At the end of 2011, some 180 youth from countries in central and southern Africa traveled together from Nairobi, Kenya, to the United Nations COP17 climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, to raise awareness about climate change. The SGI Quarterly spoke to two of the members of this African Youth Climate Justice Caravan.
Elie Chansa, 24, is a representative of the Interreligious Council for Peace, Tanzania (IRCPT). He is shown at the multifaith rally in Durban, South Africa, where members of the African Youth Climate Justice Caravan handed their petition to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and COP17 President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
SGI Quarterly: What does your organization do?
Elie Chansa: We advocate peace. Tanzania has been facing challenges relating to climate change. Nowadays we have pastoralists fighting for land; it’s like survival of the fittest. So one of the things we do is to intervene and to try to create harmony and find solutions of how we can share the resources we have in the country. We also promote education, as well as engaging in capacity building.
In my country a lot of things have been happening. We have been experiencing floods. Nine people died recently and thousands were left without shelter in the Mbeya, Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions. All organizations and institutes contributed something to help the people affected. Eighty percent of the population (of around 40 million people) work in the agriculture sector, and now we have unpredictable rainfall, and the price of food crops is going up. That’s really affecting the normal people like us who don’t have that amount of money to pay for our needs nowadays. Mount Kilimanjaro is now losing snow, and tourists will no longer be interested to go climb there.
SGIQ: What kind of impact did participating in the caravan and COP17 have on you?
EC: We collected petitions which we presented to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We know that has some kind of impact. Somewhere a voice is heard. All the people who have been signing are basically saying we are against climate change, and I am trying to represent them. We either die together or pass across this and make it through. If our voices are presented to the negotiators and world leaders, they might feel it, apart from thinking of the economy. If the world is destroyed there is no more economy, there’s no more living. So to me it’s like I have brought their voice here to world leaders who might in turn do something, and that to me is kind of a relief.
SGIQ: What kind of reaction did you get when you collected the petitions?
EC: Some are really aware and some are not. Farmers are the ones who are mostly affected and they really don’t know what is happening or why. They just think, “What is happening today?” But the youth who are in school, they know this is climate change, this is what they have been taught in geography. The elders in the past weren’t able to get an education but they are farmers and they are feeding all the people—they know it from experience, seeing how the land is not responding positively, and even the flavor of vegetables has changed.
SGIQ: How have people responded?
EC: Some people say, “What are you coming here trying to tell me? No, this is just God doing his thing, so there’s nothing you can do with your papers.” And some will say, “Why should I sign these petitions? Do you have money to give me?” And some are really into it. Some have been following it in the news so they know, “Ah, you’re here, finally. Let me sign.” But some just don’t want to hear. “What do you want from us? You’re some kind of undercover political organization.” So it’s a mixture of emotions from people.
SGIQ: How do you feel about the future?
EC: We still have faith. The revolution starts with a step, and we can count this as a first step. They might deny what we did and say it’s not good for the economy and so on. But still, we have hope. If we have 20 years remaining for this world, we can still do something in the 10 years to come. We know the process is typically hard, but at the end we have no option. The Maldives is sinking, it will probably vanish from the world map. And now there is a lot of violence again. But we still have hope that things can change. This is just the first step.
Rolland Lusioli, 29, from Kenya, has been a volunteer in the Kenya Red Cross Society youth program for four years. He is passionate about environmental conservation and promotes this in the rural areas of Kenya’s Nakuru region. He is also shown at the multifaith rally in Durban, South Africa.
SGI Quarterly: How did you become interested in environmental issues?
Rolland Lusioli: The reason I am passionate about issues of the environment is the difference it makes in the lives of the people in the community and in myself. I became passionate about this when I was in primary school. We were able to adopt a tree, and as I grew, I grew with the tree. When I see those trees now I feel good because I took care of them. They are now bigger than me, and maybe wiser too! I was able to do something and make a difference.
SGIQ: What kinds of initiative do you promote?
RL: We have several: environmental management, involving tree nurseries; ecosystem management; forums and debates where youth are able to talk about environmental issues that are affecting them; a youth exchange program.
When you protect the environment, it goes beyond conservation. You can have food for yourself, food for the family, food for the community and food for the nation, and food for the whole world.
When we carry out the initiatives for the youth, we are especially focused on decision-making processes. The youth come together to make decisions, then they evaluate them after a certain period of time and they move forward. That is one way of making a policy formulation at the local level. Involving the youth in decision-making is very important. That is what made us able to succeed and do things in a different way—bring in new ideas. Because of that we received a certificate from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which made all of the youth feel good. We challenged each other to use that as an encouragement for others to do more and better.
About one month after that a young volunteer was selected to attend the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva. Last year another child was given the opportunity to attend the Tunza International Children and Youth Conference on environmental issues in Indonesia.
SGIQ: How do people in the communities respond to your efforts initially?
RL: When you start or when you expand what you’ve been doing, there is a lot of resistance. If you take the life of Professor Wangari Maathai, she faced a lot of resistance. That is how it is when we start. But as you move on, things change, and those people that were not willing to even give you a space to hold a meeting, when they see things are changing and that these youth are serious, they come in and support. They see the difference. For example, the children that are involved in the projects are mostly the best students in the school.
We started a project to involve the youth in decision-making in the community. It was difficult, but nowadays the children and the youth are telling me that they are being involved in serious decision-making bodies.
SGIQ: How were you inspired by Wangari Maathai?
RL: In 2009, we were awarded the Red Cross and Red Crescent Youth on the Move Award, and I received it on behalf of the Nakuru branch. Professor Wangari Maathai was there during the general assembly. When she was standing outside the plenary hall, I went and greeted her. She really greeted me well. It was like we had met before. I told her I had been very eager to meet her, and she said to me: “Go and tell young people to make a difference in the world.” Those words really pushed me. It was like a strength. She really motivated me. She really struggled, so she inspires me to do things even if they are very hard. I am a beneficiary of her words.
The kind of difference in the world I was thinking about, and what I should tell young people, was not just about making the environment green, but to start with our minds. We have to green our hearts—that is, not to have jealousy, to be free, to give people opportunities. Being jealous and corrupt, that is like leaves that are brown. If we are going to put our hearts into a green perspective it means we are open-minded, we have open hearts, we are able to give people room to make changes in their lives and in the places they are living.
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