CYNESA expands in 2015

December 17, 2015

CYNESA is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that brings together young people from different parts of Africa to work on environmental sustainability in the continent. CYNESA’s mission is to help young Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa – their movements and communities, individually and with their colleagues – to respond to the twin challenges of environmental degradation and climate change in an effective, coordinated and evangelical manner, culturally sensitive and spiritually grounded. Its mission is to link young Catholics together with colleagues in mutual encouragement and support.

CYNESA was conceptualized and set up in January 2012 and it has been making strides since then in dealing with the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change, from the perspective of Catholic social teaching on care for creation, paying attention to the most vulnerable.  CYNESA offers Catholic youth in Africa a chance to learn more about climate change and sustainability and become active in responding.  Africa is facing some of the most dire effects of climate change.  For example, in the Sahel region of West Africa, drought, conflict and poor harvests are driving hunger for more than 20 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa. The effects of El Niño may exacerbate the crisis. In addition, there are approximately 3.5 million displaced people in the Sahel, more than twice the total of last year.  Meanwhile, Kenya has made great strides in reforestation and the Green Belt movement has planted 51 million trees.

In November 2011, faith communities from around the world came together under the banner, We Have Faith – act now for climate justice, to champion for a just and robust outcome of the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa.  Young people from several African countries, joined by colleagues from Europe, formed a strong part of this initiative.  Indeed, many youth-led environmental movements are present in Africa, spurred on by the stark reality that Africa suffers enormously from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation.

CYNESA’s activities are tailored into three main areas:

  • Education and awareness creation – creating a toolkit on climate change that draws from scripture and Catholic social teaching.
  • Networking and advocacy training – establish and build relationships with like- minded partners, train young Catholics in advocacy on environmental sustainability, and different initiatives on the continent.
  • Encouraging and supporting concrete action plans at the local level – encourage young people to act in their parishes, schools and within their youth movements by developing appropriate sustainable practices to conserve resources.

CYNESA is run by a core team which plays a coordinating role for the entire network and its members work from multiple locations. This core team helps to grow and develop the network’s profile and identify resources to make this possible.  In 2014, CYNESA brought together young people from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo and Zimbabwe, who then discussed the environmental challenges facing Africa and the way forward for CYNESA in tackling the challenges and ensuring sustainable development. During the summit, CYNESA members strategized and developed a joint mission and action plan, identified the resources available to them and environmental priorities that they would tackle.  In 2014 CYNESA also started the Climate Change Toolkit and the Greening Hills Initiative.  CYNESA continues to hold “open days” and workshops for young people, aimed at sensitizing and empowering them to take care of creation as mandated by God, in order to avoid environmental degradation and harsh effects that come along with climate change which in turn poses a big threat to biodiversity. Through these forums, the organization educates and inspires as well as recruits new members for the network.  CYNESA has formed some strong networks with key offices, institutions, and individuals who would support the organization in implementing its mandate, including the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, H.E. Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo.  Funding continues to be a challenge and limiting factor in implementing projects, but the organization also has some very dedicated members who work as volunteers in all CYNESA activities.

Greening Hills Initiative

The Greening Hills Initiative (GHI), as its name suggests, is a restoration project that aims at planting trees in hilly areas whose vegetative cover had been depleted by human activities. This project was conceived jointly with the Catholic Diocese of Murang’a’ through its Bishop, James Maria Wainaina has always been keen on environmental conservation. The Diocese also has a strategic plan that includes aspects of environmental conservation and promoting sustainable livelihoods.  Murang’a town is surrounded by bare rocky hills, some of which are forested at the top but majority remain needy, bare and rocky. A need to rehabilitate these hills was identified for multiple reasons:

  1. To maintain the green beautiful nature of the hills and enhance their natural role in the ecosystem.
  2. To allow these hills to become recreational centres for relaxation, parks, support nature trails and even places of worship. People love nice scenery especially for social events such as weddings. Once rehabilitated the community would benefit greatly. Implementation would be done jointly with local communities who would be major beneficiaries of the rehabilitated areas. The GHI project is ongoing and the baseline study, planning and proposal writing are now accomplished.
  3. Promoting key environmental activities at local level.  One of the objectives of CYNESA is to promote key environmental activities at local levels. This objective aligns with the vision of rehabilitating the bare hills. The aim of taking part in this initiative is not to take over, rather it is to develop the hills and add value to them. There is need to educate and convince communities on the need to rehabilitate hills so that they understand and see the benefit. As a result, they will support and guard the project rather than jeopardizing it.

Once this project takes off successfully in Murang’a, it would be replicated in other parts of Kenya that needed restoration or ‘greening’. There were two other follow-up meetings on the same project that culminated in the development of a project proposal and application for funding.

