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Kenya's school children re-invigorating urban green spaces

Pupils among other people take part in a cleanup exercise at Baba Dogo neighbourhood in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo by Naftali Mwaura/Xinhua)

At the age of 13, Gabriel Atieli has already joined a community-based volunteer group that has taken up with gusto the clearing of solid waste that litters his neighborhood located on the eastern edges of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

NAIROBI, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- At the age of 13, Gabriel Atieli has already joined a community-based volunteer group that has taken up with gusto the clearing of solid waste that litters his neighborhood located on the eastern edges of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The grade eight pupil who shares a tiny apartment in the low-income Nairobi's Baba Dogo suburb with his parents and two siblings said that witnessing his neighborhood choking with garbage forced him to act.

Atieli attends a public school adjacent to his parents' rented flat and thanks to urging from his teachers and local green campaigners, he has become a tireless champion of a clean environment in an otherwise rundown neighborhood.

"During the weekends, I always join my schoolmates for clean-up activities in our neighborhood. We also engage in trimming overgrown hedges and grass to keep off mosquitos and other harmful insects," Atieli told Xinhua during a recent interview.

Adjacent to Atieli's densely populated neighborhood is the Nairobi River, which has been an eyesore for many years amid the dumping of plastic waste and raw sewer, posing serious health risks to downstream communities.

With support from charitable organizations, Atieli's school has been roped into an innovative program that seeks to encourage children and youth from Nairobi's informal settlements to become champions of a healthy environment.

Raymond Rotich, a 15-year-old Grade eight pupil enrolled in the same public school as Atieli said that growing up near a swelling landfill motivated him to take up environmental conservation with unwavering dedication.

Pupils take part in a cleanup exercise at Baba Dogo neighbourhood in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Nov. 22, 2022. (Photo by Naftali Mwaura/Xinhua)

Whenever he has free time, the bubbly teenager reveals that he picks up a slasher belonging to his father and trims overgrown grass surrounding his residential flat.

In addition, Rotich said he also participates in weekend clean-up exercises organized by his school in partnership with local administrators to help clear plastic debris from the open fields where children play games.

Rotich said that courtesy of the active participation of school children in planting trees and collecting garbage litter dumped in the alleys, the greenery in his neighborhood has acquired a new sparkle.

As part of activities to mark World Children's Day which is observed annually on Nov. 20, schools in Nairobi's sprawling informal settlements organized clean-up activities to encourage minors to become part of the solution to the escalating pollution crisis in East Africa's largest metropolis.

Mike Atogo, a languages and social studies teacher at a public school in Nairobi's Baba Dogo estate which neighbors a host of industries said that motivating children to become eco-warriors is enshrined in the new curriculum.

Atogo said that since the introduction of a competence-based curriculum in elementary schools, young pupils had been equipped to take care of their environment, and become custodians of iconic species like insects and plants.

"By ensuring that they actively participate in conserving their environment, these children have also developed life-long skills besides embracing the values of teamwork, service, and hard work," said Atogo.

He added that dozens of public elementary schools have partnered with international charities and local green groups to restore biodiversity along the Nairobi River riparian land, choking with plastic litter.

Milan Priscah, a 12-year-old Grade 5 pupil at a public school adjacent to open grounds that have often been turned into landfills said that children from the informal settlements envision a future that is green and devoid of massive pollution.

At the tender age of seven, Priscah was already actively involved in collecting garbage strewn near her parents rented apartment besides participating in some tree planting exercises in her neighborhood organized by the local administration.

Priscah said that children have a critical role to play in restoring degraded urban green spaces since they stand to lose more from environmental degradation fueled by societal ineptitude.

The involvement of school children has reinvigorated grassroots-based initiatives aimed at restoring green spaces in Nairobi's informal settlements, choking with solid and liquid waste, said Jonathan Olukoye, a village elder in Baba Dogo suburb.

Olukoye, a middle-aged father of four, said that mentoring a growing army of young eco-warriors in the low low-income has started paying dividends as evidenced by the absence of garbage heaps and unattended bushes.

"So whenever these children pick up brooms and rakes to clear the bushes, our neighborhood becomes another oasis of serenity," said Olukoye.

"We intend to engage the school children on a long-term basis to help reclaim green spaces that have long been used for leisure and sporting activities," he added.

Robert Achoge, the Director of Communications and Liaisons at Nairobi-based social enterprise, Chemolex Limited, said that school outreach programs have been a game changer in the restoration of urban green landscapes. ■