February 12, 2024

Celebrating Wetlands: Sustaining Life, Sustaining Communities

Juliet Hinga

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Strathmore University’s Social and Environmental Sustainability Club (SESC) recently spearheaded an event aimed at raising awareness about the pressing need to save wetlands. The event not only provided a platform for diverse perspectives on wetland conservation but also engaged diplomats, government representatives, and environmental advocates in discussions centered around actionable strategies. Mr Kennedy Wangari, President of the SESC club, set the tone for the program, outlining the club’s threefold goals of creating context, practicality through simulation, and turning ideas into reality. The event proved that the students have collectively embraced the responsibility of nurturing the ecosystem,  in alignment with Strathmore’s theme: Sustainability: Caring for People and Planet.

This was the third event held by SESC, and the first in the year 2024. In 2023, SESC successfully planted 1000 trees on the 15-acre land allocated to them by the Kenya Forest Service. Their ambitious goal this year is to plant an additional 100,000 trees in the remaining space. Additionally, in November 2023, SESC organized the Pre- COP 28 Workshop that brought together students and diplomats in preparation for COP 28 held in Dubai.

Diplomatic Collaboration and Club Goals

  1. The event hosted diplomats representing various governments, including Pakistan, Jordan, Norway, and the DRC, along with representatives from organisations such as  Oxfam and Amali Foundation. During the event, Kennedy expressed the club’s aspirations for collaborative efforts, outlining key areas where diplomatic support is sought: Financial Support: The club is actively seeking financial aid to facilitate its events. The current one is the tree planting initiative aimed at  planting 100,000 trees in 2024.
  2. Mentorship and Training: Kennedy urged the diplomats to consider involving students in the drafting or adopting relevant policies initiated by students in their respective countries, especially in multilateral positions in forum such as the UN.
  3. Capacity Building: This was a strong call to provide experts to participate in students conferences, workshops, and collaborative efforts.
  4. Exchange Programs: The club proposed the facilitation of exchange programs such as internships or trainings that enhance global collaboration and knowledge sharing with reputable academic, research and professional institutions in their home countries that deal with ecosystem management.

Kennedy Wangari finished his speech by acknowledging the fact that the youths are willing and are ready to support efforts in Sustainability, therefore the need for their involvement.

Dharmesh Vyas introduced Oxfam International, emphasizing  the importance of recognizing the involvement of the local communities in the environmental climate actions. He highlighted Oxfam’s commitment to addressing the challenges associated with environmental degradation through their various initiatives. He then concluded by stating that everyone has a role to play, indicating the importance of involvement of all, irrespective of the background.

“If we don’t take action, nobody else will,” emphasized Ambassador Indimuli Diana Lucy Zaha, the CEO of Amali Organisation. She acknowledged the importance of taking proactive measures rather than waiting for external assistance. According to Zaha, the best way to restore nature is to collaborate with it, harnessing the wisdom and practices of communities accumulated over time. She further  highlighted collaborating with the 68% of the youth in Kenya who are flexible, swift , and reasonable. She explained that they can engage in  research, implement existing policies, utilize social media to create awareness, and most importantly, collaborate with local communities residing in the wetlands to gather information nationwide. All these are geared toward improving the wetlands. Ambassador Zaha finalized her speech by calling upon the students to collaborate with other schools and explore additional learning opportunities, such as visits to NEMA offices. She encouraged them to leverage recorded data as a valuable resource in their learning processes, emphasizing its significance in data storage for monitoring and tracking progress.

International Perspectives

The Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan, H.E Shoaib Mansoor, addressed the lack of proper understanding of Wetlands Day among majority of people. He recommended watching the show “Our Planet”  as a means to understand wetlands, describing them as the mother of species. He then challenged participants to start conservation efforts from their own homes. “Do what you can; Do your part.” He then shared his own experience during the National Tree Planting Day when he planted a tree on his property. He concluded by urging everyone to become champions by contributing to community well-being.The Deputy Permanent Representative of Norway, H.E. Øystein Størkersen, echoed the sentiment that youth must take charge of environmental initiatives. He emphasized the shared responsibility of the community and the younger generation,  stressing  the importance of concrete solutions through youth engagement, women’s involvement, collaboration with NGOs, and the implementation of nature-based solutions for sustainable use.

Global Impact and Awareness – Dr. David Chiawo

Dr. David Chiawo, Dean of Strathmore School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH), emphasized the global significance of wetlands conservation and commended the students for their dedication to the cause. He highlighted the need for spreading knowledge and awareness through more meetings held in campus and encouraged continued efforts to drive the initiative forward. He further acknowledged the students’ readiness to actively participate in environmental conversations. Dr Chiawo also thanked the guests for creating time and supporting the students in their efforts to create environmental awareness.

Appreciating Our Environment – Ambassador of Jordan

The guest speaker, H.E Firas F. Khouri, the Ambassador of Jordan, shared his personal journey and underscored the importance of wetlands as a tourist attraction and future revenue source for Kenya. He concluded his address by encouraging the audience to appreciate their country and its natural resources, describing it as the treasurer of Africa due to its seasons, abundance in water, rain, and rivers. His Excellency highlighted the importance of tourism for the future and acknowledged that human beings are the most important part of societies because they are the society. He further stated the importance of having a dream, drawing from his own experience as a former farmer back in Jordan, stating, “When you have a dream don’t let others mislead you, work on it and you will achieve it.”

Panel Session Highlights

The panel session delved into critical questions, including Jordan’s policies on wetland protection and the initiatives taken in the global north. The informative session provided valuable insights and perspectives on diverse approaches to wetland conservation.

Closing Remarks

Ms. Diljot Dhindsa, the founder of ReFabriCrafters, an innovation that won during last year’s ideas festival, made the closing remarks and thanked all the guests and participants for joining Strathmore University in celebrating the World Wetlands Day.

Strathmore University’s SESC club event proved to be a catalyst for meaningful discussions and collaborative efforts in wetland conservation. The insights from diplomats, government representatives, and advocates underscore the importance of youth empowerment, practical actions, and international collaboration in tackling the crisis and ensuring a sustainable future for wetlands. The call to action is clear: it is time to bridge the gap between ideas and tangible change, with youth leading the way towards a more environmentally conscious and resilient world.

Article written by Janet Irene Owiti and Njoki Waigi  – Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Communications Clinic clubs members.

Photo credits: Emily Olowo – Bachelor of Arts in Communications

Adapted from the Strathmore University Website: https://strathmore.edu/news-articles/celebrating-wetlands-sustaining-life-sustaining-communities/

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