Climate Change Toolkit

A key project of CYNESA is the climate change toolkit project for youth in Jesuit institutions in Africa was launched in March 2014, with generous support from the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.  A 2-day workshop in 2014 brought together 20 participants from St. Aloysius Gonzaga High School (Kenya), Loyola High School and St. Peter Claver High School (Tanzania) and the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Zimbabwe Jesuit Province (also representing St. Peter’s Kubatana High School, Zimbabwe) and the CYNESA core team members.

Speakers included experts from Tropical Biology, Kenya Organization for Environmental Education (KOEE), Hekima College Jesuit School of Theology, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) and the Advisor of the Holy See Mission to UNEP and UN Habitat.  The workshop provided participants the opportunity to:

  • Explore the causes and impacts of climate change in Africa
  • Explore what Catholic Social Teaching and the Ignatian spirituality say about care of creation
  • Learn from the experience of KOEE on the ESD-faith based toolkit and;
  • Work together in groups to create a work plan for the climate change toolkit project.

A climate change toolkit developed for youth by the Lutheran World Services was a model.  The CYNESA team worked on developing a baseline study, to determine the level of knowledge on climate change among students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga High School in Nairobi. Two interactive sessions on climate change were held with the students at Loyola High School (Dar es Salaam) and St. Peter Claver High School (Dodoma), Tanzania. Consultative meetings with the teachers involved in the project in the respective schools were also held. The students expressed their desire for further workshops to help them craft concrete climate-related activities on their school campuses.

CYNESA also made an interactive presentation on climate change at a symposium on ecology, held during a Jesuit-sponsored international young adult event, ‘Magis Africa 2014’, in Harare during the month of August.  The CYNESA team held a meeting with the Development Office of the Eastern Africa Jesuit province, to explore involvement of Jesuit high schools in Uganda and South Sudan, as well as the possibility of recommendation for additional funding for the project, to Jesuit mission offices in Europe and the United States.  The CYNESA team is doing a progress review to document all the activities and input collected from the students and teachers. The outline of the draft toolkit will also be prepared after this review.  A draft toolkit is being readied for release and introduction to the teachers and students who are members of environmental clubs in the pilot schools.  Workshops in the pilot schools using the draft toolkit were conducted and feedback on its effectiveness and relevance documented.  An online version will be developed as well.

CYNESA expanding in Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe

Following is an update on CYNESA’s work around the continent.  CYNESA’s work is expanding in Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, as described below.

Burundi

Burundi is now coping with attack and genocide.  At the end of 2014 though, CYNESA conducted training sessions with the theme:  As young Catholics Christian, our duty is to protect the nature, the work of divine creation.  The purpose of the training sessions was to sensitize Burundian Youth on the impacts of Climate Change and Degradation of Environment, through the various visual illustrations which threw a light on the current state of the World in front of Climate Change impacts and the impact of the latter on human life and to provide more details on the Catholics Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa.  Led by the Executive Director of CYNESA, Mr. Allen OTTARO, the workshop brought together various Youth Leaders, youth groups, environmental club, Associations (Ca Nous Concerne , SCOUTS,GUIDES), Non-Governmental Organization (350 Burundi Network Climate Change), organization of civil-society (FOCODE). The Church was also represented by a Jesuit and Chaplain of CYNESA Burundi.

During the training session, the main issues addressed were: how to face the double challenge of environmental degradation, the consequences and impacts of the Climate Change and as young people why should we care for creation and also why we being engaged in protecting the environment. The lesson drawn was that the Climate Change is a reality and Africa is the most affected by this sudden change. Participants got inspired and decided to join CYNESA and to act.

Kenya

Ann Kirori continues to work in education in Nairobi.  CYNESA hopes to gather 35 CYNESA leaders from all our national chapters at the 2nd CYNESA Summit slated for May 2016, a week before the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi. In conjunction with the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, CYNESA will help implement the pledge made by young people in the presence of Pope Francis in Nairobi, to grow trees and Laudato Si’ into action.  2016 will also be a critical year as CYNESA begins implementing its long-term plan on the Sustainable Development Goals, which was launched together with 23 other long-term plans, at the ‘Faiths in the future’ gathering.

At the end of 2014 CYNESA brought together 34 participants from across Nairobi and its environs for an open day at the St. Paul’s University of Nairobi Chapel’s hall. The participants represented 21 Catholic parishes from around Nairobi. Of great significance was that the participants were not exclusively Catholics, but included believers from different churches albeit from the Christian faith. This was attributable to the fact that CYNESA welcomes all youth and partners from across the global divide and the only polite understanding is that they appreciate that CYNESA is rooted in the Catholic faith and Catholic Social Teachings.

