Eco-Entrepreneur wins APE’s Earth Citizen Award

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We all know one – an ‘unsung hero’ – someone who beavers away tirelessly for the good of others without expecting any recognition or personal gain. They just do it because, well, it’s the right thing to do. Here at APE our work has brought us into contact with many such people over the years, who are seeking to find ways to live more lightly on this beautiful Earth.

Clifford Akwana (far right) teaching a class at the school he founded in Kayole, Nairobi

Clifford Akwana (far right) teaching a class at the school he founded in Kayole, Nairobi

So it is with great pleasure that we announce the first winner of our new Earth Citizen Award, created to honour and acknowledge the important work these unsung heroes are doing, often in the most difficult of circumstances. This year’s Award goes to Clifford Akwana from Kayole, an eastern suburb of Nairobi city in Kenya, a place that is beset by economic and environmental problems. Clifford who is 27 and married with one child, first came to our attention when he applied to APE for funding to support his WOPA Tyre Shoe Project – an innovative scheme designed to create employment for young people in Kayole whilst simultaneously using waste products (tyres) and producing affordable shoes. We were suitably impressed and decided to support the project. Clifford, to his credit, kept in touch with APE. He used social media to keep us informed of his work; to support other projects that we initiated and to befriend our friends and grow his own networks. We have been continually impressed by Clifford’s ingenuity and dedication.

 

APE’s Earth Citizen Award was created to honour and acknowledge the important work being done by unsung heroes, often in the most difficult of circumstances.

Life has thrown plenty of challenges at Clifford. “After my father died, my mother raised myself and my brother and sister alone – not an easy thing to do in the slums of Soweto in Kayole, where I attended informal schools. At times, I had to leave school to find work to support the family, but eventually, I completed high school in 2010. I became aware of environmental issues when I came across the work of the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement here in Nairobi. She has been my greatest inspiration ever since. Her determination to plant trees and improve the environment against all odds – including imprisonment – made me realise that anything is possible. When life seems hard, I think of her.”

“When life seems hard, I think of her – Wangari Maathai”.

Pollution in the Ngong River, one of Clifford's major concerns.

Pollution in the Ngong River, one of Clifford’s major concerns.

Clifford’s main concerns in his hometown are environmental and educational. “I was especially touched by the pollution caused by dumping in the Ngong river riparian zone in Kayole, where businesses and inhabitants dispose of waste with impunity,” he told us. “There is a ‘Don’t Care’ attitude towards pollution, but I see this as mostly educational. People don’t see the longer-term consequences so they don’t really care. I have organised lots of clean-up operations along the river banks and surrounding area, but the problem is that city-wide, there waste management situation is very poor – so even when we clean the river up, where does the waste go then? We have to contend with blocked sewerage systems, polythene and plastics dumping and disposal issues, lack of tree coverage, lack of educational facilities and recreational space for children… these are the main issues that I am trying to alleviate in Kayole. It is not easy because a lot of these problems arise from government level, but I truly believe that living by example, and cleaning up our mess at source, really helps. ”

Africa Collection jewellery and tyre shoes, ready for sale – just some of the projects that Clifford has founded and supervises.

Green Africa Collection jewellery and tyre shoes, ready for sale – just some of the projects that Clifford has founded and supervises.

As well as the tyre shoe project, Clifford is working on three other projects: The Green Africa Collection – a jewellery collection made from recycled materials. The project also makes baskets and soccer balls – very popular with young boys in the area – from recycled polythene paper, thereby minimising one of the main environmental pollutants. He also runs a school project in Soweto slum, assisting disadvantaged and destitute children to access education. Through this project, a culture of environmental conservation and advocacy is instilled in the children. Clifford also founded and runs WOPA Kenya which supports young and talented children from Kayole to promote environmental advocacy through the performing arts.

“There is a ‘Don’t Care’ attitude towards pollution.”

It’s clear Clifford isn’t afraid of the hard work involved in running so many projects. “I am an early riser,” he told us, “so I have time to focus on all the projects I run. I wake up at 4:00am in the morning, exercise for one hour, then check the national and international news channels – especially CNN and Aljazeera – to update myself on what is happening locally and in the wider world. After taking breakfast, I go straight to the WOPA project workshop for the better part of the day, helping to manage the projects and oversee development. I teach in the afternoon at the school that I set up to assist the needy children, and some evenings, I visit the environmental clubs in primary schools to give environmental awareness talks and encourage children to actively participate in environmental issues.”

Clifford says, “I am proud and honoured to be the first recipient of the APE Earth Citizen Award. It will help to raise awareness of my ambassadorship of environmental conservation and preservation through education, climate change mitigation projects, wildlife protection, water and waste management issues, and youth and women’s development issues.”

Congratulations Clifford – you are a worthy winner!

APE's first Earth Citizen Award 2016, given to Clifford Akwana in recognition of his services to people and planet.

APE’s first Earth Citizen Award 2016, given to Clifford Akwana in recognition of his services to people and planet.

As part of the Award, Clifford receives a grant from APE to enable him to further develop his projects. For more details on the Earth Citizen Award or APE’s work in general, contact lorna@apeuk.org

 

 

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