What if we could start over and reinvent the relationship between conservation and healthy economies? Perhaps it would look like a remarkable transformation happening on an island in the Indian Ocean!

Think about it for a moment: things have not always been easy for our species. Humans are remarkable survivors. Given the worst conditions, in the most desolate and remote places, they have found ways to live, thrive, and create community and culture. Often though, this survival success has come at the expense of the environments we have found to inhabit.

Around the globe, communities are feeling the impact of our need for food, water, and shelter. Clean water becomes difficult to find, drought and poor planting conditions lead to food scarcity, and deforestation compounds the impact of both.

This may seem like a bleak future. Fortunately for all of us, there is an island off the eastern coast of Africa that has found a way to balance prosperity with the environment. And they could be a model for similar communities around the globe.

On this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we head to the Islet of Kokota off the coast of Tanzania. This tiny island is home to just 500 people. And, until quite recently, they had no school, limited electricity, and fresh water was a great scarcity.

During that period, Mbarouk Mussa Omar visited Kokota from the nearby island of Pemba. As he witnessed the impact deforestation was having on the island and its community he realized something had to be done. So, he teamed up with a young Canadian tree planter, Jeff Schnurr, to form Community Forests International.

To date, the organization has planted over 2 million trees and helped to bring education, water, and livelihoods to the island of Kokota.

To see how they did it, and how Kokota can be an example for communities around the world, here’s the beautiful short film Kokota: The Islet of Hope from filmmaker Craig Norris and VIDEOBAND.

[As a note, you’ll want to put on the closed captions. Hit the CC button at the bottom of the video for English subtitles on some of the speakers]

If you’d like to check out more about Community Forests International you can head over to their website. You can also keep up to date with them on Twitter or Facebook. And their YouTube channel features some great instructional videos about climate change adaptation that are well worth a watch.

You can explore more of Craig Norris’ work on the VIDEOBAND website, and on their YouTube channel.

Lastly, as of the publication of this article Community Forests International is running a fundraising campaign to bring water, solar electricity, and forest restoration to two more islets this year. You can check out the details of the campaign and donate over on their website!

A Model of What’s Possible

“Economic development and environmental conservation are not opposed they are actually intertwined.” -Jeff Schnurr

The story of Kokota is a remarkable case study in so many ways. From conservation to economic growth, to community impact in the face of climate change, there is so much to learn. We know what the impact of resource overuse looks like across the globe. And Community Forests International has the potential to act as a model the millions of people facing these problems.

Importantly though, these solutions are not just about turning back the clock to a more verdant time. They are about finding a way to grow economic and environmental stability together.

We can see the negative impacts of climate change as inevitable. We can even tell ourselves that economic growth has to come at the expense of the environment. But, these kinds of movements prove that this simply isn’t true.

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Why you should become a #ClimateOptimist

The Climate Group Futerra polled adults 16-64 in 26 countries and found that individuals in emerging economies feel positive about solving climate change. 71% of the respondents felt that we could address climate problems if we are to take action. Their movement, #ClimateOptimist, centers around the idea that we can effect change if we avoid a fatalistic view of our climate outcomes and take action now. 2

If you want to learn more about how they are working to shift the dominant narrative out there, take a look at this great piece on the Futerra website (we were fortunate to hear one Freya Williams, their North America CEO, speak at PopTech and wow, was it eye opening), or jump over to ClimateOptimist.org to get a little dose of optimism and learn about the ways that the future of our planet can be bright!

So, here’s the deal: it can be alright if we work towards helpful solutions.

Organizations like Community Forests International are paving the way and showing that solutions are not just out there, they can be used in places all across the globe. We have thinkers big and small working on these major issues of climate change. And even if we feel like we can’t contribute more than just making sure we’re reducing our plastic waste, we can help to change the negative dialogue around the future of climate change to one that centers around a future filled with solutions.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


Need Some More Stories to Become a #ClimateOptimist?

I suggest you check out our full library on sustainability and conservation. There you’ll find over 100 stories to lift you up and get you excited about the future of our planet!

Conservation & Sustainability on EWC


  1. “Kokota: The Islet of Hope.” YouTube, Community Forests International, 18 Dec. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPbicgrKAIc. Accessed 19 Feb. 2019.
  2. Futerra. “#ClimateOptimist: A Majority of People Globally Are Optimistic about Solving Climate Change – Two Thirds of People across the World Agree We Can Solve Climate Change If We Take Action Now ⋆ Futerra.” Futerra, 18 Sept. 2017, www.wearefuterra.com/2017/09/climateoptimist/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV