January 26, 2011 By Indrajit Basu
Zimbabwe is a country of some 11 million people, with nearly 70 percent living below the poverty line. It may seem unlikely, then, that a young woman of modest economic means would choose to engage in climate change education as a career.
Yet when Bridgit Kachere, a 24-year old resident of Harare, Zimbabwe, started the Flora Movement in July 2010 after completing a novel online course on climate change, she knew that she had made the right choice.
Kachere -- who makes just enough to sustain herself -- is ecstatic that she is making a difference in her community and her work is already making a great impact. “I am always guided by the love for environment, conservation, as well as self-betterment and empowerment,” said Kachere. “My vision was to create a society that consciously works for continued improvement of their environment and I am working towards that.”
A novel school in Harare, called Climate Change Virtual School for Youths, made it possible for her to pursue her dreams.
“This course was an eye opener for me. It made me realize that I have a role to play as a global citizen and it is time to challenge climate change,” she added.
The Climate Change Virtual School is indeed an eye opener. But for advocates of sustainability, an even greater wonder perhaps is, while the richest nations still squabble over their responsibilities in tackling climate change, an innovative environmental awareness project like this comes from a country that contributes little to polluting the global environment.
Designed by the Development Reality Institute (DRI), a youth-based organization in Harare, The Climate Change Virtual School is the first such organization in Southern Africa. But what makes this award-winning pursuit “brilliant, very innovative and admirable” according to the Stockholm Challenge, is that it is a project that is “run and managed by youths, for youths and reflects courage in facing the future.”
“This virtual school aims in raising awareness on the effects of climate change to development in Zimbabwe. It also aims to build the capacity of development partners to interpret, and comprehend the mainstream climate change in development issues within their communities,” says Verengai Mabika, (pictured) founder and director of DRI.
But why Zimbabwe? An interesting point to note is that although the primary aim of the school is to educate the country’s youths on the danger posed by climate change, it is also a means to steer them to more productive activities.
Owing to lack of opportunities and poverty, youth are often misled, says Mabika. “In Zimbabwe particularly, the youths have been politicized and the project aims to divert their attention to real developmental challenges.”
Consequently, the project uses a number of youth networks to target young people such as Zimbabwe Youth Network, Youth Working Group, Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust, universities, colleges and high schools.
Mabika justifies his thesis by explaining that with climate change affecting the generation of today and those of the future, making them aware of this problem is a good way to empower them for earning a livelihood because local communities and the youth of Zimbabwe have little or no knowledge on the impact of climate change.
The project primarily targets youths because “they will inherit the world. They are likely to face the greatest impact of climate change and need to pioneer initiatives to mitigate and adapt to climate change issues,” he says.
Innovative thinking no doubt; but so is its method of imparting knowledge.
The project uses a combination of Internet-based technology and mobile telephone. Students interact through short message service and an online forum to discuss assignments and other advocacy issues. The learning platform has a call center as well for students who may need assistance by telephone.
The platform includes unique features such as an interactive forum, virtual library, and a strategic contacts page that gives students the necessary resources in climate change programming.
According to Mabika the use of ICT has not only reduced transaction and transport costs, and the use of paper and other resources necessary to reach the same amount of people and to disseminate a large amount of information. It has also helped in raising the awareness of the impact of climate change and the effectiveness of the course.
The project was officially launched in February last year, with initial funding support of $48,000 from the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust. It has an annual budget of $20,000, most of which is funded by UNDP, ZERO Regional Environment Organizations, and Zimbabwe’s Ministry of ICT, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, and the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.
In the first year the virtual school enrolled 380 participants, of approximately 100 students per group. The first batch of students were not charged any fee and were provided grants. But subsequently, “to ensure that only serious students participated and that the project is financially sustainable,” DRI has started charging $30 per student, which covers the printed modules and the certificates.
Besides being a Stockholm Challenge winner in 2010 in the Environment category, the project won two other awards in its first year. These are: The World Summit Youth Award (2010) in the best innovative and creative E-content category, and The Top Young ICT Innovator Award-Zimbabwe ICT Achievers awards (2010).
Meanwhile Bridgit says her Flora Movement is already realizing her mission through programs in biodiversity conservation, civic and environmental education, advocacy and networking, capacity building and recycling of resources.
Going forward Bridgit plans to include projects in indigenous tree planting, civic education, advocacy, food security, and eco-safaris. “These would go a step further in helping my movement in promoting environmental consciousness, volunteerism, and conservation of local biodiversity, self-empowerment, community development and accountability,” she says. “I am also partnering with DRI, the Standard Chartered Bank, and the city councils of Harare, Kadoma, Mutare, Mt Devonshire Hill and Murohwa to plant nearly 3,000 trees in one month.”