By Wanjira Mathai
Wanjira is a Metis Fellow in Cohort II who is an inspiring leader, with over 20 years of experience on both local and international platforms. She is currently leading the development of the Wangari Maathai Foundation’s programs to advance the legacy of Prof. Wangari Maathai by nurturing a culture of purpose and integrity through curriculum for students and teacher training that inspires courageous leadership.
In January 2016, the East Africa Institute released the results of the East African Youth Survey. About Kenya we learnt that 80 percent of our population is under the age of 35! So we have a very youthful population into whose future the delivery of countless development goals rests.
We also learnt from the survey that youth in Kenya (and East Africa) are optimistic about the future, they believe corruption is a legitimate way of doing business, and a large percentage of them reported that they are afraid to stand up for what they believe in for fear of retribution.
How is this possible in a country that produced one of the boldest activists in the world (Professor Wangari Maathai) who went on to win the most coveted prize in the world, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize? There has never been a time so critical in our history to inspire courageous leadership in our young people. A somewhat fearful and optimistic population that believes in corruption as a tool for progress, will not get us there. We must do something to change this and do it fast! And we must start early in their lives.
The Wangari Maathai Foundation (WMF) recently collaborated with Crossing Thresholds to bring over 100 children from Kibera’s Mobjap and FAFU Schools, and some of their teachers, to Karura Forest. It was magical in many ways. None of these children had ever been to the forest, and some had never left Kibera. But thanks to both organizations, we made it possible through the Green Jeneration (J is for ‘Junior’).
The Green Jeneration is an initiative created by children, for children who told us they want to be part of “making the world a better place”. This movement, supported by the WMF, creates beautiful learning environments by greening schools, improving the learning environment, and developing the value of responsible stewardship. The Green Jeneration creates opportunities for children of all walks of life to spend time in nature at the Karura Forest under the stewardship of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust.
According to Six Seconds research, the climate in a school determines the success of the school and is linked to the level of engagement of the school community - teachers, students, governors, and parents. That the more conducive the climate in a school, the more engaged the school community will be. In the process of engaging with the Green Jeneration, children will also enrich their environmental awareness as they care and nurture the plants in their school. Education should be about building life skills for a future we know little about. Children need to be prepared for jobs that do not currently exist. But what we know is that whatever those jobs will be, they will need people of character to staff them. So as we pursue our various missions, let us do so knowing that the great work is laying the foundation for the future.
Winter Wheat by Anita Roderick captures the essence of the slow deep work we are all engaged in. We must persist because it’s worth it:
When I was young I thought that failure was impossible
All wrongs would be righted in my time.
Now I am old I see that failure IS impossible
I pass the torch to you. Will you hold it high?
For we are sowing winter wheat
That other hands will harvest
That they might have enough to eat
After we are gone.
We will plant shade trees that we will not sit under
We will light candles that others can see their way
We’ll struggle for justice though we’ll never see it flower
Our children’s children will live in peace one day.
As a Metis Fellow, I was inspired by the articles we read at the beginning of this journey. By far my favorite was one by Fred Swaniker, about Moments of Obligation. I loved it because it confirmed that the challenges we face pursuing purpose are meant to be hard. It’s hard work pursuing purpose, but when we are addressing what seem like massive challenges, drawing on our passion, and knowing that we are uniquely equipped to tackle them is all we really need. The rest is heart. Stick with it for the long haul.