Planting trees from the diaspora with the Armenia Tree Project

By Armen Poladian

We have to leave the earth in a better state than we found it–if not for us, for our children’s children. I always hear myself saying this, especially after graduating from the University of Waterloo in 2015 with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies. I became obsessed with sustainability and striving to make the world a cleaner and healthier place for all living in it. I immediately started driving a fully-electric car after wrapping up my studies and working at multiple environmental organizations that were building a more sustainable future in Waterloo Region.

As a proud Armenian born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario, I wanted to use my environmental passion to give back to the homeland. In 2016, I planned a 25th birthday fundraiser by hosting an event to support the Armenia Tree Project (ATP). The ATP, a non-profit program based in Woburn, Massachusetts, and Yerevan, conducts vitally important environmental projects in Armenia’s cities and villages and seeks support in advancing its reforestation mission. Their goal is to assist the Armenian people in using trees to improve their standard of living and protect the global environment. In so doing, the ATP is guided by the need to promote self-sufficiency, aid those with the fewest resources first, and conserve the indigenous ecosystem.

Since its inception in 1994, ATP has mastered the art of growing and planting trees in Armenia and honed its ability to produce healthy trees to sustain and propagate the country’s natural resources. ATP’s solution is holistic: both nature and people are integral forces that must work together to create a sustainable, healthy, and non-threatening environment.
I knew I wanted to do something to help with this mission, so I started to plan. My fundraiser was a success, and in September 2016, I proudly announced to my guests that because of their generous support that day, I planted 100 trees in Armenia. I was beyond proud of our accomplishment, reaffirming that one person can ignite significant change with a community’s support.
I got involved for two reasons: love for my homeland and respect for God’s green earth. A sustainable future promises healthy and prosperous generations to come, and I want that for Armenia and, frankly, for the entire world.

Since then, I have been selected to be ATP’s Canadian ambassador to help spread the word. I’ve been continuously trying to lead by example by sharing news in-person and online, giving lessons to local Armenian students, and occasionally doing Nor Hai Horizon interviews. In 2017, I volunteered with the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada’s Camp Vanadzor as a counsellor. The counsellors were encouraged to prepare activities to teach the children of the camp–typical examples are teaching them Armenian dances, songs, and sporting games. I wanted to leave my group of kids something personal, so my mind went straight to teaching them about the environment and instinctively reached out to the ATP.

My idea was to distribute flowers in plant pots to the children, teaching them about the beauty that encompasses our natural environment. I was so happy when this idea became a reality in collaboration with the ATP. They provided the flowers and also taught a lesson about native bird species. We took the children birdwatching in a local park before discussing the importance of doing our part to keep our home planet clean and sustainable for the health of biodiversity, our own well-being, and future generations. I hope the children will never forget their experience at AYF Camp Vanadzor, and they’ll take that environmental spark with them wherever they go.

After graduating from university in 2015, I became a filmmaker. To date, I have written and directed seven short films and two music videos, and I just completed my very first feature film. Merging my two passions of environmentalism and filmmaking plus being an active member of our local Hamazkayin chapter in Cambridge, I was approached by the ATP to help host a screening of their project “Antar: The Reforestation of Armenia” a – short film that takes a behind-the-scenes look into ATP’s to ensure the highest quality trees and longest survival rates. Hamazkayin Cambridge hosted that screening at the Armenian Community Centre of Cambridge on March 5, 2023, followed by a Q&A session with ATP executive director Jeanmarie Papelian to an inspired audience.

My goal is to keep up this environmental preservation, both in the homeland and around the globe. I always say that it is important to talk the talk, but one must walk the walk to make a difference and truly inspire. I do what I can for sustainability, for creation care, for future generations, and for the future of Armenia. You, too, can do your part.