The capacity for a woman to bring human life into this world is often thought of as her most significant and powerful role. However, not all women are born with the gift of fertility. For Saalumarada Thimmakka, being barren in Southern India was followed by scrutiny and ostracism. While Thimmakka could have let people’s damaging words affect her, she instead invested her energy into a life-long project that has since propelled her as a role model to the entire world.

 Saalumarada Thimmakka was born in a small town of rural India to a very poor family. Never having the opportunity to attend school, Thimmakka was running household chores at an early age and reared her family’s cattle and sheep. She met and married her husband, Sri Bikkala Chikkayya, who was also from poverty. It was not long into their marriage that the pair realized Thimmakka was infertile. The couple suffered from discrimination, stigma and ostracism, as having children in developing countries is considered the most significant role of a woman; the inability to fulfill this role classifies women as “worthless.”

 Thimmakka and her husband decided to plant trees as their children. Together, the couple planted hundreds of trees and cared and nurtured them the same way they would have biological children. What began as a way to deal with the grief of infertility, led to Thimmakka planting as many trees as possible with the encouragement of her husband. The couple, who are avid environmentalists, saw this act of tree planting as a way to serve the environment, country and humanity. And while this commitment to watering and guarding each and every tree did not help them escape the ruins of poverty, it instead led them to become role models to the whole community. Thimmakka’s woodland has almost 300 trees and stretches on both sides of the road for 4km from her village to the next, which is remarkable considering the area’s arid conditions. The couple would  have to lug water for several kilometers to ensure all trees were receiving ample amounts. Chikkayya has since passed but Thimmakka continues nurturing the trees and has no intentions of stopping.

The couple was recognized for their service throughout India and caught the attention of a then 14-year-old boy by the name of Sri Umesh. Umesh possessed the same love for nature and preservation. He requested adoption from his biological parents and has been following in Thimmakka’s footsteps ever since.

Now 105 years old, Thimmakka continues to dedicate her life to nature. The “Saalumarada Thimmakka International Foundation” trust was founded in 2014 as a means to continue Thimmakka’s missions of environmental preservation and selfless service. Her efforts have also led to her receiving multiple awards. She was also featured on BBC’s 100 Women in December 2016.


“How we planted and took care of the trees, everyone from children to the elderly should plant and grow trees. It will be beneficial for all of us.” – Thimmakka