“Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity”. This excerpt from Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On care for our common home, reflects the true status of the environmental change that has been experienced across the globe. Arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya, specifically the Ngwata area in the south east, has not been spared either. Rapid changes in the climatic conditions of this region, have occurred within a very short time, leaving many livelihoods at unprecedented risk.
Memories of this region form just 2 decades ago, would reveal expansive biodiverse forests, some permanent rivers and ephemeral streams, which would flow for some time even after the rainy seasons were over. Rainy seasons were predictable, and would guarantee food security for the local population. All this is no more, thanks to alarming rates of deforestation, which has exacerbated soil erosion, inhibited watershed stability and carbon sequestration provided by forests, making water an extremely scarce resource in this region. An area where living is hard, the devastating effects of land degradation have made life even harder. This situation necessitates urgent concrete actions to reverse the domino effects of environmental degradation.
Young Catholics from St. Angelus, Ngwata Church, in the Catholic Diocese of Machakos, were inspired by the pillars of CYNESA, to proactively respond to this crisis. They embraced the message of Laudato Si’ and initiated a Laudato Si park within the church’s compound. The central goal of this initiative is to establish a living system, as part of their commitment to care for our common home, not only by planting trees, but also sustaining their growth. So far, resounding success has been achieved, as the first batch of trees planted in December 2019 achieved a survival rate of 85%.
Throughout the year 2020, which was characterized by horrendous drought and the Covid19 pandemic, the youth irrigated the trees and protected them from predation by grazing animals, hence the high survival rate. More tree seedlings were planted towards the end of 2020, and the youth renewed their commitment in leading tree planting challenge in their homes. Those who emerge tops in the challenge will be rewarded in the 3rd phase of the project, during inspection of the Laudato Si’ park in December of 2021.
Tree planting is one of the simplest contributions people can offer to address various environmental problems. When led from the perspective of promoting care towards God’s creation, it can help us take back the environment to its pristine state. Young people should realize that the future will be determined by their actions now, and step up in taking active leadership roles in the face of climate change and environmental degradation to save the planet and future generations. Young Catholics from Ngwata are doing just that.