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Afghan Tree Planter Cultivates His Dream

Planting Trees In Afghanistan 'In The Name Of God'
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WATCH: Ghulam Sakhi plants trees In Afghanistan 'in the name of God'

Ghulam Sakhi has no home of his own, but spends his life putting down roots.

The 70-year-old Afghan plants trees -- mulberry, cherry, plum, willow, or poplar -- whenever and wherever he can.

"I want passersby to enjoy fruit, or just rest in the shade of trees," Sakhi says. "If there is no brook or spring nearby, I dig a well there to water the trees."

In his native village of Banoo, in Afghanistan's relatively peaceful north, Sahki is known simply as "Malang" -- a moniker given to an unmaterialistic man who has devoted his life to serving God and people.

And, of course, in Sakhi's case, trees.

Over the past four decades, Sakhi has created 13 orchards in the Andarab, Dushi, and Nahrin districts of northern Baghlan Province.

He supports his hobby through a long list of day jobs. "I've worked as a laborer, farmer, and as a guard in a hospital, and now in a religious school," Sakhi says. "I spend almost all my wages buying saplings and transporting them to places I want to plant trees."

Sakhi has never been married and lives in a modest room in his parental home, a single-story mud-wall house that now belongs to his brother's family.

His possessions are few, and the furnishing in his room consists of an old rug, a couple of cushions, and some blankets.

Sakhi did, however, inherit a plot of arable land outside Banoo, where he used to grow melons when he "was younger and had more strength."

Religious Duty

Villagers recall that Sakhi would go door to door with a sack of melons on his back, distributing them to needy families.

Sakhi says he is "too weak" to grow melons, but tree planting has not sapped his strength enough to prevent him traveling long distances to water his orchards.

His labor of love brings no financial reward, but Sakhi says planting trees has become his main purpose in life.

"When I was young, once I heard elderly people talking about the benefits of doing good things to others," Sakhi says. "That day I decided to dedicate my life to planting trees because I couldn't think of doing anything else to benefit others."

Now he sees it as his religious duty. "Some of the trees I planted have grown old now, and villagers cut them down to use as firewood in mosques," Sakhi says. Trees make people's lives easier by bearing fruit for them to eat, he adds, and by providing shade on hot summer days and heat in winter.

Sakhi shows little interest in politics or the big-city life in Kabul, located some 220 kilometers from his home. Afghanistan has undergone several regime changes and bloody wars in his lifetime, but Sakhi's lifestyle has somehow continued relatively unchanged.

He has always been poor, worked hard, and planted trees. And in the course of his work, his fellow villagers say, the "simple Malang" has managed to bring change.

"Every spring in the area now has 20 to 30 trees planted by Sakhi," says Abdul Mahmud. "He has done it all on his own, with his own money and hard work. There is a village here called Shikardgird. Sakhi singlehandedly created a garden and dug a well there."
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by Ahmad Bashir Ghezali in Baghlan Province, Afghanistan