Photos and Video by Pedro Ramirez
Caroline Dama, Regreening Kenya
Caroline Dama strives to inspire the children of her home country Kenya to take climate mitigation into their own hands by planting trees.
Mother, teacher, and climate activist. Through her various roles, Caroline Dama strives to inspire the children of her home country Kenya to take climate mitigation into their own hands by planting trees – hundreds of thousands of trees.
“We are responsible for the climate,” Dama explains, “because at the end of the day, it affects every aspect of our life. It affects the way we dress. It affects how we go to work. It affects the type of food we eat. It affects everything.”
As the program coordinator for the Green World Campaign, a school-based environmental education program that fosters positive and proactive attitudes towards environmental conservation, Dama works with Kenyan children and adolescents to plant over trees to date. In 2013 alone, she supervised the planting of more than 100,000 trees at ninety locations around Kenya, including schools, faith-based organizations and farmers groups.
“My job is to encourage children to green their world”, she says. “When we teach the children to use the environment sustainably, we create truly sustainable programs. Children won’t make the mistakes their parents have made.”
When asked about the key lesson for her students, she replies: “It is not about what you will do then, once the effects of climate change have unfolded. It is not about what you will do tomorrow. It is about what you will do now. What you do now, bit by bit, becomes normal. I am good at watering crops, planting trees, and teaching children. So I can teach children to plant more trees. Once you decide: this is what I can do, just do it and do it to the best of your abilities.”
In part, her effectiveness can be attributed to her close collaboration with environmental clubs, which she uses as a springboard to promote agro-forestry in their community. Through this approach she has coordinated the planting of thousands of trees and local vegetables on land areas surrounding the schools. Each student is assigned to take care of one tree and the vegetables he or she has planted next to it. With over 15,000 schools in Kenya alone, this program has huge potential of reforesting much of the country and educating its next generation.
But it is not just the next generation that Caroline Dama is concerned about. She also heads a crucial partnership between the Red Cross and the Green World Campaign, ensuring in particular that famine-stricken areas plant and grow food trees to protect their soil from erosion. Specifically, she coordinated the planting of thousands of Moringa Olifera trees like the Miyani region. The Moringa Olifera has three distinct benefits: Its leaves are edible and provide nutrition in the area, its roots stabilize the soils and protect it from deterioration and its seeds can be pressed for oil which can be used for cooking as well as in cosmetics. After several successful planting initiatives, Dama also introduced in a second step hand presses to the farming community, allowing them produce to extract and sell the oil and income, thereby combining environmental and economic gains.
From community work with farmers to teaching young people to plant trees all around the country, Caroline Dama’s energy and commitment to scaling her greening efforts is impressively courageous and well worth emulating. This begged the question, “If you could give one piece of advice to the people of this world, what would it be?”
Her reply? “Whenever I speak with people, I ask them, ‘What can you do for this place?’ I tell them that it is about what you leave behind, not what you gain. Compassion is planting a tree whose shade you don’t intend to sit under. This is what it is all about.”
A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can sequester 1 ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. According to a study done by USDA Forest Service, in the US, urban trees currently store 700 million tons of carbon ($14,300 million value) with a gross carbon sequestration rate of 22.8 million tC/yr ($460 million/year). No green space available in your neighborhood to plant your own tree? You can fund a tree planting to offset your carbon, on carbonfund.org.