AIR’s Mission is to implement educational programs and agro-forestry methods in Central America in order to protect water sources, prevent mudslides, reduce erosion, prevent lung disease and provide more nutritious crops, while protecting the Earth.
In 1991, Anne Hallum was a political science professor at Stetson University in Florida, going through a difficult personal time of loneliness and loss. When Stetson announced that they needed a professor to take a few students on a trip to Guatemala Anne recklessly volunteered. She had never had a passport to travel anywhere, she didn’t speak Spanish, and she knew little about Guatemala. But she learned quickly—and was haunted by the rural hunger and malnutrition she saw in Escuintla Guatemala, by the barren mountainsides and mudslides everywhere, by the strength of the people and the inspirational words of Padre Andres Girón. As Anne says, “God rescued me in Guatemala, and I found his purpose for my life.”
It was not long after their first trip to Guatemala that a student suggested to Dr. Hallum that they form an organization. “It was just the catalyst that I needed so we came up with the ambitious name, “Alliance for International Reforestation,” with the handy “AIR” acronym.” They had a luncheon with a few people they thought would be interested—including an environmental philanthropist who shared the vision then—and still does. She gave the first substantial gift and Anne returned to Guatemala to hire the staff one by one.
Anne met AIR’s first Director Christopher Wunderlich in a chance conversation in Antigua: Chris had an education in agro-forestry and was looking for meaningful work in Guatemala when he met Anne, who was looking for a Director. Chris worked for AIR for over five years and in the early 1990s, he established dozens of tree nurseries and the five-year farmer training program. Chris’s approach of “community-based reforestation” was innovative at the time, but now is the norm for Sustainability projects worldwide—and AIR has over twenty years of successful projects! Together, Chris and Anne hired the outstanding Guatemalan professionals who now run the organization in Guatemala.
In October 1996, Anne married Jan Allan Wilgers, who became the leader of mission trips to Guatemala—organizing and motivating hundreds of volunteers over the years. But Jan succumbed to lung cancer in 2011, leaving behind dozens of stoves he himself built, and many friends in Guatemala. After Jan’s passing, Anne's daughters Rachel and Rebecca have become very active in the organization they have known since childhood. Anne left Stetson University and moved to Atlanta, GA in 2012 in order to answer this calling full-time as AIR’s non-salaried Founding President.