I Grew Up in Extreme Poverty and It Silenced Me. Defending Our Planet Gave Me Back My Voice.

Winnie Cheche is photographed in Nairobi, Kenya in June 2021.

rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Why Global Citizens Should Care

Climate change affects everyone, but disproportionately impacts poorer nations and communities as a result of rising sea levels, destruction of natural habitats, and extreme weather events. The United Nations’s Global Goal 13 calls for action on climate change. You can join us in defending the planet here.

Winnie Cheche is a young conservationist, blogger, climate activist, and volunteer from Nairobi, Kenya. She’s the communication lead at Kenya Environmental Action Network.

Here, Cheche shares why she became a climate activist and what we can learn from Kenya’s ban on single-use plastics which is often characterised as the world’s strictest ban on plastics.

You can read more from the In My Own Words series here.

I believe that we are custodians of nature, and that it is our duty to protect it.

Through my blog, which I started in February 2018, I do my best to promote awareness on sustainable living and wildlife conservation in Kenya. By participating in the various climate action-oriented innovations and activities by Kenyan youth, I tell their stories to inspire more people to be part of the solution. My goal is to enable or give people reasons to fall in love with our planet and wildlife.

Environmental preservation and wildlife conservation holds the better part of my heart. I wish for a world where green is not just a colour but part of our existence, and where conservation doesn’t need policing but instead involves people willingly taking good care of our wildlife.

I am lucky to have spent the best part of my childhood living next to Lake Nakuru National Park, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, which allowed me access to wildlife and beauty while I was still very young.

I also witnessed poaching, and poachers selling cheap game meat, because the meat from butcheries was somehow more expensive for most people in the neighborhood. My neighbors hid poachers and promoted these illegal trades.

As I grew up, I understood how poaching caused a decrease in certain wildlife. We started seeing fewer types of animals from the fences, such as gazelle, and I started promoting awareness of the importance of staying away from poaching. At first, most people didn’t really understand it. Now, they ask questions, add their comments and opinions, and even tell me similar stories from their own experiences.

IMOW_WinnieCheche_RootsofAfrikaForGlobalCitizen_Diptych1.jpg(L) A pathway at the Nairobi Arboretum in Nairobi Kenya in June 2021. (R) “Environment preservation and wildlife conservation holds the better part of my heart,” says Winnie Cheche, pictured here.
Image: rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Political instability robbed my parents of a lot while I was growing up, which forced us into extreme poverty. It was hard to be heard or even taken seriously when we didn’t have much back then.

A lack of political will to address some of our challenges remains a problem in Kenya, but social media introduced a twist to it. If you are able to make good use of social media, then you are able to have your voice heard. Social media has helped me to promote education and awareness on the topics I am passionate about, and to connect to people doing the same.

My passion for nature and wildlife led to my choice of pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and I started studying wildlife management. I couldn’t wait to complete my studies and work in a wildlife field as a park warden or researcher. However, most of these jobs are heavily influenced by nepotism, so I looked for work for several years with no luck. I ended up taking what was available: a job as a call centre agent in a BPO (business process outsourcing).

Despite the setback, there was no way I was going to let go of my passion for wildlife and nature. I started off with tweets and posts on matters concerning wildlife welfare and climate change issues. They were mainly my reactions towards what I saw in the news, or on the social media platforms.

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.

Winnie Cheche photographed at the Nairobi Arboretum.
Winnie Cheche is a young conservationist, blogger, climate activist, volunteer and Communication Lead at Kenya Environmental Action Network from Nairobi, Kenya.

rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Most people have yet to give these two topics the attention they deserve. Education and awareness creation are seriously needed, while speaking up remains key. These gave birth to my activism.

With time, I saw the posts and tweets didn’t allow me enough space to fully express what I needed people to understand. I wanted to share the importance of protecting our planet, especially wildlife. For example, the local media once referred to a stray elephant as “confused,” choosing not to explain that the area was once a wildlife corridor that elephants used before. So I wanted to explain how it all started, what needs to be done, and preventions that needed to be in place. That’s where blogging made more sense.

I went ahead and created a website as a tool for my activism. I do my best to break down issues around sustainability and wildlife conservation in the simplest terms, with hope that I will reach more people and convince them to join the cause. I also tell stories of hope from what other people are doing towards achieving a better planet.

This has led me to collaborate with more people and organisations in these fields, and we continue to help people understand issues around climate change, sustainability, and wildlife conservation. We help them see clearly the negative activities we engage in that are harmful to our planet, and take them through solutions to make our planet better.

IMOW_WinnieCheche_RootsofAfrikaForGlobalCitizen_Diptych2.jpg“I wish for a world where green is not just a colour, but part of our existence,’ writes Winnie Cheche.
Image: rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Kenya banned the use, manufacture, and importation of plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in August 2017. This ban has really helped us towards dealing with plastic pollution and in the fight against climate change.

The easy accessibility of plastic bags promoted unnecessary packaging, which, in turn, meant production of more plastic bags. This is no longer a problem after the ban — people now appreciate carrying their carrier bags from home. The ban helped to reduce the overwhelming plastic bags that were choking our environment, killing our livestock, and even blocking the drainage system. And no more fossil fuels need to be exploited to produce the once-needed single-use plastic bag.

We are yet to fully benefit from this ban with our neighboring countries still producing banned plastics, which people sneak into Kenya. And since most people are yet to really understand why these plastic bags were banned, they end up using them in secret. A lack of proper and effective awareness for the public meant we ended up creating a new problem. This led to the introduction of the non-woven Polypropylene bags, which were later banned in March 2019.

But Kenya’s ban on single-use plastic is ultimately a success — because it involved the users. When we continue to offer eco-friendly alternatives and policies to curb the negative human activities, we are able to make the needed shift towards climate action.

IMOW_WinnieCheche_RootsofAfrikaForGlobalCitizen_010.jpgWinnie Cheche is photographed as she shops for produce at a market in Nairobi with her reusable bag. In August 2017, Kenya banned the use, manufacture and importation of plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
Image: rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

Our leaders need to acknowledge that climate change is already here with us, and it needs to be part of their daily conversations. We need them to make decisions that support climate action and not their greed. We already have climate refugees, and people who have lost a lot to the impact of climate change and will continue to suffer, as everyone else embraces a business-as-usual mentality.

Just because you haven’t been hit yet, it doesn’t mean climate change is non-existent. It’s already causing catastrophic problems, and we have limited time to act.

Activists are not the enemy; they are just concerned people who are tired of doing and saying nothing as our planet burns.

We need to embrace development practices that support the welfare of our environment: embracing clean energy, staying away from plastics, increasing our forest cover, supporting climate change education and awareness, and staying true to nationally determined contributions and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

No action is too small when it comes to climate action. The simple act of carrying your reusable carrier bag, bottle, or cup means a lot to our planet. Embracing simple, sustainable acts at home is the beginning to the climate action we are yearning for as a planet.

Climate change is a global challenge. We need to address it as a team.

IMOW_WinnieCheche_RootsofAfrikaForGlobalCitizen_023.jpgWinnie Cheche, photographed in Nairobi, Kenya, is a young conservationist, blogger, climate activist, volunteer and Communication Lead at Kenya Environmental Action Network.
Image: rootsofafrika for Global Citizen

If you’re a writer, activist, or just have something to say, you can make submissions to Global Citizen’s Contributing Writers Program by reaching out to contributors@globalcitizen.org.

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