Action (7)

Monday, 04 January 2016 00:00

Keeping Climate Change in Check

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From Al Gore to Donald Trump to Barack Obama, the war that pits man’s activities against global warming refuses to end. While some may argue that the significance of some of these activities remains invariable, their impact on the environment battles to be termed the same. Land, air, water, plants and animals are all scarred in their wake state those on this end of the see-saw.

It’s been noted that between the onset of civilization 10,000 years ago and 1900 the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) did not rise above 300 parts per million. Today it almost hits 400 parts per million. Still, some say that it is unproven that our activities as human beings carry any weight where climate change is concerned. And so, this battlefield of necessity versus environmental stewardship continues to be intrinsically challenging. Are there not eco-friendly ways of meeting society’s needs?

From Sasafrica’s 2009 Climate Tales to the 2015 Paris Climate Talks, this gap is bridged. As is one of the goals of the Paris Climate Talks, in 2009 convener Sasafrica in conjunction with African Youth Initiative on Climate Change had plenary sessions to discuss ways in which global warming can be mitigated. One eco-friendly way mentioned during Climate Tales is the use of biogas which is formed by anaerobic microorganisms; these microbes feed on carbohydrates and fats producing methane and carbon dioxides as metabolic waste products. Biogas is a renewable fuel.

For the Paris Climate Talks, the United Nations worked with the French government and 195 nations securing a legally binding global climate agreement to curb carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius and is partly legally binding and partly voluntary. Countries will be required to submit an emissions reduction target (Nationally Determined Contributions) and from 2018 onward will have to submit such a plan every five years. Developing countries such as Kenya will receive $100 billion a year from developed countries as climate finance starting in the year 2020.

The combustion of carbon-based fuels, that is, coal, oil and natural gas is one of the main causes of global warming. Such combustion results in the emission of CO2  into the atmosphere. CO2, water, vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are all green house gases that have harmful effects on ecosystems, biodiversity and livelihoods. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the burning of coal, oil and natural gas for electricity and heat production is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation in the name of clearing land for agriculture and industry is another man-made cause of global warming. Trees take in carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis. Less trees means that less carbon is stored. As trees are felled they release stored carbon into the atmosphere.

The production of CFCs for refrigeration and their extensive use as propellants in aerosols, their use as blowing agents in foam manufacture and in air conditioning is the third man made cause of climate change. CFCs which contain chlorine, fluorine and carbon are transported up into the stratosphere where they are broken down by ultraviolet radiation from the sun releasing free chlorine atoms which cause ozone depletion.

Fertilizer use and mining are the last man-made cause of global warming. The addition of fertilizer to soil releases nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide contributes quite significantly to atmospheric warming. As mining takes place, methane which also contributes to atmospheric warming is released.

Some of the effects of climate change include unusual rainfall patterns, stronger hurricanes, severe heat waves, spreading of weeds, species extinction and loss of sea ice.

In his documentary on climate change titled An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore advises that we should recycle, create awareness and buy hybrid vehicles to keep climate change in check. While our individual carbon footprints seem irrelevant, it is the reduction of these that can go a long way toward stopping or at least reducing global warming. It is an emergency!

Given that the transportation sector is a leading producer of green house gases, Al Gore’s suggestion on using hybrid vehicles is sound rationale. Hybrid- electric vehicles combine the benefits of a gasoline engine and electric motors; a hybrid car can travel up to twice the distance that a typical gasoline-powered car goes. Other sound rationale involves making vehicles that are more fuel efficient. This means making cars that use less gasoline. Less gasoline burnt means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In mid-November of 2015, the city council of North Vancouver situated in British Columbia unanimously passed a by-law that states that climate change warning labels are mandatory on gas pumps. The message posted is that burning fossil fuels causes climate change. In addition while using cars is necessary, people can still regulate how they use them to lessen the effects of global warming. One can walk or cycle as opposed to driving. Where driving is unavoidable car pooling or sharing using the most fuel-efficient vehicle available works well. Using airplanes less is also advisable.

Being energy efficient in one’s home, work or school environment is another way to curb climate change. Switching off lights, using compact fluorescents, unplugging electronics when not in use, looking for labels that indicate energy saving when buying new appliances and knowing how much energy one consumes at home by having a home energy audit are all great ways of reducing our individual carbon footprint.

Where garbage dumping is concerned; garbage left in landfills produces methane. Composting is a good way of avoiding landfills and so is recycling. Eating low on the food chain by having one meat free meal for example will go toward reducing global warming given almost 20 percent of green house gas emissions arise from meat and dairy production.

Taxing any carbon producing activities is a good deterrent promoting energy-efficiency.

The World Climate Talks in Paris last December sought to make these methods of climate change workable through excellent leadership and innovation, technology, public private partnerships, finance and knowledge.

These talks hoped to lead and innovate policy recommendations to complement the global climate agreement, launch new and scale existing technologies for industries, cities, and countries for mitigation and adaptation and develop public and private partnerships and initiatives to complement Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). It further accelerated private investments and climate finance for and with the green climate fund and shared best practice, projects, and knowledge.

Perhaps the most affected livelihood where climate change is concerned is the farmer. With the Paris Agreement, a new jingle rings for a more prosperous climatic future for every farmer the world over.

Monday, 12 October 2015 00:00

Empowering Kids one Computer Skill at a Time

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Starting a computer, creating a new folder, naming all the parts of a computer and even finally shutting the computer down, simple right? These may not seem like something to even rack your brains over, but to many, it is actually an uphill task.

In fact for some in Kenya, a computer is a peculiar object, one to be marveled upon. Strange isn’t it? How would that be the case when even the government knows better and will soon dish out laptops to class one pupils?

According to a recent study, , it was noted that access to ICT facilities is a major challenge facing most African countries, with a ratio of 1:150, computer to students, against the ratio of 1:15 in the developed countries’. This is against the backdrop that places about 75% of Africans beginning their lives in a rural setting. The digital divide in Kenya is gaping. With one side being very privileged, and the other disadvantaged.

This is the impetus that saw Caleb Ndaka and a group of young people, predominantly from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology think hard, and seek to change lives one laptop a time.

The Volunteers took their laptops, mobilized resources through social media campaigns, and saved money from their upkeep and arranged for the first “Kids Comp Camp” in Masii Township Primary School, Ndaka had previously studied here.

They came up with a curriculum and made use of the School Holiday, to reach out to the children. The maiden camp was in April 2014, at the Masii Township Primary school, in Machakos County. This camp saw 60 Children attend the camp, 90% of them had never seen or touched a computer in their lifetime.

One of the students, Nzilani Musau, can attest that the camp was life changing, “this was my first time to use a laptop. I learnt a lot of things likewhat is a computer is, and even how to type a teacher’s assignment.”

Kids Comp Camp is driven by the clear need to share digital knowledge; the vision is to front digital literacy in marginalized communities. They are not only concerned with this, but also impact life skills, and constantly encourage the student to dream big. It is a nonprofit initiative to help young learners; 9-14 in marginalized communities catch up with the current digital driven society.

Every school holiday (April, August and December) and sometimes during weekends, Kids COMP CAMP runs computer camps targeting pupils in primary schools in marginalized areas. During the camps, the learners go through an exciting and relevant digital literacy curriculum designed for a student with no prior experience with computers. The curriculum and training are well complemented by a lot of fun activities, audio visuals and animations to optimize the learner’s concentration and participation in all sessions.

In addition to the digital literacy training, the program has a session dubbed Heart and Craft. During these session learners and volunteer trainers get to share life experiences beyond the class and computers. These involve sharing experiences of some of the young professionals that make up the camp volunteers to inspire and encourage the dreams and aspirations of these young learners. The bond created between the campers and camp volunteers during Heart and Craft lead to mentorship for some of the campers.

They do not arrange one hit wonder camps, so by the end of the year they intend every learner to take at least 30 hours of the program. That means, for every camp, the trainers do a follow up.

Since inception, Kids comp camp has successfully conducted 10 camps reaching out to more than 600 pupils from 10 schools in 5 counties. For 90% percent of them, this was their first time to use a computer!

The big picture of the program for every community they train is to establish a well-equipped and easily accessible facility dubbed ‘Kids Comp Lab’. They also train locally available human resource; hence developing the facility to be a community shared open space dubbed ‘Kids Comp Club’.

*Kids Comp Lab – The general arrangement is the school/ community organizes for a secure premise, then kids comp camp assist in mobilizing machines. So far, collectively have managed to mobilize over 40 computers for Machakos and Tana river counties.

