By Titus Murithi

On May 25 2018, I visited the Environment Club at Nkabune Technical Training Institute in North Imenti sub-county of Meru County in Kenya, and joined the students in celebrating Africa Day for the first time by teaching them about climate change and hosting a group tree planting.

Africa Day arrived, and about 30 Environment Club students, led by the club facilitator, Ms. Karwitha Nkarichia, and the club’s student president, Mr. Jefitha Mwiti, came to the tree planting venue where I was waiting with 22 tree seedlings.

After a brief introduction the tree planting began, and there were smiles and muddy hands all round as the students marked their first celebration of Africa Day in our unique way.

  • The Environment Club student president, Jefitha Mwiti, addresses the club members as the tree planting begins.

  • Ms. Karwitha Nkarichia, the club’s staff facilitator, plants her seedling as her students watch.

After putting their backs into digging holes and planting the seedlings, the students sat back and listened attentively to my climate change presentation.  I explained simply what climate change is – it is a result of increased of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our immediate atmosphere. I gave the students examples of how carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which is largely due to human activities, like burning fossil fuels, anthropogenic forest fires, deforestation, industrial smoke and chemical fumes, and use of harmful insecticides and other spraying chemicals.

We then spoke about how we are affected by climate change. I explained the negative impacts of climate change to the students, including global incidents, as well as those closer to home like the recent flooding in Kenya which resulted in human lives lost, as well as infrastructure damage.  I also went through other negative impacts of climate change with the students – decreases in freshwater resources through drought and changes in rainfall patterns, community conflicts over water and food for their livestock, sea-level rising, flooding due to excess rainfall, rising temperatures causing heat waves, increased spread of communicable diseases, and damage of infrastructure which can lead to communities being displaced.

Of course once they understood more about what climate change is, and all the negative ways it can impact us and our surrounding communities, the students were eager to find out what can be done to stop climate change from happening, and protect our communities from this man-made disaster.

The focus of this Africa Day was to #BreakFree from fossil fuels, and I spoke to the students about how closing existing coal-fired power plants, and stopping the development of new ones, can have the biggest impact on slowing climate change down.  We then discussed the importance of protecting existing carbon sinks, and how we can create new ones by scaling up tree planting and creating urban forests, as trees sequester carbon and store it in the ground.  We also chatted about renewable energy – whether it be small scale solar units that can be for off-grid household use, or large-scale wind farms that supply enough clean energy for thousands of people.  Although these three solutions can seem a bit out of reach, we also discussed simple ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle that everyone can practice at home – we can turn lights off when we don’t use them, eat less meat, cycle to work and even plant a vegetable and tree garden.

The students were bursting with questions and ideas by the end of the presentation, and asked me to help them get involved in activities geared towards reducing climate change and their institute’s carbon footprint.  After bouncing ideas around, the students had decided on their plan of action – they are going to start a tree nursery.

The tree nursery will be in Nkabune Technical Training Institute, and while the institute will benefit from more tree plantings, so will other nearby public areas like the Catholic Church, primary schools and children’s homes.  I also told them they can plant the trees along the banks of the nearby river, River Kathita – the biggest river in Meru County, with its source streaming from Mount Kenya forest.

To start a tree nursery, I explained how the students can go about it without necessarily spending money – instead of buying seeds, they can pick seeds from the ground around the trees in the institute and the neighborhood. I then covered how to start a seed bed, transferring seedlings into small paper-bags, and eventually, establishing a nursery.

The students excitedly agreed to start picking seeds, and I am looking forward to returning in a fortnight to support them in establishing a seed bed and a tree nursery, so much so that I have pledged to donate a full bag of oak tree seeds to get them started.

The Environment Club poses with African Climate Reality Project posters. Take climate action for Africa now!

Africa Day was all about empowering people in my community to take climate action for Africa, and while I have done just that with these students, their enthusiasm has also renewed my determination to fight for the preservation of our environment, and our Africa.

Take climate action for Africa now!

Photographer: Titus Murithi