Meet the amazing activist breaking down stigma and teaching kids to take climate action
As a child, Doyinsola Ogunye wanted to be a scientist and change the world, just like the cartoon characters she watched.
“I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to invent things and create solutions,” she told Global Citizen. Years later, she is doing just that, not only changing the world, but also inspiring children to do the same.
“In the formative years of children, it is important that they know and be able to imbibe the values and this will definitely change their outlook on life. If we teach 2 million children the right things to do, we know that in the near future we will have more children and people supporting a cleaner, healthier environment,” says Ogunye, on the importance of educating children for the future. .
This idea that climate-conscious children will one day become adults who are actively protecting the environment is one of the guiding principles of Ogunye’s climate activism and the reason she started the non-profit organization Mental. and Environmental Development for Children (MEDIC).
MEDIC’s main program, Kids Clean Club, is designed to teach children the importance of caring for the environment, encouraging them to pick up litter, sort recyclables and adopt other environmentally friendly habits of the climate.
MEDIC also operates the Kids Beach Garden in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s a sustainable beach space where children are encouraged to plant trees and clean up the beach while playing games and developing their social skills.
While young girls and women suffer the worst impact of Nigeria’s high poverty rates, Ogunye also recognizes the importance of using her environmental work to empower women and girls.
She tells Global Citizen that’s why MEDIC also runs a program called the Recycling Scheme for Women and Youth Empowerment (RESWAYE), which is designed to leverage recycling initiatives as a tool for the economic empowerment of women in disadvantaged communities.
For International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022, Ogunye spoke with BellaNaija and Global Citizen, as part of the IMPACT series, about how her work breaks down prejudice, the importance of climate activism and what it’s like to be a woman working to defend the planet in Nigeria.
How it all began
Ogunye was first pushed to tackle Nigeria’s waste problem many years ago when her family moved to Lagos. She saw many children interact with polluted waterways and streets filled with hazardous waste and it left an indelible mark on her.
“I asked myself: ‘what can we do to change this?’ I started talking to old people but no one really understood what I was saying. So I decided to talk to these children and encourage them to take care of their environment. We started playing games together as they learned to take care of their environment,” she says.
“Soon after that I started going to schools to teach about recycling and tree planting and that’s how it all started,” she added. “Children cannot vote or change laws, but they can do small things in their environment that would change the world on a global level. That’s why I encourage them to do things for the love of the environment.
Schools as partners
Children spend more time in school than anywhere else, therefore educational institutions must assume their role in ensuring that there is an environmental protection program and strategy for their children, explains Ogunye to Global Citizen.
“Little things like talking about it every day at gathering places; take kids to see tree-planting efforts and even plant trees themselves; and show them the effects of harmful waste on them and their environment through field trips. Schools can [do so much to help build empathy for our environment] in children. These little things can also be incorporated into the school curriculum. We should not just talk about it, but do something,” she says.
Another way is for schools that are currently engaging in environmental protection activities to share their efforts with the world through social channels, which can potentially encourage other educational institutions to do the same, adds Ogunye.
Ogunye and her team have been talking to children in schools since 2010, and so far they have visited 85 schools. “The idea is to put Kids Clean Club in those schools and let the schools run them,” she says.
Nigeria and climate change
Although Nigeria is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other treaties aimed at stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (i.e. the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement), the country is still far from building a credible culture of sustainability. In fact, its very first policy on climate change was not developed in 2012 and which has so far had little success.
President Muhammadu Buhari has just signed the Climate Change Act (which includes a net zero goal for 2050 to 2070) into law in November 2021, but experts say the law does not comprehensively cover many key areas such as carbon dioxide removal, and does not provide any details on how the Nigerian government plans to apply its provisions or rely on them.
The inconsistencies around the Climate Change Act also highlight a significant issue affecting everyday Nigerians: climate apathy. People (perhaps understandably) just don’t think climate change is that important.
“We have a lot to learn. We have a lot of work to do,” says Ogunye. “To be honest, it’s below average. People don’t care and they don’t care because they think it doesn’t really affect them. So we need to do a lot more to make sure people are aware of the importance of protecting our environment.
One of the main challenges, according to Ogunye, is the lack of societal structures that punish behavior that harms the environment or encourage actions that protect it.
“People feel like they don’t have to do anything. They feel since there is no [punishment]they can burn their waste [rather than dispose of it properly] if they want,” Ogunye told Global Citizen. “No one really cares about the effects of harmful environmental practices on themselves and others. [most] people, they want to save money — they don’t want to pay waste bills or “recycle stress”.
Meaningful Climate Actions Anyone Can Take
With extreme weather events being reported around the world, paying attention to our environment and taking meaningful climate action is more important than ever. Ogunye says we can start with the simplest things, such as:
- Bring a bag to the supermarket where you shop instead of having a new one every time (we all know they keep piling up at home!)
- Plant a tree (to celebrate birthdays, to commemorate the death of people, for any reason)
- Let’s talk about climate action
- Celebrate meaningful climate action and the environmental champions behind them
“There are so many ways to do little things that add up because there are so many of us in Nigeria,” says Ogunye.
On the government side, Ogunye says it is essential to continue to organize orientation and awareness campaigns on how our treatment of the environment affects us in the long and short term.
Ogunye also adds that policymakers need to create an enabling environment for businesses and innovators working in the sustainability sector to thrive.
Overcoming challenges through impact
In carrying out their work, Ogunye says she and her team face two major challenges: security and socio-cultural barriers such as language, religion and customary beliefs.
These challenges are often exacerbated because Ogunye is a woman and Nigeria’s well-documented patriarchal society often does not appreciate women taking positive action in any field.
But society’s attitude toward women hasn’t stopped Ogunye and her team, she tells Global Citizen. Since the MEDIC team began visiting schools in 2010, they have conducted awareness and training programs in over 85 schools in Lagos State alone and planted over 2,000 trees in schools and public spaces.
Through the RESWAYE program, the team also removed 200 tonnes of plastic waste from waterways and provided economic support to over 3,000 women. In total, Ogunye and the MEDIC team have reached over 15,000 people in Lagos and Ondo states.
Projects for the future
Ogunye’s goal is to continue to reach more and more children and communities across Nigeria and Africa.
“Right now we are focused on getting recycling banks and [other] projects to more communities. We are currently in about 24 communities and we are working to reach 26 more so that we can have at least 50 coastal communities experiencing recycling,” she says.
Because MEDIC works in many rural communities, most beneficiaries of its RESWAYE program do not have access to the other essential financial services they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Ogunye says she and her team are developing a strong financial inclusion strategy so that these women and girls can increase their abilities to break the cycle of poverty.
With more children, women and communities, comes the need for more human resources, and Ogunye says the organization is also working to expand its volunteer base across the country.