Grant Pereira, often referred to as the “godfather” of conservation in Singapore, proudly declares himself the National Parks Board’s most seasoned volunteer. His remarkable journey of environmental stewardship spans over half a century, and at the heart of it lies an unwavering passion for planting trees and nurturing the land. Even in his seventies, Grant’s hands are perpetually immersed in soil, leaving an indelible mark on both public and private green spaces, from the iconic Botanical Gardens to the serene Tampines Eco Green and the vibrant Pasir Ris Park’s Butterfly Garden. In 1997, he founded the Green Volunteers, a movement that has, through outreach in schools, universities, and corporations, rallied countless individuals to embrace nature and join his lifelong cause.
A Forest’s Worth
Grant’s profound belief underscores his work: “To us, a forest is important, but to an industrialist or a businessman, it’s worth nothing until it’s cut down.” Over the past 25 years, he has single-handedly planted around 300,000 trees, all the while eschewing accolades, for his mission to protect and heal the Earth remains far from complete. At home, Grant vigilantly monitors the consequences of climate change on Singapore, a small but dynamic red dot on the map.
Singapore’s Soaring Temperatures
Singapore’s temperature has surged at twice the global average rate, prompting alarm bells. In May 2023, the nation recorded its hottest day in four decades, a grim milestone unlikely to be the last. Worldwide, record-breaking heatwaves have raised concerns of a “climate boiling” emergency, a crisis that jeopardizes not only human lives but also the existence of vital vegetation.
Biodiversity Under Threat
The United Nations projects that a million species of plants and animals face imminent extinction, a chilling reality borne from a 69 per cent decline in global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians since 1970. Biodiversity, spanning animals, plants, insects, and microorganisms, constitutes nature’s support system, furnishing humanity with essentials such as food, water, medicine, oxygen, and materials while shaping our habitats.
Singapore’s Biodiversity Hotspot
Singapore, nestled within Southeast Asia’s biodiversity hotspot, encompasses a mere 720 square kilometers yet shelters 20 per cent of the Earth’s plant and animal species. Within this tiny nation, more than 2,000 native plant species, over 200 bird species, numerous butterflies, and a rich diversity of reptiles, amphibians, and fish thrive.
Urgent Action Required
Given the magnitude of the stakes, urgent action is imperative. It is time to get our hands both figuratively and literally dirty to safeguard our home and its myriad inhabitants. The Green Volunteers exemplify the first crucial step: planting and protecting trees.
Carlyn: The Tree Hugger
Carlyn, an artist, gardener, and dedicated Green Volunteer, once cradled a tree and saved its life. When local authorities planned to replace the grand old casuarina trees in her neighborhood with saplings, Carlyn waged a determined campaign, inundating ministers, councils, and media outlets with letters. Her lifelong connection to wildlife and nature, stemming from her early days fishing with her father, farming organic food in Italy’s mountains, and tending to the soil at Pasir Ris Park with the Green Volunteers, has molded her into an unwavering advocate for the environment. Decades later, the memory of standing firm against bulldozers still elicits a chuckle as she reflects on the profound impact one person can have.
Shaun: Nature’s Caretaker
Shaun, a horticulturist, and a nature enthusiast may have studied chemical engineering, but his heart now belongs to landscaping. Tall, lean, and exuding boundless energy, Shaun met Grant during a university volunteering trip and was instantly captivated by the cause. His transformation into a professional landscaper was inevitable, spurred by an unrelenting passion for planting and nurturing green life. Today, even with a demanding job, ongoing studies, and a newborn, Shaun faithfully tends to Pasir Ris Park’s butterfly garden. His commitment extends to creating leaf mulch from collected bags of leaves, vital for retaining water, thwarting weeds, and preserving soil health.
Zong: The Young Protector
Zong, a geography student, and Green Volunteer exemplifies the countless young lives Grant has influenced through his school outreach programs. After a volunteering stint initiated by the university program, Zong embarked on a life-altering journey, planting hundreds of trees in Thailand under Grant’s guidance. Recognizing the manifold benefits of trees, from providing shade to absorbing carbon dioxide and fostering biodiversity, Zong’s commitment to volunteering and giving back was solidified. He believes in returning to the earth and its people, viewing our planet as home.
Green Volunteers: A Force of Nature
The combined efforts of Carlyn, Shaun, Zong, and numerous others have transformed the Green Volunteers into a formidable force. What started with approximately 50 members has since grown to encompass thousands of volunteers who have traversed Singapore, revitalizing parks, preserving mangroves, and instilling ecological awareness in over 50 schools. Their impact extends beyond the nation’s borders, with environmental projects spanning Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, and many other locales.
Pasir Ris: A Blossoming Eden
In Pasir Ris, the site of the butterfly garden, Grant and the Green Volunteers have turned barren landscapes into lush Edens. Thousands of plant species now flourish, attracting a multitude of wildlife, from butterflies, dragonflies, and stingless bees to jungle fowl, monitor lizards, hawks, waterhens, and terrapins. An innovative “bug hotel” constructed from fallen tree trunks further contributes to biodiversity, offering sanctuary to insect pollinators.
A Reward Beyond Recognition
Though Grant’s environmental efforts earned him national recognition at the 2022 President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards, his greatest reward lies in witnessing nature thrive for future generations. His motivation is not for himself, but for his granddaughter and the countless generations to come.
A Continued Call to Action
While much has been accomplished by these ecological champions, biodiversity still requires nurturing, and trees demand planting. This task is especially crucial as the world grapples with the ravaging effects of climate change. Each act of planting, nurturing, and caring for our environment holds immeasurable value, contributing to the oxygen we breathe and the preservation of our planet.
A Beacon of Hope
The Green Volunteers remind us that we can all be beacons of hope, regardless of size. The magnitude of our impact depends solely on the brightness of our collective light.
Planting Seeds of Change
Caring for the environment is an enduring commitment, and it is never too late to embark on this journey. Every seed planted today forms the foundation of a thriving forest tomorrow. The Green Volunteers extend an open invitation to anyone eager to lend a hand, restore mangroves, learn environmental stewardship, plant trees, and contribute to the protection of our precious planet.