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Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again

17-year-old Rahmina Paullete, climate activist at Fridays for Future, on her campaign to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods in Kisumu, Kenya
A pig looking for food on a rubbish dump next to Lake Victoria just outside of Mbita, Kisumu, Western Kenya

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 08 March 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Lake Victoria, one of the African Great Lakes, is the second-largest freshwater body in the world.

Over the last 40 years, it has been hit by a series of environmental challenges, including pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat damage and soil erosion.

Each has further increased the human suffering already compounded by climate change.

Most livelihoods in the region depend on the lake, so preserving its biological richness and ecological integrity is inked to a wider objective of enhancing the lake’s socio-economic benefits.

Corporate water lines and most sewage lines are directed to the lake, forcing people to drink unsafe water. This pollution is increasing the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Embodying climate action

After analysing the lake’s current challenges, I created a local youth-led organisation named Kisumu Environmental Champions, which focuses on environmental issues, wildlife conservation and climate change awareness.

The group brings teens and children together to make change in the world, and make a difference through advocacy for the environment and in the fight against climate change.

We conduct climate strikes and peaceful protests to demand local climate action and hold our leaders to account.

We are calling for a collective commitment towards climate justice through climate reparations.

Saturday For Environment has scaled community engagement by taking part in tree planting projects, with which we are keenly involved, and community clean-ups in the lake and environment.

We are witnessing an increasingly positive community response; our county, Kisimu, is one of the cleanest in Kenya.

We are on a roadmap to increase tree cover, carbon sinks and biodiversity. We plant bamboo, fruit trees and indigenous trees through projects with local communities and schools, in areas such as Kajulu Forest.

Reimagining the water hyacinth

We launched a campaign named Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again with a goal to restore, conserve and protect Lake Victoria’s biodiversity and ecosystem as well as raising awareness of its challenges at a grassroots level. 

I believe that there cannot be effective environmental management without improving the livelihoods of millions of people who live and work in the catchment.

All environmental interventions must be underlined by broader goals of poverty reduction and sustainable growth. 

Our primary source of income in our region is the lake, but because of the ongoing climate change, which has adversely affected our community, along with other reasons like pollution and an increase in water hyacinth, the lake is now complex to navigate, making it challenging to catch fish. 

Water hyacinth has historically been a menace to the entire Lake Victoria region.

It chokes the fish, reducing economic opportunities for fishermen, and hinders the navigation of boats.

Our solution to this problem involves recycling waste paper and using water hyacinth to make eco-friendly cards, bookmarks, hair bands, trays, coasters, chairs and bags.

The sustainable products support and protect the health of Lake Victoria while creating youth employment.

The goal of this project is to turn the water hyacinth into an environmentally friendly solution, while raising awareness of the need to preserve the lake and strengthen community resilience to the effects of climate change on sensitive ecosystems. 

Why youth matters

The challenges around the lake are more than just environmental – they are about people’s food security, employment and fears about sustainability.

We hope our water hyacinth project grows and increases youth employment and economic vibrancy; we have already helped to address youth involvement in drug abuse and early pregnancies.

We intend to hold additional climate strikes, engage in advocacy work and lobby to increase public support for a safer environment.

Our goal is to further raise awareness about climate change and hold politicians accountable for taking action in conservation.

We feel that as a group of young people, we are knowledgeable about how to address today’s global concerns and challenges. 

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