On the Day of the African Child, We Must Advocate for Climate Education

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By Tiyiso Mbeleji, Teach For Zimbabwe student, Chiredzi, Zimbabwe

The Day of the African Child came into existence because of the massacre of hundreds of South African children who refused to be taught Afrikaans. That struggle and its prominence world-wide marked the beginning of one of the struggles of the African child. Currently the whole world is engulfed and being suffocated by climate change effects and undesirable natural disasters. This has not spared the African child. It is a struggle that is affecting the African child economically, socio-culturally, technologically, and politically.

In the African context, how does climate change or the climate crisis affect the African child? Climate change has not spared anyone in the world, including African children and in particular those in marginalised communities. Reflecting on my own background as a girl child, we are the ones who are responsible for fetching firewood and water to use at home. Because of climate change we are forced to walk unimaginable distances in unfriendly environments where we are susceptible to rape and child trafficking. 

Deforestation and lowered water tables resulting from climate change have led to this crisis for the African child. The majority of us are engaged in deforestation because it’s our source of income and we are forced to keep on doing it without thinking twice. Our community is in climatic region five and it's fast turning into a desert area because of climate change. This increases the suffering of the local people, especially the children, which is the case in most African communities. Water is becoming a scarce resource in our local area because the boreholes that were drilled are now dry, forcing people to move to other areas in search of water. This is creating a lot of social unrest in the community—people are fighting over the water as they have to queue for the precious liquid, and some, usually girls, even wake up as early as 3 a.m. just to hold a position. Zimbabwe is not the only country facing this predicament, many of the African countries south of the Sahara are also enduring a climate crisis.

The persistent droughts that are wreaking havoc in the majority of African states including Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and others have caused untold suffering to the African child. Most African economies are agro-based meaning they are dependent on agriculture for the majority of their exports. The prevalence of droughts means that their economies will suffer budget deficits and this will affect women and children to a greater extent. Due to the droughts, the majority of rural parents are marrying under-aged children just to make a living, adding salt to the wound. Indeed the African child is under attack from the climate crisis.


Climate solutions lie in local empowerment and indigenous knowledge

The exposure of the African child to floods and heat waves has caused a lot of psychological trauma. In our own area, Cyclone Idai has left a lot of people homeless, not to mention the destruction it caused to schools, clinics, roads, and agricultural fields, which are our centre of existence. In our area we witnessed a lot of school drop outs, as Cyclone Idai left the majority of the parents without any means of survival. The tropical cyclones also led to the growth of water borne diseases like cholera, typhoid and malaria. Africa has one of the highest number of deaths recorded as a result of malaria and cholera in the world, and the African child is always at the receiving end. 

Calamities like cyclones, floods, and heat waves are brought about by climate change, and they are causing parents to make forced migrations to greener pastures, leaving the children behind. In our community we have a lot of child-headed families due to forced migration as a result of the climate crisis. These children are vulnerable to abuses both physical and emotional. Some of them, due to lack of parental guidance, will indulge in substance abuse and prostitution, leading to early child pregnancies and girls dropping out of school.

What must be done to help the African child? The most critical and appropriate place to support the African child is in school. African children need to be educated and equipped with climate change education so that they are able to implement the necessary measures that conserve the environment for a better future. They are going to be the future leaders of the continent, and therefore it is critical that they become an important arm in the fight against climate change. Schools must become centres of conservation programmes and climate change education.

As African children we can solve the problems climate change has caused if we are given the power to control our own education systems. Give us the space to demonstrate what we can do—for example, we can engage in tree planting, like at Mwenje Primary School, where our teacher Mr. Dongo started a club called Learners in the Fight Against Climate Change (LIFACC). The aim of this club is to reduce and provide psychological and emotional support to us children affected by climate change, and also to explore through experiential learning the causes, impacts, mitigation, and adaptation of climate change.

We are proud African children at our school because we are able to play a part in the fight against climate change. We are engaged in conservation agriculture, creating seed banks, reuse of plastic bottles, clean up campaigns, water harvesting, and food preservation. All of these activities help the African child to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

Tiyiso Mbeleji is a 14-year-old Teach For Zimbabwe student and a member of Teach For All's Student Leader Advisory Council. Learn more about her climate activisim in this video featuring Tiyiso, her teacher Edson, and other students in the club Learners in the Fight Against Climate Change.