Join us in celebrating World Environment Day and the remarkable efforts of climate activists worldwide fighting for environmental justice. In this spotlight feature, we shine a light on the inspiring work of Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu, a feminist peace and climate activist from WILPF Cameroon. Together with local organisations and government bodies, including “Association Communauté et Développement Durable” (CODED) and MINEPDED, they have empowered students and educators from five secondary schools in the Littoral region to champion environmental awareness and protection. Discover how their program equips young minds with the knowledge, skills, and values needed to drive positive change and combat climate change. Join us as we delve into their strategies for a greener future.
5 June is World Environment Day, and this year’s theme is to “beat plastic pollution”. How has your project contributed to tackling the issue of plastic pollution in your country?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: In our country, plastic pollution demands serious attention, even with the presence of recycling companies. Throughout the project, we engaged with students and their supervisors to address the detrimental impact of plastic waste on the environment and explore ways to reduce our reliance on plastics. Participants discovered that plastic waste poses a significant threat to marine ecosystems as it does not biodegrade. They also recognised the harmful consequences of burning plastic, releasing toxic fumes that jeopardise both our health and the planet. Through these discussions, students and supervisors embraced sustainable waste management practices, including waste collection, enabling the transformation of plastic waste. Already, Joss and Bépanda high schools have taken proactive measures, and other schools will follow suit starting next year.
The project is focused on environment education and awareness among secondary students. Why is education amongst young people so important for the promotion of environment and climate action?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: Young people make up the largest proportion of the Cameroonian population and appear to be the most exposed to the consequences of climate change. Recognising that climate action is synonymous with peace, it becomes imperative for us to cultivate environmental consciousness among young people. Our goal was to train and equip these students, who make up the majority, with knowledge about climate change and environmental protection. We aimed to heighten their awareness, inspire their active involvement, and empower them to combat climate change’s effects while embracing sustainable solutions. Young people exhibit heightened alertness, deep commitment, and a genuine eagerness to learn, all essential requirements in acknowledging the climate emergency and driving positive change.
Has the project empowered students to be actors of change? If so, how?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: Yes, through our efforts, we have raised awareness among over 1800 secondary school students, leading to the formation of environmental clubs or the establishment of new clubs in previously untouched schools. Witnessing the beauty and vitality of nature, students have taken initiatives such as planting flowers and creating school gardens, enhancing the greenery and aesthetic appeal of their educational institutions. Moreover, this project has further strengthened the resolve and capabilities of teachers and students at JOSS High School who were already engaged in environmental protection endeavours. On Earth Day, 22 April, students from CPLAN and HENRI DUMONT high schools rallied their peers, spreading awareness about the importance of environmental preservation.
As a result of this project, how are students and schools implementing actions to protect the environment?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: Indeed, some remarkable actions have been initiated. At JOSS High School, for instance, waste generated within the school premises is now systematically collected. Thanks to our training, students at this school have implemented effective waste management strategies, including repurposing plastic waste into useful objects and implementing compost systems. Similarly, BEPANDA High School has introduced a weekly column in their newspaper, aptly named “the environment minute,” where members of the newspaper club conscientiously remind the school’s 5300 students about adopting ecologically responsible practices for a cleaner and healthier campus. Moreover, the establishment of school gardens at BEPANDA High School, utilising organic waste as a natural fertiliser, further contributes to their environmental efforts. On Earth Day, trained students and members of the environmental club at BEPANDA High School actively collected plastic bottles within the school premises, reinforcing their commitment to reducing plastic waste.
What are your biggest learnings from this project that you would like to share with others?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: Through this project, we have come to realise the prevailing lack of information among students regarding environmental protection, and the climate emergency. It is crucial that they actively participate in finding sustainable solutions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, it is essential to provide training and raise awareness among administrators and educators in primary and secondary schools so that they can play a bigger role in climate action. We have observed a lack of environmental consciousness in some schools, with inadequate waste management policies in place. While progress has been made at the state level, it is imperative to encourage the Ministry of the Environment and its regional representatives to establish a comprehensive program supporting the development of eco-conscious schools. This program could include initiatives such as competitions to recognise the cleanest neighbourhoods and schools, fostering positive change. Ultimately, our main lesson learned is that environmental education should leave no one behind, especially the youth who carry the potential for a better future. Each and every one of us has a role to play in protecting the environment.
What’s next? How are you continuing your work for the protection of the environment?
Aubine Sandrine Mahda Kepseu: Following our engagements with the schools, we have witnessed the strengthening and formation of environmental clubs. We collaborate with these clubs, conducting regular awareness campaigns for students. We also organise small-scale competitions on environmental occasions to further engage students. Additionally, we actively participate in seminars and roundtable discussions organised by regional and departmental environmental authorities, allowing us to broaden our knowledge beyond plastic waste management. Collaborating with collection and recycling companies, such as NAMè RECYCLING, we undertake various initiatives like collecting plastic bottles from beaches and markets. Considering our limited resources, both material and financial, expanding the project to more secondary schools is challenging. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts on these impactful actions to drive positive change.
This project was made possible thanks to the support of the WILPF Activist Grant, showcasing WILPF’s strong commitment to realising a future characterised by peace and environmental justice. By sharing this Q&A, you can play an essential role in raising awareness and fostering discussions around these critical issues. Let’s come together on World Environment Day and beyond to advocate for change, challenge existing power structures, make a lasting impact and create a sustainable world for generations to come.