It took 20 years, but Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Ribeiro Salgado and his wife Lélia have taken a desolate piece of land and transformed it into a beautiful forest.

Salgado was on location in East Africa for 30 years documenting the horrors of the Rwanda genocide. When his grueling project was finished, he planned to go to Minas Gerais to take over his family’s flourishing cattle ranch. He fondly remembered the region as a thick and thriving rain forest. Sadly, the land had gone through a devastating change – all of the wildlife had disappeared, and only about 0.5% was covered in trees. He tells the Guardian:

“The land was as sick as I was.”1

Not happy with the situation, his wife Lélia had a brilliant idea – they should replant the forest. They set up the Instituto Terra, an “environmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the Valley of the River Doce,”1 in 1998 to help support the cause. Slowly but surely, the Salgados and the Instituto Terra team rebuilt the 1,754-acre forest, turning a desolate piece of land into a lush tropical paradise.

The area is now a Private Natural Heritage Reserve, home to several hundred of species of flora and fauna. Besides showcasing 293 species of trees, the land is now abundant with 33 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, and 15 species of reptiles and amphibians – many of which are endangered. The local ecosystem and climate have benefited immensely from this rejuvenation. Not only were plants and animals revived in the area, but also the local temperature has been positively affected, and many once dried-up springs in the drought-prone area have come to life.

This incredible accomplishment has ultimately saved more than the local countryside. In a humble and proud moment, Salgado shares:

“All the insects and birds and fish returned, and, thanks to this increase of the trees, I, too, was reborn—this was the most important moment.”1

Salgado and Lélia’s story is truly inspiring, and a beautiful reminder of the power of intention.