Glowing future - School children's local solution to a global challenge

Kiserian, Kenya: As the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP 22) to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change opens in Marrakesh, Morocco, on November 7, in faraway Kenya some school pupils are making an impact by planting trees – one tree at a time -- away from the pomp and glamor.

The pupils of Kiserian Primary School, located in a poor neighborhood outside the bustling Kenyan capital Nairobi, are making a difference while providing a sustainable solution to a global problem.

The active members of the school’s environment club initiated an innovative environmental program some years ago with the aim of curbing the adverse effects of climate change. They are actively involved in planting trees, while also tending a community tree nursery, where hundreds of tree seedlings are grown and shared with the local community.

“The journey has been long, with some successes and challenges along the way,” said Ms. Grace Muchai, a patron of the school’s environment club, adding that Kajiado – the plain plateau of savannah grassland and shrub bushes, where the school is located, is generally a dry land.

Kajiado is an arid and semi-arid area, she said, “So we ensure that we impart knowledge to our pupils on the need to plant trees and conserve the environment.”

“Thanks to the project, we now have a small forest within the school compound,” she said. 

The school is situated in a dusty, peri-urban area, some 26 kilometres (16 miles) south west of Nairobi.

“When you teach these young pupils they will never forget what they’ve learned,” Ms. Muchai added. The issues of food insecurity and global warming, she said, have been a global challenge and that “we realize that each and everyone needs to be fully involved.”

The Marrakesh talks (COP22) will be the first meeting of the parties to the Paris agreement on climate change. The landmark agreement, signed in December last year, seeks to see nations drastically limit or cap their greenhouse gas emissions, on a case-by-case basis.

“Climate change is gathering pace – and so is the global drive to fight it,” the Financial Times reported in a recent article headlined “Hope on Marrakesh talks to limit global warming.”

Several years on, the Kenyan school tree-planting project is gaining traction from the local community and has been commended as a practical, homegrown solution towards addressing the global problem/issue of climate change and deforestation.

Recently, an international non-governmental organization has promised to sink a borehole and help the school establish a green house.

“One of our core values in our school is to nurture and protect the environment,” said Josephat Njuki, a teacher and a co-patron of the club.

“We would like to have each and every child in our school to be able to own at least one tree. We have set days when the children engage in tree planting,” he said.

The pupils have so far planted more than 2,000 trees around the school compound since 2011 and the number is expected to grow.

The young environmentalists are doing their part by planting trees but the challenges abound.

The school lacks a reliable source of water, tools and equipment and most of the school pupils are from underprivileged families.

“We have seen that when you engage the children, we all reap the benefits,” Ms. Muchai said.

Victoria Akinyi, 13, said she joined the environment club for her love of trees.

“I love trees because no one can survive this world without trees,” she said, alluding to the fact that conserving the environment is critical to securing a sustainable future.

“They give us the air we breathe, attract rainfall and they also help us mitigate the adverse effects of climate change,” Akinyi added.

Akinyi says by planting more trees, the children are claiming the future, right now! They are securing their future – planting one tree at a time!

Another pupil, David Macharia, 13, is an environment enthusiast. He says he joined the environment club to help save farmlands from erosion and address the threat of desertification across Africa.

“I know that the world needs me to take care of it,” he said emphatically. 

“I started planting trees since I was a small boy. I am passionate about planting trees because I am know I am making a difference however small it may seem,” Macharia said joyfully.

Among other benefits, planting of trees provides a barrier against strong winds and help to hold moisture in the air and soil, allowing agriculture to flourish.

Simple programs like this, control soil erosion, enhance biodiversity and improve countries’ resilience to climate change.

Njuki says one of the biggest challenges that the group faces is that “during the dry season we are not able to get enough water to sustain our tree nursery.”

“In the future,” he says, “We hope to look for ways to harvest the rainwater to sustain the tree nursery.”

According to the United Nations, two-thirds of Africa is classified as desert or dry lands. Climate change has led to prolonged spells of drought, over-grazing, and deforestation and land degradation.