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USA/Africa: More than Just a Mvule Tree

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 7, 2007 (070507)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Mrs. Mead's 4th grade class at Pecan Creek Elementary in Denton, Texas is writing, publishing and selling a book titled "More Than Just A Mvule Tree" for $5 per copy. All monies will be used to purchase Mvule trees to be planted in Uganda and maintained by Ugandan children to fund education thru the Kibo Group ("

This press release received by AfricaFocus from the Pecan Creek Elementary School last week continues: "We are having our book release event on Friday, May 11th in the Pecan Creek Elementary Cafeteria from 2:00-2:30 p.m. The teacher to contact is Natalie Mead (940)369-4439 or - she has all of the information about this event & book project."

This elementary school initiative is linked to one of the projects supported by the Kibo Group, a group of friends who have joined to provide small grant support to projects in East Africa relying on African creativity, whether low-tech, high-tech, or somewhere in between.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from Mrs. Mead's Fourth Grade web page, and from the Kibo Group's description of the Mvule project and of their own mission. For more details, and to learn how to buy the book, sponsor a tree, suggest a project, or become a Kibo Group partner or volunteer, visit and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Welcome to Mrs. Mead's Fourth Grade Page

Writing is an important part of the fourth grade curriculum. We have put our writing skills to good use by writing, illustrating and publishing a book;

Our book project has given us the opportunity to apply our science conservation skills. Did you know that this project will replenish the threatened Mvule Tree in the villages of Uganda as it simultaneously provides school tuition for the African children who help plant and maintain the trees. All proceeds from our book sales will go directly towards the purchase of Mvule trees!

We even got to use our math skills for our Mvule Tree project. Thanks to a generous donation of service by Eagle Press Printing in Denton and our independent publisher, Kippi Halfin, $3.40 of every $5 book will go towards the purchase of Mvule Trees! We sure hope we get to buy enough trees for at least one village. That's 100 trees x $45 per tree=$4,500.

To keep things simple we calculated the profit margin for the sell of 100 books.

100 books x $5= $500

minus production costs of $1.60 per book x $100 books = $160

$500-$160= $340 profit

1 Mvule Tree @$45; $340 divided by $45= about 7.5 trees.

We made a T table and figured we would need to sell about:

1,400 books would purchase 100trees= 100%

700 books would purchase 52 trees =50%

350 would take care of 26 trees =25%

Keep track of our progress on our blog.

To purchase your copy of

More than Just a Mvule Tree

contact Natalie Mead

Related sites

The Mvule Project

Kibo Group International

muh VOO lee...

It's just fun to say

Mvule: Hardwood(Iroko) Chlorophora excelsa:

Sapwood clearly defined, yellow white of 25-100mm width depending on age of tree.

The heartwood is light yellow, rich brown or greenish brown, darkening on exposure. The texture is medium to coarse, grain typically interlocked, figure mottled. Wood is slightly greasy with no odour. This West African hardwood has an unusually durable, decay- resistant heartwood that is sometimes substituted for Teak. Iroko is sometimes called African Teak or Nigerian Teak (although not related to the Teak family).

The Mvule in Busoga

Legend has it that the first Europeans interested in felling timber in Uganda visited Soga n the 1880's. They came with their friends from Buganda and when they saw the enormous Mvule tree that was so plentiful in the "Bazungu" immediately recognized its potential for providing superb hardwood for construction and carpentry. They asked the People if they might agree for a few of them to be cut down and the Soga, seeing no worth in the trees said, "Jamire Jene" or "They grew by themselves." Soon afterward a lucrative trade in timber began in Soga with crafty businessmen from Buganda buying trees for a pittance. To this day the phrase "Jamire Jene" is a polite nickname for the Soga.

