As I walk the behemoth of a concrete jungle that is Eastleigh, drowned in the noise from the construction going on all round, pungent air pollution wafts the air. The trees that once were have all been cleared to pave way for the latest shopping malls, and blocks of flats towering up to a stone Babel 20 floors in some places.
It is a harbinger of the inevitable, because next to Eastleigh is my neighborhood Mathare. As the Swahili saying goes “Mwenzako akinyolewa chako tia maji“. (If you see your neighbour being shaved, prepare your own head for the barber).
Before I got familiar with the term environmental activism, I had an innate craving for conservation, a yearning that permeated my whole being. The need to be in a natural environment filled with flora and fauna of all sorts, as is in many young people who grow up in these areas.
I reminisce the detours we took coming from school in childhood (Pangani Primary School) and taking some sweet time to harvest all sorts of fruits before getting home. Zambarau (black plum) or ‘zamba’ as we called them, passion, loquats, guava, berries, mango, pomegranate even. Sadly, these luxuries are no more for the kids of Mathare.
How will we ensure that the coming generation enjoys the simple joy of plucking a juicy mango direct from a tree? How do we incorporate technology and smart ways of farming to foster coexistence of both an urban world merged with organic green spaces?
Such pondering led me to a group of youth from Mathare’s Mlango Kubwa area, who under the banner of Future Leaders 254 partnered with the Finnish-Kenya Society, who provided much needed ‘green finances,’ collated by the UN’s Sari Seppanen, and gathered on this day to continue their efforts of transforming spaces in their community.
“We need to show people the importance of having a clean environment. Part of what we do is educating our community on proper waste management, organizing clean up exercises, tree and flower planting,” Mr Christopher Mwangi, a member of Future Leaders 254, says. “We also use art to best communicate this message through music, film and documentaries”
Future Leaders 254 managed to plant dozens of trees in one day in different spots in Mathare to beautify as well as preserve the culture. They aim to have planted 5,000 trees in two years.
Among the trees and flowers planted were Guava, Mango, Avocado, Orange, Passion, Burrows tail, Silky Oak commonly known as Mukima or Mubariti, Arrowhead plant, purple bougainvillea to name a few.
They note, however, that the challenge lies in maintaining and nurturing the new seedlings.
Water shortages, stray goats, chicken, children and drunkards have been on top of the hit list that make it hard to preserve plantings in the area, but after a learning period, some measures have been put in place to ensure the longevity of the plants.
Times have changed. Weather patterns have changed. Some ways of living must drastically change.
Mr James Gichuru, a 254 FK organizer, quipped on the day, ‘let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.’
But just as nature is our ‘Mother,’ even down in Mathare, we as the community must now nurture nature, through initiatives like this one.