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The rise of young, bold climate change activists

Friday January 10 2020

climate change

Rising impacts of climate change have been linked to a series of extreme weather events. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK 

LEOPOLD OBI
By LEOPOLD OBI
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Fed up with rising environmental degradations and climate change triggered disasters, a growing number of young people are taking up the responsibility to stand for the environment, even when it’s always not easy do so. 

As Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion are inspiring climate protesters across the globe to demand action against the climate crisis, a number of young activists in Kenya are also inspiring actions in their own small ways to help tackle the ever soaring impacts of climate change in their backyards.

Rising impacts of climate change have been linked to a series of extreme weather events, namely ravaging floods, strong winds, and prolonged droughts that have recently hit various parts of the country leading to food scarcity and loss of invaluable properties.

We spoke with a few Kenyan youths on their journey to becoming climate change activists and champions.

Dan Odeny, environmental policy expert at Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)



Dan Odeny.
Dan Odeny.

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"Since the youth and women in agribusiness lack the money to access the right technologies they remain the most adversely affected by climate change.

"Due to lack of employment many young people choose to invest in agribusiness, to create own jobs and earn a living. Because many of them lack the capital to establish their ventures, they are forced to borrow money from relatives or mobile banking services. But a number of them end up dismayed when the investments are destroyed by droughts, pests or floods before they even can recoup their seed capital.

"This is why we are not only advocating for climate change action but we also want to be actively involved in policymaking processes.

The youth have for a long time been subjected to campaigns, going to the streets, to advocate for climate change action but we have realised that, activism alone is not enough.

"It time that we are also involved in policy development, so that our grievances are captured in the policies.

"Last month, young people from local universities namely University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Kenyatta University and local environment organisation developed a policy brief during a Bayer Youth summit in Nairobi. The policy paper looks at the role of the youth in shaping and conserving a sustainable environment will be presented to the ministry of environment this month for purposes of contributing to policies in the country."

Elizabeth Wathuti, 24, Founder, Green Generation Initiative



Elizabeth Wathuti.
Elizabeth Wathuti.

While I actively began environmental activism over two years ago, my passion for environmental conservation goes way back into my childhood.

I graduated from Kenyatta University last year with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development. 

But my activism is not a one-man show. Through my organisation — Green Generation Initiative — we are raising awareness among the youth in primary and secondary schools to make them understand what climate crisis is and how it affects them and their future. 

Because climate change is quickly spinning into a global crisis, there is need to tackle it through mitigating the impacts through environmental conservation activities such as planting trees and adoption of green energy among other initiatives, and training people to adapt by adopting new technologies which are climate resilient. 

Because of this I’m spearheading ecosystem conservation through adopt a tree campaign. We have so far planted more than 30,000 trees.

Through the project we are not only planting trees but we are also making sure that the trees survive — our trees have 90 per cent survival rate. 

Ecosystem restoration gives young people space to engage with nature. We have also established food forests in the schools we work with by planting fruit trees to facilitate feeding programmes in the schools.

Being an environmental activist isn’t easy, especially when you see no action being taken despite souring concerns and crisis. 

Disappointments also comes in when people fail to support you, or join you or your activities. But I have learnt to overcome this, because I’m always motivated to bring change and that is what keeps me going.

Allen Ottaro, Climate policy expert, founder and executive director, Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA)



Allen Ottaro.
Allen Ottaro.

I grew up in Njoro, Nakuru County as a young boy where I not only saw the destruction of the Mau forest complex, but also experienced its impacts first hand.

When I joined the university, I decided to pursue an environmental course and ended up graduating from Kenyatta University in 2009 with a degree in Environmental Planning and Management, thereafter I founded the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa to help engage young people in environmental policy issues.

Over the years, I have always felt that there is a disconnect between policymaking process at the high levels such as United Nations conferences, and the person in the village. 

During such high level international conferences, governments adopt regulations, laws and treaties which are later domesticated. Unfortunately, the person who is doing activism on the ground such as planting trees among other projects do not understand how that is linked to the decisions that were made at some global conference, for instance.

Yet, faith-based communities have a presence everywhere, globally and locally, which puts them in a strategic position where they can get a lot of information that is helpful to the person on the ground.

At the same time, we are also able bring the voices of those people in the village to the international forums and translate them into policies that are responsive to the needs of the communities.

Bringing the voice of concern from the people on the ground to the international climate forums generates a sense of urgency in policy adoption.

Passy Amayo, Climate change campaigner



Passy Amayo.
Passy Amayo.

I naturally have a love for nature so I am constantly planting trees, flowers and fruits. Out of this passion I had an idea of establishing a fruit forest back in our village in Homa Bay County — which has very low forest cover by the way — but I first started planting indigenous trees.

I did a bit of that in 2012 and in 2016, I met a lady called Barbara Heinzen — who runs a network of people using land for sustainable agriculture and regeneration — who inspired me into environmental campaigns. 

Together with the team, we have been planting indigenous trees in Kajiado County in partnership with local primary and secondary schools.

Currently, we are raising awareness on plastic waste, especially on plastic bottles which are a big menace in Nairobi, among other towns. We are working with organisations based in Nairobi’s informal settlements where we organise clean-up matches.

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