Empowering Youth Environmental Leaders in Cameroon with Climate & Environmental Justice Experience
Author: Harrison Ashangwa
Originally published by Power Shift Network
September and October 2022 have been characterized by severe and devastating floods in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. In just over a month, floods in Nigeria have killed hundreds of people and displaced over 1.4 million people. It has damaged homes, infrastructures, and vast sections of farmland across the country. In neighboring Chad, in the capital city of N'Djamena, several neighborhoods and communities have been washed away with thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable left homeless. The situation of Cameroon is not very different: in Douala, the economic capital of the country, dozens of neighborhoods and communities have flooded following heavier downpours than usual. The damage from these floods and other climate related disasters is devastating and the most vulnerable people suffer the most from the consequences of the actions of the few. The inequity of climate disasters in our communities is why we lead various initiatives for climate and environmental justice at the International Student Environmental Coalition (ISEC). We operate in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and several other African countries. We are all confronted with the reality that the climate crisis is already here, and are united to act against climate change globally by uplifting those on the frontlines and in the global south.
I grew up in a small community in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. My mother was a farmer along with the majority of the people of my community who struggled with food insecurity amidst the unpredictable seasons changing the growing seasons every year. I witnessed how seasonal rainfall changes affected farm outputs of my family and these smallholder farmers. In my curiosity to understand why rainfall— which marked the planting season— was changing, I found out that it was climate change. This further led me to study environmental engineering in college and co-founding an agricultural project known as Agrichot, with the aim to empower smallholder farmers in my community to deal with the realities of climate change through climate smart farming techniques. Through a model of “rethinking rural farming”, smallholder farmers are able to cultivate all year round with irrigation, adapting to the impacts of climate change, cultivating more and saving more for their families. All over the country, I also realized that climate change was just one of the many environmental challenges we faced and the ignorance of the people about these issues prompted me to start this journey of reaching out to all Cameroonians.
Through ISEC, I got the organizational capacity, and support to start what has become a serious movement in the country, turning my initial curiosity and passion to driving climate action in Cameroon, and also inspiring thousands of young people in Cameroon and around Africa. For the Past 5 years, our programs, initiatives and campaigns have reached more than 15,000 people including students, teachers, farmers, locals in the communities, and business people.
For over 2 years now, as the Executive Director of ISEC, I’ve been providing organizational capacity, skills and the mentorship to young leaders in other countries to champion movements for climate justice in their communities. It is my belief that climate justice begins when there is awareness. And more importantly, the people can only demand climate justice or hold their leaders to take climate action when they are aware of the realities and consequences of inaction towards addressing the climate crisis.
We have led several initiatives and programs for environmental and climate justice in Cameroon. We educate and empower students in schools about climate change and the environmental challenges which are visible around them - Green Earth Initiative Cameroon, a national program we created to educate, and empower students across the country, sets up environment and eco-clubs in schools where students will continuously learn and engage in environmental action in schools and their communities. The program has reached more than a dozen schools, directly educated 7500 students and environment clubs set up in 5 schools, 2 major cities involved with many more cities and schools to be reached. Through this Iinitiative, we also aim at fostering local climate action initiatives in schools and communities like tree planting with over a thousand trees planted already, effective waste management and recycling programs.
Climate Justice to me means empowering young people to lead and champion grassroots action in their communities, educating the masses about climate change, and how it is affecting their lives, helping the most vulnerable in the communities adapt to climate change, holding our leaders accountable for their actions and inactions and most importantly addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.
Empowering and training youth leaders is also a core program for ISEC in Cameroon. In 2021, we organized a training workshop bringing together 50 young leaders from across Cameroon to train and empower them on various issues around leading and championing climate and environmental justice, fostering local climate action in their communities. With the tools, knowledge and skills these young people gained, many went back to their communities and are now championing various initiatives and programs with a few starting their own Environmental Organizations and have now become our partners in the work we do in Cameroon. The experience of such training and empowerment programs of ISEC in Cameroon and across Africa shows that many young people are passionate and enthusiastic to lead the climate movement in their communities. They just need the capacity, mentorship and training to do so.
Through empowerment, young people and environmental leaders can also get involved in policy and environmental decisions at the local level, nationally as well as internationally. When environmental decisions and policies can reflect the aspirations and voices of young people, we can ensure that we are working towards an equitable and sustainable future of our planet. We are thus engaging local authorities and policy makers in Cameroon for the voices and aspirations of young people on environmental policies and decisions.
ISEC continues to foster holistic support for individuals and groups in their climate justice projects and call for support in uplifting those on the frontlines and in the global south. Learn more about our work and how you can support at https://www.facebook.com/ISECCameroon/.