Growing up in the Philippines, Natalia Sali’s first experience with nature was joining her father as he cultivated the plants and trees on their land. This ignited her love of the trees and environment which she spent climbing trees and basking in green fields. She was raised believing that any idea is possible and even small ideas are the root of all big changes. She wanted to pass this belief on in her work, so she created, along with her family, the program One Child, One Tree (OCOT) to empower and inspire children to realize their potential in being partners in protecting the environment.
Four thousand first graders in 25 different schools were part of her first project, where she trained 20 volunteers who, in turn, trained the children to plant trees that they would be responsible for nurturing until they graduated from school. From there, OCOT has expanded to include a full restoration of mangrove forests which she and her team are planting across various towns in Hagonoy in the Philippines.
Mangroves are important carbon sinks that help sequester greenhouse gases and maintain global temperatures. Mangroves have a particularly good sequestration rate due to their environment — the stems and branches that fall accumulate the necessary sediment to reduce oxygen levels, slowing their decomposition. Buried carbon can remain stored for centuries if undisturbed.
Mangroves also serve as a coastal defense from sea level rise, surges, and waves, making coastal communities more resilient to storms and natural disasters. They are vital to mitigating the worst effects of sea level rise.
Sali coordinated with her local government, partnering with Fostering Education for Environment and Development (FEED). Together, they have more funds to train people, research, and plant more mangroves. Volunteers from different schools regularly clean up the coast to prevent plastic waste from destroying the mangroves. They also are trained in the research about mangroves, so they understand the science behind reforestation. So far, they have planted hundreds of thousands of mangroves.
Natalia’s goal is to inspire people so they have the same passion she does for mitigating climate change. She has won awards for her work, including the Energy Global Award, which she hopes amplifies OCOT’s work to attract even more volunteers. Sali does not want to impose on people but rather listens to them and makes the necessary changes. OCOT has broadened to include coastal clean-ups and solid waste management.