One of the objectives that Kids COMP CAMP intends to deliver on is to set up a well-equipped and easily accessible community based computer facility dubbed ‘Kids COMP LAB’. This will be located at the school that hosts a camp. Upon its successful establishment and commencement of operations, this facility would play host to a local ‘Kids COMP CLUB’.

A ‘Kids COMP CLUB’ would be a community shared resource that reaches out to children from the entire community around its location and not necessarily the particular school at which it is located.

To manage the affairs at this resource facility, the program will ensure that the schools have an appropriate patron (preferably a teacher or other capable leader from the community) to manage the facility.

As school-going children transition through school often, any future ‘Kids COMP CAMP’ will be hosted at this facility with the help of volunteers mobilized from the area supported by the lead team Kids COMP CAMP. Handing over the project to the community in this way, they ensure the sustainability and scalability of the project’s impact in the long run.

Kids Comp Camp targets rural and marginalized communities. To sustainably penetrate and build long lasting impact, they develop the program around the local community. After a year of running camp, they will hand over the project to local communities. This will be achieved through Local Organizing Committees that will work hand in hand with Kids Comp Camp.

In Tana River, they had one school (Life Frontier Primary School) hosting 5 other schools in one site. The schools were Maramthu, Adele, Hatata, mororo, Kodoramara primary schools. During the camp they had 200 Kids from 5 peoples groups attend.

In Nyeri Country they did Kihuyo Primary School. Whereby 70 Children attended, In Kitui- 80 students from Kasiluni attended. in Kisumu County, Oduwa Primary hosted 150 pupils.

Abigail, a recent graduate from JKUAT says ‘I meet so many students who have never seen a computer in their life, I begin teaching them and though it is a bit hard, I can see they grasp the knowledge.They know what a mouse is, they can open and close a file, I become very excited'

The Kids Comp Camp team is the embodiment of the saying, “Giving is not what you have, but who you are,” The Journey continues…

Monday, 28 September 2015 00:00

The Art Youth Research Centre Story

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From a distance, one can hear occasional laughter, snatches of conversation, labored breathing, and hasty movements of people at work.

A closer look reveals a group of energetic men laboring. Some bending shovels neatly placed in hand. Others dig, some are down on their knees with all hands rigorously mixing the charcoal dust and collecting it in sacks.

This group of young people in Eldoret has taken it upon themselves to turn wastes into wealth.

The Uasin Gishu based group ventured into environment conservation six years ago through garbage collection and planting of trees. Little did they know that one day their small dreams would build up and become realities, changing countless lives.

They have now created employment for more than 15 members of the group. Some of them have come from living in streets, but that past has since been thrown in the dustbins of history.

Headed by Clyde Wanyama, The Group has seen numerous accolades bestowed upon them.  In 2013 Wanyama was recognized as an outstanding innovator and promising environmentalist during the Dubai International awards which was done in partnership with the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). Through this award, he was able to invest in Art Youth Center. In September 2014, Cladyde was also recognized by the National Environmental Trust Fund (NETFUND). He was Second Placed in the Community Based Organizations category and was able to secure Kshs. 1,000,000 to better his initiative.

During the first phase the group was able to receive Kshs. 500,000. Using the money, they have been able to purchase 2 motorized machines. Though they faced challenges during the acquisition, as they couldn’t get them done in Eldoret, they were eventually done in Nakuru.

NETFUND has also enabled the Art Youth Center to also get water in their premises. Most of them can attest that this has helped improve their working standards.

The machine attained has enabled the production of the briquettes to go up by a huge number. They can now produce 28 bags at a go as compared to the previous machine that could only do 3-6 bags per go. They then sell the briquettes for Ksh. 30 per packet as compare to a tin of charcoal that sells for Ksh.50

“When they don’t bring the briquettes, I have to go get it from them” says Mama Jonah who operates a local café. She is an avid customer of the briquettes,

She says that the product is long lasting and burns longer a message that is echoed by Calvince who also in the food business.

“It burns without releasing smoke” he continues. “My Sister and I love these briquettes very much, So much energy is saved and we have also been able to cut costs, before we would spend up to Ksh.1400 per month but now we spend Ksh 600 or even less”

Mama Jonah, Calvince and His sister represent a grim section of both rural and urban dwellers that are slowly embracing the briquette business, and consequently reaping the associated benefits.

Apart from the briquette business the Art Center also does production of liquid soap and have been able to create 50,000 liters. The impetus of this production was that even as they deal with charcoal dust, they are still able to be clean and also provide a cheaper soap to the locals. This too has been embraced because it is effective and cost friendly. The soap is packaged in recycled plastic bottles and the team hopes to brand this product.

“In a bid to empower ourselves, we seek to constantly come up with diverse ways of increasing our economical input.”  Edwin Owino the group’s secretary says.  The group also ventures in different forms of art, from drawings, moldings, carvings and even bead work.

"Our vision is ‘Clean environment, creative people in a peaceful society', which we seek to achieve through constantly recycling garbage and making creative products," says Owino.

They move round estates in Eldoret Town, collecting garbage as well as organizing for cleanup exercises and mobilizing the communities to take part in them.

Art Youth Center has partnered with USAID, Mercy Corps, Wareng Youth Initiative, Uasin Gishu County Government and set to begin a programme with University of Eldoret on Waste Management.

They have had their fair share of challenges especially in getting their own electricity meter but they are hopeful of the future.

 “We cannot exist without the environment and youth have the capacity to make a difference” says Wanyama who hopes to continue to create employment, be more creative and provide cost friendly products that are environmentally sustainable.

Art Youth Center hopes to set targets in order to gauge their impact. In a bid to retain the market they plan to make standardized products and continue to care for the environment.

Sunday, 27 September 2015 00:00

Kenya goes green in affordable housing

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Meet the Firm that provides affordable building solutions using sustainable and renewable materials. Its leader says that green technology can help provide low cost houses to majority of Kenyans in a short period of time.

More than ever before, African countries are facing an enormous challenge of housing their citizens. The situation has been worsened by increasing rural-urban migration in majority of these countries.

A World Bank report of 2013 shows that Urbanization in Africa has largely been translated into rising slum establishments, increasing poverty and inequality.

In a bid to curb the ever mushrooming slums and informal sectors in African, governments and housing stakeholders have suggested the adoption of green technology to build more affordable and suitable houses.

Some organizations have ventured into Alternative Building Technology (ABT) in a bid to offer a more sustainable solution for this burning issue. However, really achieving affordable housing for all in Africa has proved to be a hard nut to crack for many housing stakeholders.

But there is a ray of hope.  Richard China President and Chief Executive of International Green Structures (IGS) says that although the housing problem in Africa is acute, the situation is not doom and gloom.

Entry into the Kenyan market

China, who recently addressed a summit in Nairobi on affordable housing in East Africa, says that his company-IGS, seeks to offer affordable houses to people especially in rural areas.  In 2014, the company announced its entrance into the Kenyan market with a 527 million investment. But why did IGS decide to venture into Africa particularly to Kenya?

China shares that affordable housing in Kenya is getting worse and there is need to urgently address the issue.

“If you take a drive in several major highways in Nairobi,” says China, “you will notice an array of expensive houses targeting high end buyers”

With low uptake of mortgage in Kenya, the serial entrepreneur foresees a situation where people at the bottom of the economic pyramid are unable to own a house.

International Green Structures is a US based innovation company that leverages on technology to offer cheap houses in a short period of time. The company began constructing several houses in the US but decided to venture into Africa after realizing a dire need of affordable housing on the continent.

Agriculture residue

Asked how IGS is able to construct cheap houses and in a very short period of time, China responds:

“We convert agricultural residue into durable panels and pair it with our pre-engineered framing system,”

“Our environmentally-sustainable structures can be easily transported from a manufacturing facility and assembled into a house in a matter of days using local labour.”

China says that it is this ability to build a house using IGS materials in 30 days for instance that can enable production of houses en masse. For example, a 50 square metres  2 bedroom house can be completed in 30 days at a cost of approximately Ksh1.3m (USD 12,300).

IGS building material meet national and international building codes and are KEBS certified.

In Kenya, IGS intends to work with wheat and rice farmers in Eldoret. IGS will buy wheat and rice wastes from farmers and use the same to construct affordable houses in the area.

The straw from wheat and rice are up cycled into a Compressed Agricultural Fiber (CAF) Panel. The innovative manufacturing process creates rigid, thermo-set panels whose durability equals or even exceeds brick and mortar. CAF Panels are also incredibly energy efficient with natural thermal and sound attenuating properties. Additionally the material is also fire, water, mold and pest resistant.

Boosting rural economies

It is a green innovation that stands out. Apart from constructing affordable houses, the company prides itself in boosting rural economies.

“We economically empower farmers in rural areas by buying agricultural residues from them,” reveals China.

Keen to avoid repeating mistakes done by players in affordable housing sector, IGS is erecting a state of the art factory in Thika that will be used to process agricultural wastes into building materials. The first phase of the manufacturing facility will cost US$6.2m. However, when complete, the factory will have cost US$14m to construct.

IGS move to construct the first factory in Kenya makes it the first company offering affordable building solutions using sustainable and renewable materials to do so. It is expected that IGS will create jobs to thousands of youths especially when mass production of houses commences.

China notes that part of the reason why Alternative Building Technology has not gained traction across Africa is because the material is imported. After the factory’s construction concludes, IGS hopes to begin mass production of affordable housing in the country, a move that its CEO believes will help tackle the issue of inadequate housing in Kenya and East Africa in general.

Owing to its eco-friendly and economical processes, IGS housing innovation is quickly gaining momentum in Africa and beyond. Vanuatu housing project

In August this year, IGS started building 2000 affordable houses in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the Pacific Island Chain in March 2015 leaving residents without  adequate power, housing, food and water.

The project received a nod from Vanuatu National Housing Corporation after IGS emerged as the only green oriented company that could produce several houses urgently required by residents and at affordable costs.

It is a housing model that can be adopted where there is need for rapid response shelters. For instance, areas that have been hit by hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters can benefit greatly from IGS housing model.

Apart from Kenya and Vanuatu, IGS is also involved in the construction of several houses in Guatemala, Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda. `

In Kenya, IGS has already showcased what affordable housing can be like. The company constructed 46 m², 2 bedroom house in Industrial area at the Ministry of Public Works premises. Satisfied with the building technology, the government gave IGS green light to venture into the Kenyan market.

IGS solar plans

China says IGS’s ultimate goal is to ensure that houses built by the company are also power sufficient. In this regard, the company has come up with IGS Solar, a model that will connect houses to power tapped from the sun.

“No country can develop or industrialize without sufficient power supply,” notes China

In Africa, China observes, solar power will never fail considering that most countries in the continent receive constant sunlight throughout the year. In a bid to keep up with the spirit of providing water to people, IGS plans to recycle water in their building plan that can be reused.

IGS also intends to partner with sustainable agriculture stakeholders to enable farming in IGS building plan.

“We may not be a complete solution to affordable housing in Africa, but we hope that our efforts will help tackle the issue and consequently receive the support it requires,” China concludes.

Friday, 21 August 2015 00:00

Revitalizing African Universities

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Africa has over 300 public and private universities. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Africa’s youth pass through the gates of these universities in search of higher education that will hopefully usher them through the gates of well paying careers.

Once inside the gates of higher learning, African students embark on three of four year long odysseys of education. Day in day out, the students seek out and amass knowledge that will ultimately catapult them to graduation with honors. Speaking about this accumulation of knowledge, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard University’s President from 1909 to 1933 said that, ‘of course there's a lot of knowledge in universities: the freshmen bring a little in; the seniors don't take much away, so knowledge sort of accumulates.’

UNEP’s Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability into African Universities (MESA) sought to transform such purely academic accumulation of knowledge into pragmatic and strategic utilization of knowledge. MESA began realizing this transformation by setting up a vast continental partnership of universities.

From 2006 to 2009, the MESA Universities Partnership mainstreamed sustainability into the curriculum and practices of 75 universities from all across Africa. In varying degrees, styles and timeframes, these universities integrated sustainability into their teaching, research, administrative operations, student communities and host communities. This integration made the universities socially, environmentally and economically relevant.

Since 1904, when Rhodes University became one of Africa’s pioneer universities, African universities have attempted to embrace the triple mission of research, teaching and community engagement. While this mission has found relative success in research and teaching, it has been generally unsuccessful in community engagement.

MESA specifically targeted this third tier of the mission - to enhance mutually beneficial interaction between universities and communities. In order to equip universities to succeed in this venture, MESA prepared a sustainability innovations course toolkit that brought on board diverse pedagogic skills. In this regard, the toolkit was an ensemble of rich experiences and expertise.

Apart from the toolkit, MESA also organised training workshops for 85 university professors and lecturers from 29 African countries. Together with sustainability experts, they shared experiences and strategized for a common future where higher education powered sustainability.

Armed with the toolkit and the sustainability training, several universities in the MESA partnership developed curriculum frameworks that oriented towards social transformation and community-based knowledge, in the context of sustainability practices.   

In South Africa, Rhodes University initiated a research programme on indigenous knowledge in education. The 106-year old university also introduced new assignments that encouraged students to integrate theory with community engagement. In addition, the university developed strong links between the Education Faculty, Science Faculty and Business School. 

The University of Swaziland also developed strategic Education for Sustainable Development links between the Geography Department and the Education Department.  Similarly, Botswana University prepared a strategic networking framework between the Education Faculty and the Environmental Science Faculties.  Such reorganization has enabled universities in the MESA Partnership to address sustainability education in a holistic fashion.

Uganda too, has not been left behind. Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) developed a strategy for reorienting teaching in secondary school and making it more community relevant. The 21-year old university researched on the factors that limit interaction between schools and their neighboring communities. Consequently, MUST introduced new modules and materials with a stronger focus on indigenous knowledge and local experiences.

Almost one thousand kilometers away from MUST, Kenya’s Nairobi University incorporated environmental education for sustainable development into the ‘Contemporary Legal Problems Course’. The course now has an environment and development component in which students are required to understand the practical application of sustainability laws. Nairobi University Students responded positively to the new course content.

These curriculum changes did not come easy. Reorienting university courses is a lengthy process that can easily get caught up in bureaucracy. However, the MESA Universities Partnership provided positive peer pressure and a highly credible continental framework that made it easier for universities in the partnership to embark on the sustainability mainstreaming process.

 

MESA encouraged and demanded responsibility from both the teaching staff and students. As teaching staff mainstream ESD into curricula, students were expected to study it creatively. As teaching staff mentored students on subjects such as consumption patterns, students had a corresponding duty to adjust not just their academic revisions, but their lifestyles too. This way, students don’t just accumulate knowledge – they apply it and take it back to their communities.

Friday, 21 August 2015 00:00

Planting a Forest

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A quarter a century ago, I gazed indifferently at an African Teak tree seedling that my father had just planted about twenty metres on the right hand side of our rural house. Papa likes planting trees and often honours distinguished visitors through elaborate tree planting ceremonies that are complete with an opening prayer at the beginning and a hearty clap at the conclusion.

When Uncle Julius, my mum’s older brother would visit, Papa would call everyone to attention after one of mama’s hot, delicious meals, and announce with flair that Uncle Julius would plant be planting a tree at that very moment. I forget the name of the tree; it is the most planted tree in our farm. It mostly grows outward instead of upward.  The tree’s three or four layers of branches given an impression of umbrellas on top of each other.

We would troop out and watch as the jolly Uncle Julius received a tree seedling with both hands and placed it into a pre-dug hole after a brief prayer from any of us. These days, whenever I walk into Nairobi’s supermarkets and come across ready-made raw chapatis that are just waiting to be fried, I always remember Papa’s ready-made tree holes.

If a visitor was as notable as Uncle Julius, you can be sure that he or she planted a tree in our two-acre compound.

How many trees are in Kenya? I doubt anyone knows the answer to that. But the earth is said to be home to as many as ten trillion trees. Although other estimates place this number much lower, at half of a trillion. Whatever the number, Papa has definitely played a small but vital role in realizing it.

Kenya has a forest cover of seven percent far behind Cameroon’s near 50 percent or Micronesia’s 92 percent. Wait a minute.. Yes? Did you say 92 percent?! Yes I did. I suspect most of you had no idea that a country known as Micronesia existed. Not only does it exist, but it is the global champion of forest cover. 92 percent. Almost all of this country is covered in forests. It is in the western Pacific and it consists of about 600 islands that are grouped into four States, hence its full name is, ‘Federated States of Micronesia.’

But if truth be told, I have never been much of a tree planter. Which is odd, because I have done my fair share for Africa’s environment, especially in founding youth environmental movements in Kenya and Africa. There is the UNEP-facilitated Africa Environment Outlook for Youth, which I led for several years from 2003 – 2005; the Africa Youth Environment Network, which I conceived as an offshoot of the previous network; the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change, which I co-founded with the tireless Sena Alouka from Togo and other phenomenal youth (at least youth at the time) like Grace Mwaura; the Solid Waste Action for Youth (SWAY), which I handed over to the enthusiastic leadership of Kivindyo another outstanding ‘former youth.’

You would think that someone who did all these green things would be an active tree-planter like his father. After all, tree planting is arguably the most basic yet most powerful act of conservation.

Some people don’t just plant trees – they plant forests. The most prominent example is Padma Shri Jadav Payeng aka Molai from Jorhat, India. The 52-year old man literally planted a forest, one tree at a time, next to River Brahmaputra. The forest is now named after him – Molai Forest. One of his secrets besides his passion for trees was the fact that he didn’t just plant trees – he nurtured them. He nurtured them so well that a 1,360 acre forest now exists because of his simple, powerful action of planting and nurturing a tree since 1979.

Like all forests, Molai is now home to a rich biodiversity. Endangered Bengal tigers reside there as do rhinos and dozens of other animals, not to mention the hundreds of plants species that are part of the forest. All this would not have been possible if he hadn’t taken that initial step in 1979 of planting twenty bamboo seedlings.

Closer home, in north-eastern Kenya, there is a similar story. Although it hasn’t reached Molai forest’s staggering proportions, it might just reach there one day because it is spearheaded by Abdikadir Aden Hassan, a young man who is only twenty-six years old. He has already planted thirty thousand trees and targets to eventually reach the one-million mark. His green efforts have already won him numerous awards including the highly prestigious ‘Queen Young Leaders Award.’

At our very own village home, my younger brother James has also planted approximately one hundred trees. He has nurtured them to maturity over the last five years and he now has a mini-forest that he has aptly named, Ayanna forest, after his one-year old daughter.

But as for me, I have in my lifetime planted less than twenty trees and never ever cut even a single tree. But like most other human beings, I am a huge beneficiary of wood products whose presence in my houses wouldn’t have been possible if someone somewhere hadn’t felled a tree. In fact, the vintage chair that I am sitting on as I write this was made from the legendary hard wood of an African Teak tree aka milicia excels or mvule in Kiswahili.

Mvule wood is known as iroko and it doesn’t come cheap. Indeed, mvule wood is amongst the designer woods of the timber industry. Apart from my vintage chair, this wood is used to make exquisite wooden floors, stunning boats, regal gates, equally royal furniture and many more astounding wood products.

 

I feel that if I sit on mvule wood every day, the least I can do is to plant at least ten African teaks before the end of this year. Watch this space and as you do so, go plant an African teak too. It is one of the few trees that is named after our beloved continent. Or you could go step further and follow the footsteps of Molai from India or Abdikadir from Kenya and actually plant a forest... 

Thursday, 20 August 2015 00:00

Tears of An Angel

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After what she had been through, she never thought that a day would come when her heart would smile. But that day came one cold morning in the midst of groans and heavy breathing.

Just after 6AM, at that quiet hour when the sun was beginning to emerge from the eastern horizon, an angel was born. The angel’s mother was a twenty-two year old lady who had lived through the genocide and given up hope that life could ever be worth living. But that morning, as she held her one-hour old beautiful baby girl in her sweaty arms, she cast glances past the window into the bright morning and smiled. A new day had come.

Thank you Heavenly Father, she prayed silently, for sending an angel into my life.

There was only one name that the young mother could give her baby – Angelique. Indeed, the baby looked completely angelic as she suckled calmly and closed her eyes to sleep.

Fourteen years later, the earthly journey of little Angelique was changed forever when she was shoved into hell on earth.

The day when her life took a turn for the worse started just like any other day. She woke up, took a bath, lit the fire, prepared breakfast, dressed into school uniform and drank tea with her mother before leaving for school. She was a primary five student and a nearby school.

Just like other days, teachers came to class, taught and left after handing them homework.

Later that night as other students were doing homework with the aid of tin lamps and lanterns, Angelique was bloody and teary, shivering violently in her mother’s arms. She had been raped.

Who does this to a child? Her mother sobbed. Oh God, why did you send me an angel only to have her innocence taken away from her in such a brutal manner? That night was the longest of her life, even longer than those dreaded genocide nights.

The following day was even longer. The sun became a torch of fire that was scorching mother and daughter with unbearable heat. Although the pain had subsided, Angelique felt different. With every breath she took, it was as if a knife was slicing her stomach as a fire roared in her chest. She felt a horrible pain in her head and tried vomiting. But even vomit refused to come out and cleanse her inside.

She saw her friend Jane walking along their fence, on her way from school. She tried calling her but the sound that came out was so hollow that Jane didn’t hear and walked on. Angelique wanted to run after Jane, to a place where fire wouldn’t burn her chest. A place where pain would leave her stomach alone. But she remained seated on the thin mattress in her mother’s living room. Her legs felt weak. Her head was now dizzy. For the second time that day, she lost consciousness and slumped into the mattress.

Angelique’s mother was a slender woman with alert, brown eyes that were looking directly at the police officer in front of her. She had just arrived at Ngoma Police Station to report about her beloved daughter’s rape. The policeman had a weary look in his sympathetic eyes. At first when he had seen the lady in front of him approach his desk with tears streaming down her cheeks, he was sure that she had been raped. But it was her young, fourteen year old daughter who had been raped, the lady informed him with bitterness so strong that he could almost touch it.

‘My daughter saw his face,’ she said quietly and kept quiet for so long that he had to tug her gently on the right shoulder.

‘He is someone that I know, a neighbor who should have been her protector instead of… instead of…’ she broke down and wept silently, her head buried in her hands.

Two months later, those same work-hardened hands buried her head yet again, when the same pained sobs shook her violently. She had confirmed without a shadow of doubt that her child, was now heavy with child.

‘You are going to have a child,’ she had explained to Angelique, whose beautiful smile was slowly returning.

‘How?’ Angelique asked, her one-word question pregnant with confusion and childlike curiosity.

And so her mother had explained without looking at her that, ‘your stomach will grow bigger and bigger, then after seven months, you will give birth to a baby.’

‘Why?’ Angelique asked again. This time, fear had replaced the curiosity.

She wanted to cry but decided her daughter needed her comfort and strength, not tears.

‘Who will be my baby’s father?’

This question opened the pent up floodgate of tears in the mother as she fell into her daughter’s tiny arms. But moments later, she summoned every drop of will power in her body and abruptly wiped her tears.

‘God will be your baby’s father,’ she told Angelique with conviction.

The following week, mother and daughter stood on wooden benches outside the offices of ARAMA, a local organization. She had been told by a friend of a friend that ARAMA ‘takes care of women and children who have been beaten up.’ What had happened to her daughter was much worse than beating, so they had better help her.

When their turn came, she held Angelique her daughter by hand and led her into a small office with one table and two chairs. The wooden table had many small books and white papers on it. Sitting behind the table was a slender and with silver-rimmed spectacles and a kind smile. She greeted them warmly, like they were her long lost friends.

Angelique’s mother talked for one hour. The more she talked, the more she wanted to continue talking. It was easy and refreshing to talk to this kind woman. As her mother talked, Angelique was both restless and attentive. Every once in a while, they would ask her questions and she would answer softly, ‘oui Madam’ or ‘non Madam.’

The kind lady behind the desk was ARAMA’s legal counselor. She told Angelique’s mother that life had to go on; that tomorrow could be better. If you give up, then the perpetrator wins. But if you embrace hope, then your daughter wins. You cannot give up hope, she repeated several times. She finished the session by promising that ARAMA would support them not just in the legal process but also throughout the pregnancy, to ensure that Angelique remained healthy both during and after the pregnancy.

Every ante-natal visit was an exercise in courage for Angelique and her mother. They had to contend with public murmurs even as they kept facing the reality that a baby was on the way. A baby who had been conceived in tragic injustice, but a baby nonetheless. In the words of Angelique’s mother, a baby whose Father would be God.

Six months later, this baby arrived on a hot, humid day. He was a bouncing baby boy.

 

Epilogue

ARAMA paid for the Angelique’s hospital bill and continues to work with her mother to empower her economically so that she can be better equipped to take care of Angelique and her grandson, together with her other children. Angelique is scheduled to return to school in 2011. She will have to repeat primary 5 because she missed school for most of the year.

The struggle continues.

 

For more information, contact Jules GAHAMANYI, ARAMA’s Executive Director at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.