Interview With Garry Brooks aka “Mr. Garry”, Founder of African Community Project

By Lindsay Wertman, WFCF Blog Editor on Jun 26, 2020
Philanthropist Spotlight

Getting to Know Individuals Making a Difference All Over the World

Garry Brooks

Since retiring from business in 2002, Garry Brooks traveled to Zambia as a volunteer endeavoring to share his love of trees. Since then, he has spent most of his time as the founder of African Community Project, helping different communities address various environmental issues and create more sustainable livelihoods.

WFCF has enjoyed collaborating with Garry Brooks aka “Mr. Garry” and African Community Project for several years now and we were very fortunate to be able to learn a little bit more about him and his mission:

WFCF: When did your love of forestry begin?

GB: The forest and all that it encompasses has always been part of my 74 years of life. My father played a big part in my love for the environment as I was growing up close to the land and his inspiration has guided me in my undertakings in nature all my life.

WFCF: Do you have any other hobbies or interests you would like to share with us?

GB: My craving for knowledge has been bolstered by my love of observation and reading. Gardening keeps my hands in mother earth and on growing things.

WFCF: As the founder of African Community Project, can you please share with us what inspired you to begin this organization and what are your hopes for the future?

GB: After selling my forestry business and retiring in 2002, I enlisted as a volunteer to go overseas. After completing my volunteer assignment as a community developer in Zambia I decided to commit to helping communities in Zambia full time. Guiding communities to understand and appreciate their natural environment and help them find ways to create sustainable livelihoods from the forest around them.

WFCF: Can you please talk a little bit about the importance of working with local communities to create sustainable solutions?

GB: Local knowledge and eager participants can be found in every community; sometimes all that is needed is a little encouragement, education and tools to move forward. This can come in the form of ‘how to’ education and well-placed funding to provide the tools for achievement. African Community Project has had many proven successes over the years, covering all aspects of social forestry from: providing clean, safe drinking water, basic health and education, creating sustainable livelihoods and community well-being with much emphasis on the women and children of the community. Some projects that are on the go right now are: putting hard copies of my book, ‘Mr. Garry’s Collection of Zambian Trees’ into every school in Zambia (almost 500 schools have received the book so far), anyone who wants this book can go online and request a free soft copy of the book with the promise of planting trees on their land and in the community and they agree not to reprint or sell copies, and a pilot project of providing fruits and vegetables to vulnerable families with children who have disabilities (freeing the parents to spend more time with their children who have special needs).

WFCF: We have noticed you have a history of authoring publications, what do you like most about authoring books and what do you hope readers will take away from your published work?

GB: During my 18 years of working with Zambian communities I found a need of education in the community and the schools. We in the north have easy access to the internet but in rural communities this is not the case. My first book that I wrote is a guideline for communities to create sustainable community forests. And after many years I finally completed a second book on the tree species found in Zambia. The biggest challenge of writing these books is the lack of funding to print, ship, and distribute them.

WFCF: You have been involved with the World Forgotten Children Foundation (WFCF) for quite a while now collaborating on numerous projects. As you know, WFCF recently expanded its mission to support projects that can improve the environmental and local living conditions of underprivileged communities with the aim of leading to overall better health and sustainability. This is an area that we know is near and dear to your heart. Can you please share with us your hopes for this new mission and how you feel that WFCF will be able to support communities through this expanded mission?

GB: African Community project is a small organization that relies heavily on funding from well-wishers (such as WFCF) to get the projects on the ground. Ever since the start I have been the main source of core funding to sustain the organization. My Zambian colleagues are all volunteers; all with the passion to help their fellow man and to care for the environment, both natural and social. I have capable colleagues on the ground across Zambia and much experience in community projects and this can turn concepts into success stories.

WFCF: Where do you hope the communities you support will be in five years from now?

GB: Knowledge, well taught is seldom forgotten, sometimes neglected or misused but hopefully, with lessons learnt, helps communities to better themselves. Looking back on projects, each one has brought something good to the community.

WFCF: If you could provide one piece of advice to anyone who is newly entering into a philanthropic endeavor or considering starting up a non-profit, what would it be?

GB: Don’t do it just to feel warm and fuzzy! That feeling will come as you succeed. Don’t create something that is not sustainable e.g. building a school is great but if you don’t have funds set aside for teachers and supplies for 5 years the project should be rethought. Perhaps find a poor school and upgrade the infrastructure and learning tools. African Community Project is associated with many schools in dire need of this help.

WFCF: Is there anything else you wish to share?

GB: On behalf of everyone who WFCF has touched with their kindness across this suffering world……I thank you.

Collection of Zambian Trees

Interested in receiving a free soft copy of “Mr. Garry’s Collection of Zambian Trees”?

Free soft copies of this book can be obtained by emailing the author at the following address agreeing to planting trees and not to copy or email the book in any shape or form and stating your location. Hard copies of the book can also be purchased by contacting the above address.

Garry Brooks Biography:

Garry Brooks aka Mr. Garry is a retired forestry worker who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He is married to Maria who has recently retired after 25 years in the health sector of local government. He is very proud of his two successful sons, daughter-in-law’s and three beautiful granddaughters. Garry is an environmentalist at heart carrying on in his father’s footsteps with a down to earth approach towards our natural world. After retiring from business in 2002, he traveled to Zambia as a volunteer endeavoring to share his love of trees. Since then, he has spent most of his time as the founder of African Community Project working with communities addressing environmental issues that face their communities. His various projects include the creation of community forests and the practice of "social forestry" by providing basic education specifically related to safe, clean drinking water and community well-being empowering women and children. His first book, “Guidelines to a Sustainable Community Forest” is being used as a teaching tool across Zambia and in other African countries. It is a guide on the steps to take for setting up a community forest and practicing basic management skills. After over fifteen years on the ground, Africa Community Project is now working with interested Zambians to organize willing communities into Zambian Community Forests. For this membership-driven organization, environmental issues and forest management are the main educational goals. Garry remains actively involved working with communities across Zambia, addressing their environmental problems and helping find sustainable solutions. This work has earned him the name Mr. Garry by the people of Zambia. His diligence is recognized by his peers and related organizations. His love for the people of Zambia and his enthusiasm with regards to restoring community forests is never ending.

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