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Teen environmentalist among delegates to COP26

Rahmina Paulette, 15, a Kenyan climate change activist has booked a spot at this year’s COP 26 summit following her various interventions to rally the country and world leaders to mitigate against climate change.

The teen environment champion is among the Kenyan delegation led by President Uhuru Kenyatta expected to participate at the high profile United Nations (UN) event slated for 31st October 2021 to 12th November 2021 at Glasgow, United Kingdom.

15-year-old Rahmina Paulette displays some of the products she makes from the water hyacinth and waste paper at their home in Gudka estate, Kisumu. Photo by Chris Mahandara

Born and raised in Kisumu, Rahmina spent her early years playing on the beaches of Lake Victoria and witnessed firsthand as pollution and the invasive water hyacinth weed choked the once vibrant water body.

“It bothered me to see the weed block fishermen and leisure boat riders affecting so many people who depended on the activities to earn a living,” she says.

This pushed her to come up with innovative ways of getting rid of the weed in an environmentally friendly way to allow the lake to breathe again.

Through support from her mother Miriam Oyugi, Rahmina embarked on removal of the hyacinth from the lake to make eco-friendly products which has earned her international recognition.

From the water hyacinth, she makes furniture, paper, cards, folders, document holders, carrying bags, carton boxes among other products.

She targets bookshops and institutions to use eco-friendly papers rather than manila paper to help conserve the environment.

When she is not in school or organizing climate change protests, the grade 11 student at Kisumu Senior Academy also helps to remove plastic waste from Lake Victoria.

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, schools were closed and children sent home, a scenario the young environmentalist took advantage of.

“I realised that most children were now engaging in risky behaviour therefore I launched Kisumu Environmental Champions to rally them behind a worthy cause,” she said.

The organisation is involved in eco-friendly clean-ups, kitchen gardening ventures, waste segregation and tree planting.

“When our members are not planting trees or involved in clean up exercises they are installing kitchen gardens within community households,” she said.

The organisation runs campaigns Saturdays for environment where they engage in clean ups and community sensitization on the need to conserve the environment and Let Lake Victoria breathe again which aims to restore the lake’s ecosystem.

COP (Conference of Parties) is a United Nations (UN) climate change conference which brings together almost all countries on earth to deliberate on climate change.

This year will be the 26th annual summit giving it the name COP26 and is billed as the “last best shot” for the world to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius which is crucial to Pacific nations battling more powerful tropical storms and rising sea levels.

The summit will bring together Heads of State and ministers from over 200 countries, industry leaders and change-makers to agree on the ambitious and critical actions that the world will need to take to protect the planet.

The effects of climate change, she says, is getting worse adding that developing countries are the worst hit since they lack resources to moot sustainable mitigation measures.

“Not so long ago we could tell the time by looking at the weather but now all we see is prolonged rainfall which is really affecting us,” she says.

At the summit, the 15-year-old environmentalist hopes to convince world leaders of the need to take climate change seriously and allocate resources to mitigate the adverse effects of the phenomenon.

By Chris Mahandara

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