By Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, founder of Green Generation Initiative.
A Commitment to Environmental Conservation
My name is Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti, but I’m more commonly referred to as Liz Mazingira. I am a passionate environmentalist, founder of Green Generation Initiative and an award-winning environmental blogger. I have also recently graduated from Kenyatta University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development.
I have long had a great passion for environmental conservation. Growing up in Nyeri County, renowned for having the highest forest cover in Kenya, I planted my first tree at the age of 7 and then went on to establish an environmental club in my high school with the help of my geography teacher, who offered to be the club’s patron. I also served in the leadership of Kenyatta University Environmental Club (KUNEC) for three consecutive years. Through these experiences, I was able to conduct numerous tree planting activities such as clean ups and environmental education activities, all while increasing awareness of global environmental challenges like climate change.
Exctingly, my passion and commitment to the environment was recognised when I became the fourth recipient of the Wangari Maathai Scholarship Award. The award, given by the Greenbelt movement, Kenya Community Development Foundation and the Rockefeller foundation, aims to develop action-oriented young people who show strong values and commitment to environmental conservation. It was at this point in 2016 that I began Green Generation Initiative.
Bringing GGI to life
The main aim of Green Generation Initiative is to address global environmental challenges that I have identified with since I was a child, including deforestation, pollution and environmental injustices. I often used to think to myself ‘Why not nurture and raise more young people to be conscious of the environment so that their collective action will help to address global environmental challenges?’. Afterall, there is a saying: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
I started out making baby steps – drafting a plan of what I really wanted to do, the people I wanted to reach out to, the resources and number of volunteers I would need, and how I would ensure that I stayed true to my objectives. My passion was my driving force and I started without funds. My first event was in a primary school where I used my own money to buy tree seedlings that would facilitate the tree planting and wider environmental education that day. It was a great success and later on through the Wangari Maathai Scholarship award, I established my own tree nursery at home so that it would be easier for me to source future tree seedlings at a minimal or no cost.
Nothing good comes easy
When trying to make any positive change, you will encounter obstacles, challenges and hardships along the way, but at the end of it all the efforts will pay off. Nothing good comes easy.
Since starting the Green Generation Initiative, one of my greatest challenges has been appreciating that my mindset and passion for the environment is not the same as everyone else’s. I’ve experienced people who just don’t care about harming the environment and it breaks my heart. When approaching people with different views I do my best to explain that the future of the planet is at stake and that we all need to step up to do what we can to address global environmental challenges. I try to persuade them by showing them practical examples of why conservation is not just an issue anymore, but a survival truth. I will often go out of my way and encourage people to pick up litter if they drop it aimlessly, in order to make them understand that their waste is their own responsibility – and if they don’t pick it up they will have contributed to environmental pollution. I have also made good use of events, community forums, youth groups, institutions and all my social media platforms to spread environmental messages.
Limited funding has also been a great challenge for me, especially in instances where I have intended to start up food forests and tree nurseries in the schools that I work with. I have tried to overcome this through fundraising activites that help me secure additional funds and working hard to maximize existing resources. In the past I have used my own personal savings to purchase and produce environmentally branded merchandise, such as t-shirts, which I can sell on to raise more money for tree seedlings.
It’s all about the team
I know that I have what it takes to be a change maker today and if I don’t step up as a young person to address the challenges we are facing today, then nobody else will. Growing up I thought I might have been too young to make a huge impact. But now I know that it is the little things we do that matter the most, and they eventually make a huge difference. Even so, I would not be where I am today without the support and inspiration of a few very important people.
Firstly, my mum. A single mother, she shares my passions and helps me a lot. In fact, I have a tree nursery at home which she helps take care of in spite of her many commitments. I can’t thank her enough. When I told her that I wanted to become an environmentalist and pursue a course in the environmental field at University, she believed in me and has supported me every step of the way in my journey.
The late professor Wangari Maathai has also been a huge source of inspiration. A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, she used her hands and heart to sow seeds for a greener and more community-minded Africa. She spent her lifetime planting trees and forming movements to make people aware of how important it is to take care of the planet, and the role of their own communities in this. I read books about her, the first one titled ‘unbowed’, which motivated and inspired me to stand strong and follow in her footsteps. I am now more than ever before, determined to leave my mark just as Wangari Maathai did.
Finally, the members and volunteers that I work with on Green Generation Initiative have consistantly inspired me on my project journey so far. As the late professor Wangari Maathai said: “I am very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it”. My team consists of over 30 volunteers who are all passionate environmentalists and are very committed and dedicated to our work. It is through their efforts that we have been able to have a greater impact. Young people have immense potential to contribute to environmental conservation and my team has demonstrated this through their passion and dedication towards the initiative.
Today’s youth are the future
As young people, we can change the future of society by demonstrating courageous behaviour through 3 key attributes: accountability, responsibility and transparency. We are the backbone of every nation and are the future leaders. This message is empowering but brings with it great responsibility. As young leaders, we should therefore always aim to be accountable for our actions, and in particular be aware that poor environmental decisions will greatly affect future generations, and contribute to issues such as natural resources depletion and biodiversity loss.
Starting out: 3 Top Tips
1. Know your goals. One of the most practical tips towards the start-up of any idea is to always have a clear goal and an objective of exactly what it is that you want to do. For instance, there may be a challenge that a young person has identified within their community that they want to provide a solution for, and they should always remain true to what they want to achieve.
2. Feel inspired and be supported. Another practical tip for me was having a role model, getting a mentor and having a driving force towards implementing an initial idea. The late professor Wangari Maathai has always been my role model. I also had mentors along the way who guided me through the implementation of my project, such as lecturers in the university and the support from my mum.
3. Start small and scale up. One also needs to identify the needed resources based on the activities involved in the implementation of the idea. It is always good to start with existing assets, especially if there are no readily available funds. I always believe in starting small and working towards scaling up your idea as you move. After all of this, go out there and focus on the implementation of your idea without allowing anyone or anything to hold you back.
The Future is Green
If there is one thing that I have always wanted to change for the world, it is the mindset of the people towards environmental conservation. I want to inspire people through my work. I want to raise a generation of young, passionate environmentalists who will fight fearlessly to protect natural resources. I want to change the story and make people understand that we are not doing this for us, but we are doing it for the future generations from whom we have borrowed this planet.
I envision a world where we can all live in harmony with nature without harming the planet. A world where everybody is mindful of how they will leave the planet for generations to come. A world where we will put people and the planet before profits. A world where future generations will not have to suffer and deal with the consequences of environmental degradation caused by the previous generations. I want the whole world to give environmental conservation the priority and attention it deserves, because we are destroying nature and our planet. Nature doesn’t need us, we are the ones who need nature. We must all join hands in making the world a better place for us and for generations to come.