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Feature: Kenyan grassroot youth to raise voice of marginalized at Paris climate talks

03 November 2015, 21:29

Nairobi - Ekai Nabenyo has lost count of recurrent droughts that swept his ancestral village in Turkana County in northwest Kenya that causing massive havoc that took ages to repair.

As a herdsboy, Nabenyo witnessed loss of highly prized livestock and pasture to severe droughts that have become synonymous with a county variously described as the cradle of mankind.

The 23-year-old law graduate has a strong attachment to the land of his ancestors and has vowed to utilize knowledge gained in school to help local communities cope with climate challenges.

Nabenyo regretted that grassroots communities' have not received adequate attention from policy elite and scientists despite their vulnerability to extreme weather events.

"Climate change became a reality to me during childhood when I witnessed prolonged droughts that consumed our livestock. The rains have been erratic while many water sources have dried up completely," Nabenyo told Xinhua in an interview on Monday.

As a youth born and raised in a marginalized region, Nabenyo is fully aware that courage, resilience and commitment to a worthy cause are key to transform his pastoral community's livelihood.

Also read: 30 witnesses offer to testify against Pastor Ng'ang'a

The team leader and co-founder of a grassroots conservation lobby will be attending the climate talks in Paris to highlight the devastating impact of climate change to pastoralists.

During his first year in law school in 2011, Turkana experienced a drought that attracted global attention due to the scale of its destruction and deaths.

"My entire village relied on food rations from international humanitarian agencies since all the crops had withered while the livestock could hardly survive the drought," Nabenyo remarked.

While at the university, he developed a strong bond with students from his native county and together they formed an organization that would advocate for environmental conservation and sustainable development at the grassroots.

The formation of Lorengelup community development initiative gave Nabenyo and his peers a platform to mobilize local communities to support habitats restoration.

Likewise, the community based organization managed to source funds from donors to develop social amenities like schools and hospitals in the marginalized county.

Having worked briefly as a volunteer teacher in Kakuma refugee camp, Nabenyo came face to face with dark side of poverty, civil strife and natural calamities.

He blamed recurrent droughts for resource based conflicts that are a common feature in Kenya's northern frontier districts.

"There is no denying that climate change has not only disrupted our way of life as pastoralists but has fuelled inter-tribal skirmishes. Communities are fighting over diminishing water sources and pasture," said Nabenyo.

His unwavering passion for greening the drought prone Turkana County has won him accolades in Kenya and beyond.

Thanks to financial support from local and foreign well wishers, Nabenyo and his peers have mobilized local school children and communities to plant trees and conserve watersheds.

"We have also partnered with the ministry of energy to install solar lighting in a school that was constructed through support from Safaricom Foundation .The school is now an oasis within a jungle," Nabenyo told Xinhua.

His organization has been conducting public forums in villages and small towns within poverty-stricken Turkana County to raise awareness on climate change.

He has also been vocal in urging grassroots communities to abandon charcoal burning that is to blame for the loss of traditional forests.

"We advocate alternative livelihoods like fishing and basket weaving to minimize charcoal burning that has fuelled loss of indigenous tree species," Nabenyo remarked.

Later this month, he will join a group of youthful green advocates at the Paris climate talks to highlight the plight of marginalized communities who have borne the brunt of rising global temperatures.

Together with his colleagues from Ecuador and Philippines, Nabenyo will challenge world leaders, scientists and policymakers to support grassroots led climate adaptation and mitigation programs.

"My message to world leaders in Paris is that the youth are change agents who can play a meaningful role in the advancement of the green agenda. We need to connect policy elites to grassroots advocates in order to win the war against climate change," said Nabenyo.

He stressed that a critical mass of youthful advocates is needed in order to revitalize climate change awareness at the grassroots level.


- Xinhua


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