One of the main speakers of the day was Mr. Herman Kwoba from the Ministry of Environment who is also the coordinator for the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC). Herman inspired the youth to take up the challenge of voicing the ecological concerns around them by engaging in constructive advocacy. He argued that climate change governance entails mainstreaming issues of gender, youth, and special needs’ groups in climate change actions. Herman also touched on the environmental policy, the green economy strategy, UNFCC and COP 20, CBA 9, Environmental Campaign 2014, the challenges faced and the proposed way forward.  The guest speaker for the day was Fr. Pedro Walpole, SJ from the Philippines.  Fr. Pedro engaged the youth in an insightful presentation about the need to heal a broken world as a transformation of mission and ecology through an attitude of gratitude and simplicity, grounded in caring and capacity to engage. In his parting shot, Fr. Pedro encouraged the youth to uphold a clear and simple human spirit, connect self with life and some place in the landscape, and join a local action and talk about it as a sign of hope, as well as join an international concern, keep aware of what is happening and share the informed concern.

Southern Africa

CYNESA has met for three years with the Faith Leaders Environmental Advocacy Training (FLEAT), offered by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environmental Institute (SAFCEI). CYNESA looks forward to collaborate with Caritas in Johannesburg, in supporting Catholic youth to take leadership in care of creation.

Tanzania

Desdery Moses has taken on responsibilities as the Tanzania Country Director.  The team aims to hold at least one workshop per year that will bring together youths from different backgrounds to discuss issues of climate change. CYNESA Tanzania will build on their work with students at Loyola High School, offering mentorship and developing joint programs.

Zimbabwe

CYNESA met with a group of Catholic youth in Harare and explored together CYNESA’s mission, and what a CYNESA Zimbabwe chapter would focus on, based on local environmental challenges. The responses were positive and benefited from Br. Ngonidzashe’s mobilization of Catholic youth leaders in Harare.  Participants also brainstormed about water access and distribution. Case studies from Zimbabwe were presented, as were strategies employed by the government to ensure citizens were able to enjoy safe water.  At Hekima Zahra College in Harare, for the event “Living in Harmony on Earth”, those attending the Faith Leaders Environmental Advocacy Training (FLEAT)from different countries got a chance to share their experiences on environmental issues. Students of the college and those visiting from nearby colleges shared their knowledge about the environment and environmental challenges specifically in Zimbabwe.  The students representatives from the Environmental Management Agency in Harare (EMA) fielded questions about environmental protection in Zimbabwe with wetlands protection emerging as a key issue.

Botswana

In Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, CYNEA met with the bishop and Catholic youth in Thamaga parish, located just outside Gaborone, and introduced CYNESA’s mission to the group.  Bishop Seane was impressed to learn about CYNESA’s work, mentioning that putting ‘Laudato Si’ into action is an important mission of everyone, and especially Catholics.  Botswana is a dry country and has been enduring long periods of drought. On the 27th of September, he had led faithful from his diocese in celebrating Mass at the Gaborone dam to pray for rain. The dam is also the site where the first Catholic Church in Botswana was built in 1928, and where the altar still stands.  Bishop Seane suggested that CYNESA makes contact with the Youth Chaplain, to explore how best to engage young people in the diocese in the work of CYNESA, including possibly setting up a local CYNESA chapter.

The CYNESA team had already met with the young people at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Thamaga, who expressed the desire to discover and learn how the Church was inviting them to live out their ecological vocation.

The parish priest, Fr. Wilbroad, said that young people have already shown leadership in the parish life, adding that their engagement with CYNESA would echo Pope Francis’ message in Laudato Si’, that “young people have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit, and some of them are making admirable efforts to protect the environment.”

CYNESA now looks forward to working with the young people in Botswana and enhancing our presence and mission in the Southern Africa region, which already includes Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Ongoing Formation Programs

The ‘St. Francis of Assisi Youth Forum on Care of Creation’, was organized as part of the formation program of CYNESA.  For example, the session on October 11, 2015 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Changamwe-Mombasa focused on Catholic teaching on care of creation and environmental sustainability while also marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology. The forum drew young people drawn from the Western Deanery of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa.

The youth were empowered to take care of the creation as mandated by God, in order to avoid environmental degradation and harsh effects that come along with climate change which poses a big threat to biodiversity.  During the forum, the CYNESA executive director also talked about the #fastfortheclimate campaign, an initiative which invites people to fast on the first day of every month, as a way of expressing solidarity with the communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

On this day there was also a tree planting session at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church compound in Changamwe. In attendance was Fr. Kalua, the Parish priest and Fr. Anjeru the Archdiocesan Youth Chaplain.  From the open day’s teaching, the youth got to understand their role in caring for creation and know the benefits that come with nature conservation, planting more trees, planting mangroves along ocean shores, organizing beach clean-ups, involving the community in environmental conservation, involving organizations to incorporate youth groups in facilitation of environmental sustainability trainings and projects, waste disposal and management and utilization of organic fertilizers as opposed to chemical ones among others.