Some say the youth are not concerned about what surrounds us. That we are not (or very few are) bothered of the rate of environmental degradation happening in the country and across the world. That there is little to no care about taking being good stewards of the planet. I have heard this statements from a number of people past the designated youth age and sometimes I ask myself when the environmental degradation and climate change increased, we were either in school studying or too young only watching what is happening. For us, our voices were not as important to be heard or taken into account. Yes, there are those who at a very young age have chosen or chose to stand up and defend the environment, but these are very few, the outliers among us who have immense support from their parents or guardians.
Let’s not put any blame on anyone though since we all have the ability to spark change and today, organisations and even the government are realising that the youth, being about 75% of the Kenyan population under 30 years, are an asset to aid in growing the country. The youth, have the ability, time and energy to spark change when their voices are heard, sometimes even when they are not. Our global village, which has been made possible by developments in technology, have shown us that we can do anything to change the world even when we are young ourselves. We see other youth in other countries across the world change lives, become thought leaders and are a catalyst for causing discussions in global conversations. This alone inspires many to make a difference as well wherever they are.
A report done by Escape Foundation and Well Told Story seeks to understand young people’s attitudes towards wildlife conservation with the aim of providing a foundation for creative strategies to motivate Kenyan youth to conserve their natural resources. Today, young people would want to participate in wildlife and conservation, but limitations exist in understanding what is actually involved and how to get in the position to present their ideas. Those who are passionate and have even studied or a studying any environmental and conservation-related disciplines at the tertiary level have an overview of what needs to be done. However, the chances of being involved in wildlife conservation are considered to be very limited and/or filled with corruption, greed, nepotism and cronyism. This renders some youth to opt for other career opportunities even after spending years studying in such disciplines. These are the few among 75% of youth who can easily be motivated to engage in conservation efforts as one will be easily preaching to the choir.
There is also limited knowledge to what young people and even most Kenyans understand about wildlife. To them, it’s the big five (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo). Snakes, frogs, trees and insects do not feature among wildlife that needs to be protected as well. As the human population continues to grow, people have encroached into wildlife habitats and migratory routes thus triggering human-wildlife conflicts and livestock-wildlife conflicts.
Conservation is then related to planting trees, collecting litter and protecting rivers and forests. In general, it is still considered a white affair or luxurious hobby and taking an interest in conservation only becomes limited. However, a growth in environmental clubs in school’s aids in conservation knowledge as well as the indigenous knowledge that is still set among communities in their cultural practices and traditions.
Aspects of tourism such as guided tours and camping are also considered for conservation by a majority of the youth. Poaching is considered totally illegal and should be not be allowed to happen while hunting is accepted among young people. This is a good sign as it embraces cultural practices within our local communities when hunting is not interfered with by authority as hunting is in most cases not overdone.
The report mentioned barriers to conservation which include; shortage of knowledge and few resources and informational channels on wildlife and conservation. There is narrow overall interest in conservation as needs have to be met and bills paid. Therefore, taking part in conservation efforts and not being able to satisfy one’s daily needs becomes an almost unlikely situation. Those who protect wild life (the government through Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service) are perceived to be the ones who should be concerned. This is very evident, especially, when conflicts occur and the authority concerned are even called out by politicians and leader to come take back ‘their animals’ or else they will be killed by the community. Young people also do not have role models such as parents or guardians who partake in conservation activities and efforts, hence do not see the need to be involved. Those living around protected areas do not understand why they even have wildlife around as the direct benefits are not tangible.
Not every young person can be able to visit a national park, game reserve or a forest reserve especially if they do not have the interest. It’s not a surprise when an elderly person living near proximity to a protected area says they have never seen a lion and they only hear of them. Children who live and follow such trends grow up to also only hear of them and consider these animals as a white affair, to be feared or for those who come from the towns. However, even in our urban setting, most young people will say going to these places is luxurious and time-consuming and only limited to those who have money.
More needs to be done in engaging the youth in wildlife conservation matters. Young people who have studied related disciplines should be encouraged themselves to go back to their communities to spread the knowledge and awareness. Sometimes we may be so ingrained to look for jobs while still in our urban set-ups without realising we have the knowledge and skills needed to inspire and spread awareness to those who have not been able to have the opportunities we have. Organisations should therefore not take this for granted or consider us too elite as these only leads to continued destruction, land degradations and conflicts which can be solved when the youth are involved. Indigenous knowledge should always be considered especially among elderly people who have answers to most questions and can share such knowledge with the youth. Transparency, inclusion and holistic practices should be the norm among conservation stakeholders if they want young people to be involved.
The film follows the lives of four young men and how they are making the effort to be change makers and thought leaders in their respective communities. Everyone should watch this film, whether young or old, as it offers hope for a tomorrow we can all look forward to when young people are involved in wildlife conservation and related disciplines. It is a perfect guideline to what happens when they are inspired and their ideas heard and action taken. It also offers a source of inspiration knowing that other young people can be inspired to start where they are with what they have (skills, energy, time and passion). As Wangari Maathai said it’s the little things that citizens do that make a difference. My little thing is planting trees.
At this point she expected you to say what your little thing is.
At some point, one of them is declined from accessing the only equatorial forest in Kenya by the Kenya Forest Service.
As a young person among the 75% of Kenyan youth, what is your little thing? What are you willing to do whether you have the support or not? What is your biggest advantage?
To conservation stakeholders. How are you willing to guide and assist young people to involved in wildlife conservation for those living around protected areas and those living in urban areas? The time is now. We are the majority. Our decisions can inspire generations living the planet at a better state for future generations. We are generation now.