The Giving Tree

The Soga caught on soon enough and realized the value of their great trees with timber mills in many towns in supplying enough wood for homes and tables across Uganda. The large trunks that grew nearly 50 feet before sprouting the first branch were indeed some the world's finest timber trees. Early trees produced boards six feet in width! They were harvested continually and served Uganda well. The Mvule has given much, and now the time has come to give the Mvule to a new generation.

Now they won't grow by themselves

More than 100 years later the Mvule tree is severely threatened. Despite valiant efforts by forestry officials for decades,the Mvule is quickly disappearing as younger and younger trees fall to provide wood for furniture, building and charcoal. There is little that can be done to replace the slow-growing Mvule because Mvule trees do not grow in forests, but rather haphazardly across Soga. Efforts to grow them in nurseries are not successful because of blight. The Mvule is a resiliant tree once it reaches a certain age, but before that age it is easily threatened. Every systematic effort to replant Mvules has failed over the last 30 years. So why will we succeed? Read ahead and you'll see why we are different and how we will pull it off.


We're as green as the next guy, but the thing about the Mvule Project that really makes us happy is not the's the kids. There is a famous Soga proverb that says, "Emiti emito n'ekibira." Literally, in English, that's "the young trees are the forest."

We pay people to plant mvule trees...or should we say, we pay kids? No, we're not talking about child labor; for each mvule tree planted by a Ugandan village, we contribute to their nursery school. For each mvule tree that continues to live month after month, we contribute again and again. You'll learn how this works in a minute...

So, as you contribute to the long-term health of a valuable Ugandan resource through the Mvule Project, you're also contributing to the long term health of Uganda's most valuable resource: its children. The small trees are the forest!

One day, with your help, Uganda's children of today will wake up as adults with better surroundings, better education, and with children who will sit in the shade of mvule trees planted by your generation. We think that's worth doing.

Here's how it works:

1.. Send us yer dough.

$45 plants a Mvule tree on behalf of that person in your life who already has everything. (That's actually cheap for a "Christmas" tree these days, and ours are actually alive and growing...not cut and dying!)

2. We send you a groovy Holiday Card.

Enclosed in that card are two other groovy things:

  • A groovy ornament-ish thing that can be hung on a tree or on a rear-view mirror. On that ornament will be your tree registration number.
  • A groovy sheet with a more detailed Mvule Project description, and instructions on how to locate your tree. online. 3.
3. A tree is born.

A village, with the help of a Mvule Project engineer plants a tree and marks it with a Global Positioning System (GPS) for further monitoring. We are allowing up to 100 trees per village so we'll need the GPS to keep track of them.

4. A tree is monitored

Periodically for a year (every month at first) we will return to the trees to monitor their status. We are pretty sharp, and we can tell if a tree is live or dead, healthy or sick. Every live tree garners a payment...with each payment increasing, sometimes doubling, from the last one. You get the picture... the motivation to keep these trees alive is big, big, big.

5. A tree grows in Uganda

It is said that if a mvule tree can make it through the harsh first year, it's good to grow. You can now take pride in your mvule tree. At the end of a year, 100 living trees will mean more than $1000 for a village and their school project. That's good money for a village and that's easy management for us.

6. A kid grows in Uganda

Because of the economic seeds you've planted, Ugandan children will grow stronger physically, spiritually, and academically. And one day, their children will sit in the shade of your mvule tree.

How We Began

In 1998, 15 friends gathered to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. The climb had been several years in the making as we arranged to meet in Moshi, Tanzania for a five-day climb to the roof of Africa. Half of us already lived in East Africa, where we were working as development workers and missionaries in Uganda. The others flew in from various locations in the US.

After reaching the glaciers of Kibo peak, the 30-mile hike back down the mountain provided us with a panoramic view of the Tanzanian countryside. As we walked and talked, we could see people far in the valleys below going about their everyday lives. Talks with our sandal-clad porters reminded us that the money we collectively spent climbing the mountain (at the time a climbing permit was $300) would have been a small fortune not only to the average Tanzanian, but to the average Tanzanian village!

