I met Mohammad when he was sitting across the lunch table from me at my school. We often have visitors, people observing a Montessori school for their training, but they are usually local people. Sometimes they are visiting and speak only English, as I heard Mohammad speak English I immediately asked him about his visit. I was very surprised to learn that he was there to plant a tree and talk to the children about why we need trees. For me this was a great opportunity to have the children connect to larger world through an actual person, someone who is living differently from others, someone who is caring about our environment in a concrete way! I quickly went to get my class and make sure they would be on the playground for the presentation. It was all very last minute and many of the older children were not there, some of the younger ones did not have enough English to understand all that Mohammad said. But 2 of my students were very very interested in him. One who is from Kuwait, was excited just to have someone named Mohammad visit our school, and the other, a Swiss, was fascinated by Mohammad’s tails of traveling the world by bicycle. As I was also interesting in knowing more about Mohammad (I am also a bicyclist) I asked him to come and speak to the children in my English class. Mohammad did return to our school a few weeks later and this time the children had time to prepare interview questions for him. I will attach a copy of the interview that I wrote up for our school newspaper.
During this visit Mohammad stayed at my home and I got to know him better. He had some problems with getting his visit renewed. I know how difficult this can be as a foreigner, and I am very aware of the difficulties of being a dark, or poor, visitor. (as I have often been discriminated against as a poor single mom, but I know that being American has made many things easier for me). Anyway I wanted to help Mohammad, and it turns out that I could by putting him in touch with my good friend Amy who lives in Istanbul and could offer him a place to stay while he waited for his visa to be worked out. So our ties became stronger.
As for his connection to the school, I continued to ask that they send him some money to compensate for the tree and his time and effort of coming to talk to the children. Especially because he represents our Montessori philosophy so well, protection of the environment, support of peace, and life by movement are our foundations! So the school was looking to do a fund raiser, and we had done book sales before with new books. And some of us wanted to just ask for donations of old books and have a sale with them so we could 1) recycle old books and 2) send the money to support Mohammad’s education and planting of trees. Well it grew even bigger when the school decided to sell food too, and then we asked parents to bake cakes and sell those too! Also we decided to take the theme of recycling a bit further and learn to make recycled paper for the Christmas gifts our students will give to homes for the elderly at Christmas *this was not yet set up during the book sale, but comes out of our desire to do more about recycling and saving trees. I also printed out some of the pictures Mohammad has taken on his travels. I put them in a little cardboard frame and put them up for sale. This way people could see him and have a memory of the charity they were supporting. See picture of these attached.
Ok the book sale was a great success, parents helped, they baked, they sold. Children helped, they ran the cash register, they sorted and priced books with me. I have some pictures taken with my iphone, but they aren’t great. I don’t want to send to much in one mail so let me know if you would like the other pictures I took.
I am happy to answer any other questions or do an interview. At this point we made 1000 swiss francs from the sale of books and pictures, and 800 from the sale of food. So I will be sending that to Mohammad soon. And I know that we’ll continue to work together on supporting “we need trees”.
Best regards, Rachelle Olson
Kids interview with Mohammad
An interview with Mohammad Tajeran
As we sat down children were eager to know “Where are you from?” “Iran, a land 10 times the size of Switzerland” he says. “How old are you?” A curious student asked. He is 36. But before he is interviewed, Mohammad wants to know if the children remember what he told them on his last visit. That was the Thursday before the Christmas holiday. Mohammad came to Rietberg School and presented a slide show with information about his travels and his passion, trees. He showed pictures of his long travels through many lands. And he explained why it is his mission to talk to children, and to plant trees. So now Mohammad asks, “Why do we need trees?” “Oxygen!” They answer. “Good, what else?” “Wood!” they answer. “Yes, and any other reasons?” “Ummmmm?” This starts Mohammad on a story about how something as simple as building a road takes away the homes of the animals and many lose their lives trying to cross the new road. “So use trains,” he recommends, “and Switzerland is very good in this!”
With the 3 main reasons that we need trees covered, the children are eager to ask questions, so now it is their turn to interview him.
Questions from Caitlin Bachmann:
Have you traveled the world? Well it’s a big place, but I have been to 30 countries and covered 35,000 km.
How long have you been traveling? 6 years.
What kinds of trees do you plant? Fruit trees, Pine trees, and many Peepal Trees because they are a sacred tree in India. One time I planted 100 Mango trees for an orphanage in Nepal. There I have a little girl that I call “sister”, we sort of adopted each other.
Do you have someone to help you? Not one special person, but many people help.
Why do you do it? I love biking and I love raising awareness.
Questions from Isabelle Bomio:
How do you travel through storms? (Mohammad shows pictures of his tent in the snow with his bike covered in snow) I spent 2 days in my tent like this, I could not breath in the night because the weight of the snow pushed the tent down on top of me. I had to get up every two hours and clean off the snow or the tent would have briken from the weight of it. After the first day I cleaned the snow off my bike so I could see it again, but the next day it was covered again. I knew I had to pack up and go even though it was snowing and the road condition was terrible.
Where do you go to the toilet? When I am camping I go somewhere hidden, or maybe at a gas station. And when I am staying at someone’s home, well I use their toilet.
How many trees have you planted? 911 trees in schools. Plus my family and friends got together and planted 100 more.
Questions from Talia Jaeger:
What made you start biking and planting trees? It was my childhood dream to travel, to see the world. But then I grew-up and went to university and started working. And then my dream came back and I asked myself if I was living my dream.
Do you like doing it? I love it! If I didn’t love it I would get tired in that storm I told you about and I would not keep going, it would feel difficult.
Where are you going next? France
Questions from Juliette Matlock:
How do you earn money? I don’t. I do photography but I don’t charge money for the pictures. So I live on donations from people.
How long will it take you to go to France by bike? 10 days, because I will make many stops along the way.
Why not go by plane? Because I do not want to hurt the environment.
What do you eat? For breakfast, muesli or peanut butter with crackers. Usually I don’t have lunch. Then I buy something to cook for dinner in my tent.
Questions from Leonie Honneger:
How big is the biggest tree you planted? I don’t plant big trees, they are usually 1 to 2 meters tall when I plant them.
What is your favorite tree? I love all trees. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be an Oriental plane, called Chinar in Iranian.
Questions from Fares Mourad:
What is the most interesting land you visited? The most interesting is Nepal, it has lots of mountains and nature and culture. But my favorite is New Zealand, it is tiny but it has everything there: mountains, forests, beaches, and the people are so nice!
Where do you still have to go? I am going to America and Canada
Questions from Linus Leu:
What languages do you speak? English, Spanish and Persian.
What is the biggest land you have been to? China
What is the smallest land you have been to? Singapore
We ran out off time, but it seems the children could have asked him interesting questions all day. And Mohammad has enough stories to last many days! If you are interested to know more about him, his work, or his peace project, please go to his website: weneedtrees.com
Mohammad has many friends across the planet, from the Red Cross, to a biology professor at Harvard that helps him know what to plant where, to Balz Wiederkehr, who brought him to our school. While in Switzerland he visited the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) who proudly posted his photo and story on the front page of their website. Mohammad’s work of educating about the environment and planting trees with kids, is entirely funded by donations. Please think about donating for a tree to get planted on your birthday, or someone else, or just give in general.