July 29, 2018

Plastic Bag Alternatives and Birthday Tree Planting: A Ray of Hope for Kenya (The Congregation)

As we commemorate the world overshoot day and continue to face the sad reality of how we humans continue to degrade Mother Earth and her natural resources, there is a ray of hope in Kenya where the ban on plastic bags use was effected by the government on August 28th 2017. Thanks be to God this took effect after many years of environment advocates including Wangari Mathai who made futile appeals to the government of the day but were never heeded. This had resulted into clogging of drainage systems, extremely dirty and litter-filled towns and rural villages, turning many of the formerly green environments into an eye sore. Read more here.The ban included use, manufacturing and importation of plastic bags failure to which would attract hefty penalties including imprisonment of up to four years.

Skills Training: girls in one of the Mercy Colleges making alternative bags

This was very good news for environment lovers and immediately alternative bags were already being made. Using the natural and traditional fibers like sisal and cloth material many young people got creative and all kinds of bags are now being made. As Sisters of Mercy we have girls and women in our projects who are also not left out in the innovation for alternative bags.

In small ways the national intervention of banning plastic is already a great step and invitation for all to live more simply and stop destroying mother earth. As a result the town drainage system which in the previous years contributed to flooded homesteads were not as hazardous this year.

As well as use of plastic, the country has been notorious in desertification by cutting of trees for charcoal and other industrial and domestic use. Thankfully, this year also saw the ban of logging and charcoal burning by the government. With these signs of real effort and good will of a government which in the past remained aloof, young people also were touched and devised a new way of contributing towards making the country greener healthier and cleaner.

Therefore the Campaign called Birthday Tree Planting was launched on the 29th of June though originally meant to be on 6th June marking World Environment Day. In this campaign Sisters of Mercy sponsored and owned schools took the front stage as we collaborated with Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), Tangaza University as well as the Office of Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation of Franciscans Africa. The idea is to encourage all people especially the young who always ensure that they cut a cake for their birthdays to add another aspect where birthdays will be marked by planting a tree annually as well as other celebrations as one wishes. These being an idea that was born by youth, other students received it well and all those who were celebrating their birthdays in June did not only cut and share cakes but they also led in the tree planting at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) grounds where we had gathered for the launch.

To guarantee that the idea flourishes and becomes practical, some of the schools are looking for funds to come up with tree nurseries which will be watered and nurtured by students to ensure a constant supply of seedlings for all the birthdays and probably even supply to the neighbors when need be. Following the the launch the practice has already begun and this will be used to set example to the wider Interfaith Youth Forum on Peace and Environment marked at the last weekend of September every year. This year it will be on 28th and 29th September in CUEA where many more schools, colleges and universities of different faiths will interact.

Since 2015 Mercy Associated schools have participated in these forums and in 2017 we got the award of peace ambassadors for the commitment and implementation of objectives laid down annually at the forums. Through annual birthday tree planting activity the projection is to have at least 5 million trees planted in the first year and increase rapidly as many more people get to know and adopt the practice that will be made known through social media, church and youth groups among others. This way the young people will assist in righting some of the wrongs where the rate of desertification had grown in an alarming rate as trees were cut and not replaced leading to extinction of many indigenous trees whose consequences included frequent droughts, hunger just to mention a few. 

In the long run the magnitude of the ill effects of the overshoot will be diminished in the area of restoration of forests which will bear many more fruits for the good of our country and the planet. This is our hope and this is the message we are implanting in the young hearts as they prepare for future leadership. Thus it is our hope and prayer that corruption and other bad practices will be over overhauled by a conscientious generation that will care for the entire creation like our ancestors did. 

Messages to: Rose Macharia rsm - Kenya

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