December 10, 2019 / Sarasota, FL — The Sarasota, Florida-based TREE Foundation’s efforts to save the “church forests” of Ethiopia were highlighted in a short film published by The New York Times as part of its award-winning Op-Docs (opinion documentary) series. The work of independent filmmaker Jeremy Seifert, “What Makes a Church? A Tiny, Leafy Forest,” was published on the Times’ website on Dec. 3, 2019. The film was narrated by Dr. Alemayehu Wassie Eshete of Ethiopia, an active board member of TREE Foundation which is an international non-profit organization dedicated to tree and forest research, exploration, education, and conservation across the globe. The documentary may be viewed at below.

Seifert visited Ethiopia last February at the invitation of TREE executive director Dr. Meg Lowman to visualize the foundation’s international work to save the essential areas of biodiversity known as “church forests.” TREE’s goal is to conserve the last 5% of northern Ethiopia’s primary forests, prioritizing the 40 highest biodiversity forests which serve as what Lowman describes as “Noah’s Arks” because they contain the country’s native species found nowhere else.

The documentary explores the crucial role that religious leaders can play as champions of conservation, in this case to construct stone walls that exclude cattle grazing and protect the forests surrounding churches. TREE partners with the priests by funding the gates, transportation of stones, and providing a small honorarium to each church that protects its forests.

Beza“We’ve raised just over $250,000 of the $500,000 needed to complete our work in saving Ethiopia’s forests — much of it donated by fifth graders.” said Lowman. “You’d be amazed at what can be accomplished because of schoolchildren who contribute their lunch money to help save trees! But we desperately need more funding to complete our work.”

Holiday season gift-givers who purchase a copy of Lowman’s children’s book, “Beza — Who Saved the Forests of Ethiopia One Church at a Time,” will make a triple-impact: inspiring children about forest conservation; proceeds will go toward saving Ethiopia’s church forests; and for every English copy of Beza sold, the foundation gives one copy of the Amharic language edition to a child in Ethiopia. Co-authored by Lowman and Dr. Worku Mulat, the book is the charming story of a fiercely determined Ethiopian girl who uses science and passion to conserve the last remaining forests and biodiversity of her beloved country. “Beza” is available on Amazon and at

The TREE Foundation was founded in 1999. Lowman, a co-founder of the foundation, has been widely recognized for  her international efforts and work to solve environmental challenges.

Ethiopian church forest

Ethiopian Church Forest Surrounded by Agricultural Land / photo credit: Kieran Dodd

Wassie and Lowman with Ethiopian church forest stone wall

Dr. Alemayehu Wassie Eshete, board member of the TREE Foundation, with Dr. Meg Lowman, executive director, in front of church forest stone wall in Ethiopia / photo courtesy of TREE Foundation