Before we reached base camp, the concept of the Kibo Group was born. Those of us who had been blessed to reach Africa's highest point would contribute annually to an informal development fund that might empower African communities to climb to higher points. There were no plans for any formalities, just a handshake agreement between a few to contribute to an account that would help fund creative development initiatives in African communities. There would be no overhead, no salaries, no office, no fund raisers. Time would tell if we were caught up in the excitement and emotion of the climb or if we would stick with it. Five years later, we have formalized our organization into a fully incorporated US 501c3. We have maintained our goal of no overhead thanks to many hours volunteered by some of those who climbed that day.

Our Motivations

You are within the "About Us" section of our website, but we want to make it clear that it's not about us. ("It" being the overall big picture.) It is about the God-given creativity found in human beings. We believe that creativity truly is God-given so we have no interest in pursuing creative ideas without pursuing God.

Whenever people pursue "development" (economic gain, educational improvement, health-care improvement, etc) without pursuing God they are pursuing good things -- they are pursuing God's gifts to humanity. We don't insist that people pursue God rather than His gifts, we work with anyone and everyone, but we operate under the belief that pursuing the giver is more useful and primary than pursuing the gifts.

When thinking about development, areas such as economics and social anthropology have long been scrutinized and subdivided into areas of great minutia, yet spiritual issues are often set aside as subjective, divisive and irrelevant to development studies. It is ironic that many of the world's experts in development are Westerners who think and speak little of faith, yet they are trying to impact a third-world environment where faith in a higher power is one of the few things that nearly everyone agrees on.


Kibo is driven by five principles or goals:

  • We will facilitate creative development ideas in East Africa
  • We will be aware of our relevance and cease to exist if need be
  • We will have very little organizational superstructure
  • We will have strong relationships with our partners
  • We are driven and inspired by our faith, (but open to working with anyone)

The Kibo Group is now in its 5th year. As we grow and reach farther, our commitment to spend an absolute minimum on operations remains firm. We are growing because our African partners (not us) continue to impress the world with their ingenuity and entrepreneurship. As long as demands for our services, advice and partnership are driven by the stories circulated of the success of our partners, we are thrilled to fill our role as facilitators. As stated in our goals, we are looking forward to a time when we can cease to exist because Africans find no need for our services.

Work With Us

One of the first things tourists notice when visiting Africa is the amazing creativity of its people. Creative displays aren't limited only to artists and musicians. Creativity is on display in everyday life as old tin cans are turned into oil burning lamps, discarded tires are refitted into the world's toughest footwear, tire rims are becoming charcoal stoves. Resources are few, nothing is wasted, and resilience and resourcefulness are evident everywhere as people craft something out of nothing over and over again.

The Kibo Group is looking for partners with great ideas for making their communities better: ideas about education, about healthcare, about technology, about business -- anything that can help a community on its way to a higher point. The ideas we like best are usually simple, local, sustainable and well thought out. We also like ideas that are brand new, risky, socially aware and entrepreneurial. We do not issue large grants, we closely follow our recipients and seek to develop a long term relationship with them.

We don't have the projects, we don't have the agenda, but rather a desire to partner with creative young (and old) Africans who know their communities, know their needs and have creative solutions they'd like to try. We know they are out there. Some are our close friends, some we meet on the web. We have partnered with them in small ways in the past and are looking forward to increased ability to pursue such relationships with our newly acquired non-profit status.

Intentions can be great; it's when they make the transition into interventions that problems often arise. Interventions by well-intentioned individuals and groups such as ours have a long history in Africa...and it has not always been a positive history. Accordingly, Kibo forges each partnership with certain limitations in mind. While proposed projects should be simple, local, sustainable and well thought out, that does not necessarily mean they will be simple, low tech and boring. Development is becoming increasingly difficult to define in East Africa as Ugandans, Tanzanians and Kenyans recreate and redefine daily what it means to be indigenous in the face of increasing interactions with Western modernity.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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