Laureates' interviews

Silvia Hämmerle

Farming which restores the forest, grows organic food and provides sustainable livelihoods for disabled people. It sounds like a utopian vision, but Philippines-based organisation the Life-Giving Forest is showing that such an ambitious scheme is possible.

Silvia Hämmerle is the founder and chairwoman of the organisation. She shares her current projects and hopes for the future.


How would you describe yourself?

I’m 29 years old and currently living in Germany, although I grew up in the Philippines. I spent half my life there as my parents went there to work in development aid in 1992, supporting people with disabilities.

I developed an interest in ecology and environment when I returned to Germany for my International Baccalaureate. I studied International Forestry in Freiburg, Germany. When I was 23 years old, I founded Life-Giving Forest, together with some friends. Since then, we’ve been working together to create sustainable livelihoods for people with disabilities. It is based on the project my parents started. The project encourages sustainable livelihoods by reforesting and farming organically.

I’m also a manager at Friends of the Earth in Germany. However, this is only part-time so I have time to develop Life-Giving Forest on a voluntary basis.


What is your mission?

Our big aim is to enhance the inclusion of people with disabilities and to empower them. My personal dream is to sustainably improve the lives of disabled people with reforestation and organic farming. Through all of this we aim to create a positive environment for development. We want to enhance biodiversity, improve degraded soils, stabilise the local climate by reforesting the native species and of course reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Our main focus is also on environmental education, to help people understand global and environmental challenges, and what they can do about them.


Tell us about an exciting project/initiative you are working on that you would like to share with the world?

At the moment, we are starting our fourth project. A group of disabled people were inspired by our other three projects. They visited the original projects and said “this is what we want to do too”, so they founded their own cooperative in March. They are now planting a forest and receiving organic farming training.

It’s incredibly inspiring to see these people, who are very challenged in their society, taking action. This is something that really motivates others. The government are amazed. The local government are used helping facilitate their lives but now they’re the ones starting organic development.


What does it mean to you to be an environmental laureate?

I think the most important thing with being an environmental laureate is the recognition, not only for me but for the whole team. When I received the award in 2014 it really boosted the whole programme because everybody, even in the Philippines and Germany, gained a whole new dynamism from presenting our project. It’s like a certificate to say we are doing something good, making it easier to get new funders. Overall, it’s really great to be part of this global network.


Are there any other benefits of being part of a bigger organisation and collaboration such as EEF?

It’s very motivating to see what others are doing, and to get to know them personally and understand their struggles. When you read magazines it’s always easy to think that these projects are doing great things and not having any trouble at all. Yet, just by having direct contact with these inspiring people, you know they are human as well and have had similar issues. This can really help.


What do you think is the potential if we unite environmental laureates to collaborate together?

I think it sounds amazing bringing together all these laureates. It’s quite a lot of people, and when you think of us all acting together globally, we really are able to support each other. If we have difficulties then it’s really useful to hear others’ solutions.




What are the top three issues you would like to address?

Well for me, and probably for most environmentalists, number one is definitely the idea of how we can live in harmony with the environment. How nature really supports human life on Earth is so important, so we need to strengthen human solidarity and global respect.

I also believe that if we focus on independence, respect and dignity in the global economy, then many environmental issues can be banished.


How would you encourage young people to get involved with the movement?

I would suggest giving young people the chance to create their own projects, even on a small scale, by giving financial support and assistance to help them focus on a project for 1-3 years. Training from experienced mentors and laureates is also an option.

We involve young people in our projects, by offering scholarships in the Philippines and volunteering opportunities for people all over the world. We’re also trying to start a contest in the Philippines for young people with disabilities.


What is your big hope/ambition for the next 10 years?

We’re dreaming of spreading our projects all over the Philippines as there are currently 24 cooperatives and potential for a lot more. We really want to be able to support all of these groups to grow forests, organic gardens and sustainably produced food for restaurants and towns. We also want to supply the wood industry with sustainably-harvested native timber species.


What do you think the Laureates should focus on in the convention next year?

We should explore global equality and the reasons people are forced to leave their homes and move to other places.