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The Graduation of HoiLu

In the HoiLu Watershed of Northern Thailand and there's a buzz.

People are dancing, dressed up, lining up to go celebrate. This whole area
is about to graduate. But what does that even mean?

Plant With Purpose works in places where environmental challenges and poverty cross paths creating a cycle of despair. For a long time HoiLu was one of those places.

The people and families in Plant With Purpose's program had really unique challenges in their lives. Most of them were refugees. They had come here to escape conflict and violence.

Their livelihood came from the forest through farming, but because they lacked citizenship it also meant they could lose it at any moment.

That wasn't the only threat.

This region in Thailand was vulnerable to droughts, wildfires and climate change but by working with Plant With Purpose many were able to secure citizenship. This community was able to prove to local officials that they could be the best guardians of the forest.

They planted trees they brought life, healing, and spiritual renewal back to the watershed of HoiLu.

That brings us to today.

hoilu thailand

So what does it mean for a watershed to graduate?

When Plant With Purpose starts working in an area, the plan isn't to just keep working there forever and ever. Ultimately the tools and the leadership for restoring and protecting the watershed belong with those that live there.

Our partnership just serves as a catalyst for that process. The Plant With Purpose model works within the boundaries of a watershed that means we use the contours of nature and the flow of water to determine where we locate our work.

How long this might actually take can vary a lot based on location and other circumstances, but when we go into a place we aim for around seven to twelve years. In that time, not only are trees planted and forests expanded but we see community members elevated to become leaders. They develop their skills and pass on their knowledge when the time comes our monitoring and evaluation team performs an in-depth graduation readiness assessment to make sure that watershed truly is ready.

The concept of a graduating watershed is kind of abstract, which is why we spoke with Monitoring & Evaluation Director Corey Chin to help explain:

Corey: When we start working in a watershed we don't intend to stay there forever, obviously. We want to make sure that we haven't just completed all of the activities in our program but we want to make sure that the participants and the community has experienced the actual impact that we're hoping for and so once we've measured and verified that the impact has taken place there's usually a graduation ceremony and the participants make a commitment to themselves and their and to their community to carry forward the activities that they're doing and to bring alongside anyone who hasn't been a part of the program and train them and bring them up to speed with what's going on.

What even is a watershed and why is that a thing that can graduate?

Corey: It's really a social and geographic cohesion. There's a geographic solidarity in a watershed in the context where we work and so it makes sense for us to apply our model at a watershed level how do we determine if a watershed is ready to graduate.

What are some of those big questions big picture questions you're looking for? What are some things you're trying to see?

Corey: For a Graduation Readiness Assessment we're looking for markers of things like household resilience and community cohesion so in terms of resilience we're looking for things like income diversity food security. Increase in crop yield and pride in being a farmer.
In terms of community cohesion and strength we have indicators like communities having the ability to respond to collective needs and challenges.

We're looking for community forest management plans community nurseries as well as churches that are committed to being a part of and facilitating a reconciliation process.

What happens after graduation?

Corey: After a community celebrates its tenure as a partner target watershed, they've been equipped with tools to help facilitate.

Some of the big ones are are a place to save and then an accumulated savings.
Food security and a more resilient farm and a more resilient household and heart and community structure

Hoilu graduation

From Plant With Purpose CEO Scott Sabin

Dear friends at UHDF and members of the communities in the HoiLu Watershed,

I just want to offer my congratulations to you as you graduate. I have been incredibly inspired by your work over the years.

I wish I could be there with you today to celebrate but the amazing work that you've done in community forestry in mapping and in sustainable land use the other work with savings groups and agroforestry has been a real testimony to me and I think an example to many of your neighbors and to communities and watersheds that UHDF will be working in in the future.


A lot of non-profits like to say we're trying to work ourselves out of a job–meaning we're trying to solve a problem once and for all so that we're no longer needed.

Now, the issues of poverty and environmental degradation are so widespread and global I don't think I see Plant With Purpose finishing up anytime soon but I suppose this is the closest thing I've seen to that cliche becoming a reality here in HoiLu.

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