Christine  |  She/Her

It Takes a Woman!

Mtwapa, Kenya

Session 4: January 30, 2023

My childhood was full of fun, with a lot of pleasant memories. I always say, with a lot of pride, that I am a coastal girl. I loved going to the beach, just to smell the ocean and hear the waves crashing. I loved to see the blue color that gives the ocean its beauty, and I would see huge green trees, covering vast tracts of land along the coastline. I would learn later that those were mangroves.

The ocean was home to me. I felt a sense of belonging, and I could always run there whenever I was out of school. That place gave me a lot of peace, a lot of serenity.

(Before I forget, one thing—I used to have a favorite type of fish. In Swahili, it is known as kiboma. I would literally cry if my mom did not cook kiboma.)

But with time, I realized that the beauty of the place I called home was fading. Fishermen were cutting trees to make boats for themselves, the smell was changing due to piles of trash dumped close to the ocean, and the saddest thing I experienced was that, after some time, I was no longer able to get kiboma. I would ask my mom, “What’s wrong? Why am I not able to eat my favorite fish?”

And she’d tell me, “I went to the market, but the fishermen say it’s not available anymore.”

As a coastal girl, according to our culture here, education was not really given a lot of priority. Most of the time, we would sit by the fire, listening to stories that our mother told us. Because we were next in line: once she had to tend to the other kids, we were supposed to take on the role of cooking and preparing food for the family. I, however, liked school so much and was utterly curious about what was happening around us and our environment. I didn’t have someone who could tell me what, exactly, was happening—that our actions are actually doing a lot of harm to our coastal way of life.

And then one day, it happened. I bagged an award for the best essay on the importance of trees. Our English teacher was impressed and gave me a newspaper, and that was around the time that a Kenyan woman named Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize. So I read through her story, and, as young as I was, I felt like I really connected to her: to the fact that she was able to use her power. She was able to use her voice. She wanted to change her community, and she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize because of her relentless efforts in environmental protection. There was one time when she was in braids, and she was protesting, and security forces actually pulled the braid from her hair. You can imagine how painful that was, but it didn’t stop her. I admired that courage, and I told myself that I wanted to be like her, because the beauty of this place I call home is fading.

I wanted to be able to bring back this beauty. I wanted to be able to speak up for the ocean, and speak up for the trees being cut down on a daily basis. I wanted to be able to educate my community about the issues of climate change. And the story of this woman carved a path for me, because by the time I joined secondary school, I already knew my calling was in environmental conservation. As much as my parents wanted me to do a different course, I was adamant.

There’s a saying in Swahili: “nabii hatuzwi kwa.” It means that a prophet is never appreciated in his home country. But this woman, Wangari Maathai, changed the story. She gained a lot of recognition, and through her work, lots of women and girls started learning about environmental conservation—not just nationally, but in my community. You can imagine the smile that came to my face the time that I went back home for the school holiday break and my mother told me about planting trees. “My people are becoming aware of the responsibility to take care of our shared planet,” I thought to myself.

Wangari Maathai has inspired multiple generations, bringing forth a movement of women and girls who want to use their voices, use their power, in climate action. I’m one of them. And there are a lot of us, who are doing so much in our communities. But that does not mean that we need to slow down. If we do not change our activities and our attitudes, then we are going to have more plastic than fish. We are not close to conquering in the climate war. As a young person from the Global South, I think that we need more collaborative action to bring climate justice to people like us, who are really most affected by the emergency.

Drawing on my experiences as an environmentalist throughout the years, I founded an organization. Known as Wiblue—for “Women in Blue Economy”—our main objective is to put women at the center of environmental conservation by letting them take lead roles in shaping environmentally sustainable societies. We also hope to develop the next generation of women conservationists who will advocate for the climate resilience of communities in coastal areas.

We say that we are able to make the light brighter by lighting each other’s candles. And just as Wangari Maathai’s story has inspired me, I have pledged my commitment to create positive change in my community through climate action, and I hope I will be able to inspire a lot of other girls and women, too.

Thank you.

Christine is a marine conservationist and a proponent of the Blue Economy committed to building a climate resilient future for coastal communities. She has been instrumental in promoting sustainable tourism, campaigning for clean seas and encouraging the use of nature based solutions in the restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems.