of degradation that renders the land unusable and forces people into hunger. By teaching people affected by deforestation to recover control of their subsistence through sustainable farming and entrepreneurship, Plant with Purpose works to reduce poverty.
It focuses on building the capacity of local people, who are trained to become directors and staff in each site of operation. This methodology is central to the Plant with Purpose ethos, which is not to give a man a fish, but to teach him how to catch fish.
“There are so many people that want to make their life better and sometimes they just need a few tools and a little bit of training,” Cathi said. “It’s so very rewarding to support an organization with that kind of vision, an organization that does that.”
Plant with Purpose volunteers plant trees and build stoves, but they also give people the tools they might need to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
One particularly successful program the organization has conceived is called Village Savings and Loan. People contribute between one and three dollars a week to a community pool; from it, they can draw loans to cover expenses associated with starting a business. After a certain period, the interest they contribute upon repayment of their loans is divided amongst the entire participating group.
Impact reports and independent evaluations reveal the effectiveness of the Plant with Purpose approach. Satellite imagery confirms that the Haiti program has expanded the radius of green, arable land by seven kilometres outside its target village.
In some villages where Plant with Purpose is active, rates of waterborne disease have dropped by 50 percent, Cathi said.
Cathi Lundy doing crafts with local girls in Oaxaca. Photos courtesy of Cathi Lundy
“I have met people who say, ‘I used to be sick all the time, but with Plant with Purpose I learned how to do organic gardening and I’m not sick anymore,’” Cathi said. “In Mexico, a woman we met said, ‘Our children used to die and now because we’ve learned to build cisterns and clean latrines and there are more trees filtering our water, our children are not dying anymore.’ I think we were all crying on that trip.”
For Cathi, each trip to a Plant with Purpose site is as inspiring and humbling as the last. Her understanding of the enormous need that exists beyond the Peninsula compels her to continue volunteering.
Cathi and her family are dedicated to fundraising for, and raising awareness about, Plant with Purpose. The payoff for the hours they expend, Cathi said, is a richness of experience and a balance of perspective.
As she talks, Cathi flips through the pages of a photo book she compiled after a trip to Oaxaca. She points to each local woman, calling her by name and smiling at her memory.
“In some ways you have to kind of put the brakes on and slow down and really get to know people and be with them and work with them, not for them,” Cathi said. “That idea about relationship and being in relationship with the people that you’re wanting to help is important. It’s also important to see that it’s mutual, that you’re really helping each other.”