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It is time to stop taking our beloved planet for granted

Thursday May 28 2020
maipic

Kenya Inter University Environmental Students Association members promote environmental conservation by planting trees in Oloolua Forest. PHOTO | COURTESY

By COLLINS KARIUKI

When was the last time you made a deliberate effort to conserve the environment?

Thanks to the immense sacrifice and tireless efforts of the late Wangari Maathai, we can now enjoy nature’s gifts, such as Uhuru Park and Karura Forest.

Even though the award winning environmentalist passed away, it is encouraging to realise the seeds she planted did not die. Rather, they have taken root within a section of Kenyan youth who are determined to protect Mother Nature, one project at a time.

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Trees for Healthy Community Organisation

Most birthdays are deemed complete only after a cake is cut and the celebrant drenched in cold water.

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But Faith Aroisa and Emmy Bwalei - the founders of Trees for Healthy Community – want to change this norm.

Their strategy is to ensure that as you make merry on your special day, Mother Earth receives a thank you in form of a newly planted tree.

“Initially, our organisation was called the Trees for Birthdays Initiative. We wanted individuals to take environmental conservation seriously by planting trees as they celebrate their birthdays, and equip themselves with the right information,” explains Faith.

Every month, the organisation’s members set aside a date and encouraged everyone born in that month to commemorate their birthday by planting a tree.

What motivated the founders to start the initiative was the realisation that so many children, youths and elderly people in informal settlements don’t celebrate their birthdays because they can’t afford to, unlike their well off counterparts who religiously hold expensive parties.

Being an environmental resource manager, Faith has always been aware of the adverse effects that could come as a result of climate change – from flash floods and mud slides to drought, dried streams and unpredictable rainfall.

AWARENESS

According to her, environmental degradation is happening because many people lack vital information on how to be mindful of their surroundings and why it is important.

Six months after forming Trees for Birthdays, Faith and her partners changed the organisation’s name to Trees for Healthy Community Organisation so as to widen the scope of their projects.

They now create environmental awareness among schoolgoing children in slum areas, and regularly hold events, where they encourage the young ones to adopt a seedling.

The also teach them about solid waste school going management, which is a huge problem in the slums.

They also train slum dwellers on proper hygiene and mental wellness. All this is done by volunteers who are passionate about preserving the environment.

“So far we have worked with more than 150 volunteers in Nairobi, and we have planted about 850 different tree species. We have also visited three primary schools in Kawangware and established one environmental club in Gatina Primary School. We also hold clean up exercises around Nairobi,” explains Faith.

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Miti Alliance

Michael Waiyaki Ng'ang'a is a man who, once he encounters a problem, makes every effort to be the change he wants to see. He is a man on a mission.

“For seven years, I was a member of the Rotaract club. I served as the club president at some point and during my tenure, all the projects I implemented had something to do with environmental conservation. I value my environment and since I love hiking, I had witnessed first-hand the destruction that had been done in various forests in Kenya. In 2018, I registered Miti Alliance. My goal was to involve children in tree planting exercises from an early age,” he says.

Apart from the negative effects brought about by deforestation, Waiyaki was also concerned about the fact that Kenya has less than seven per cent tree cover.

And worse, there isn’t enough information on environmental conservation in the school curriculum.

So he decided to teach the younger generation how to plant and grow trees in their schools, and to replant indigenous trees in water catchment areas.

His target is to plant more than five million trees by 2025, and he believes that schoolgoing children can help him achieve that goal.

Miti Schools Programme, which has now expanded its reach to more than 10 schools, recently partnered with a local company in a highly billed project, “Making Kenya Green”.
“Our sponsors provide us with the seedlings to use in our projects, which are often orchid trees. With Adopt a Forest, we focus on planting trees in forested areas. Since 2018, we have held activities in the Aberdares and Ngong forests, and partnered with various organisations," he says.

CURRICULUM

Michael’s hope is to ensure that every Kenyan understands the importance of preserving the environment.

By focusing on schoolgoing children, he hopes to safeguard a whole generation against negative effects of climate change.

Miti Alliance has set up a website, miti.co.ke, where interested persons can sign up to be volunteers.

Even though his is a noble cause, it hasn’t been devoid of challenges. Due to lack of sufficient funding, the team has been unable to travel to certain counties that need urgent help in the form of reforestation projects.

Additionally, Michael is saddened that the masses have not yet fully understood the importance of guarding themselves against climate change.

“Many think that they can only plant trees during the rainy season, so a change of mindset is necessary. Most times we know what we need to do, but don’t do it. The changing weather patterns and the worrying statistics about our reducing forest cover should serve as a wakeup call.

“Through hiking and camping in various forests, I saw the extensive damage that has been done and I felt like I needed to do something. So I decided to do my little part, just like Wangari Maathai did, and I believe everyone should do the same.”

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Kenya Inter University Environmental Students Association (KIUESA)

If you ever saw the huge pile of dirt that once filled the Ngara roundabout, and then saw the intersection after it was cleaned up and bedecked with lush, green grass and flowers, then you are a witness to KIUESA’s efforts.

The organisation, which was recognised for its efforts by the National Environment Management Authority in 2019, brings together students in local public and private universities and encourages them to do their part to take care of their surroundings.

This idea was conceived in 2015 by leaders of the Kenyatta University Environmental Club, who were taking various courses in environmental science.

Since then, the organisation has grown exponentially, with membership in more than 23 local colleges and a team of more than 700 young volunteers.

“What drives us is the love we have for Mother Earth. Our environment is under attack and it is our duty to take action. KIUESA gives us the platform to do exactly that. In our activities, we always emphasise on the power innovation, education and art have in advocacy. We need fresh ideas and technological solutions in areas such as power generation and distribution, waste management, climate change and access to clean water.

“We also hold educational forums, trainings, mentorship sessions and debates on this matter regularly. We have incorporated music, dance, drawings, graffiti, decorations, writings and other forms of art to make our sessions more entertaining,” he explains.

KIUESA members have set up a tree nursery and planted more than 10,000 trees in various parts of the country.

They also do clean-up exercises in Oloolua Forest, Kibera and Kasarani, and sensitise locals in Kibera on the negative effects of irresponsible plastic waste disposal.

Additionally, they have set up ecological farms in children’s homes as a way of combating food insecurity.

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