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‘Seeing climate refugees made me protect our planet’

Words by Smiley Team

You're reading Patrons of the Planet, a weekly series where we hear from climate heroes of the global south and the world’s indigenous communities.

I was always an activist. I just don't like to feel oppressed. Through my artwork, community engagement, teaching and permaculture, I share my skills with others who share theirs with me in return, as part of a grassroots movement to create a better and more sustainable world. 

I’m driven by what I see around me. In Namibia, informal settlements are expanding around urban areas as people move from rural areas around the country to seek new opportunities in the cities. Corrugated iron huts spread across the landscape.

[Learn about more inspiring individuals driving climate action here]

Meanwhile, climate refugees are arriving at camps around the cities from the drought-stricken Kunene region. These migrants include the indigenous Himba people who can no longer survive in the barren desert that was once their home.

Seeing them, I am struck by the beauty of their traditional outfits. But it's also such a sad sight, knowing they have lost their livelihoods. They don't speak English or Afrikaans so can’t easily find work. All they've ever done is look after livestock. But now the climate crisis is here and they are some of the first to be hit.

A chance of survival

To offer people hope of adapting to our changing climate, I teach permaculture, contributing to the knowledge exchange that is so important for our futures. 

For years I taught permaculture with an NGO called Eloolo Permaculture Initiative. We visited schools, communities and informal settlements to share our skills with children and adults. 

Every year, I also visit an orphanage to plant fruit trees. After discussions and demonstrations, I leave the children to have a go at planting themselves. 

[Read other uplifting stories of people working towards a better world...]

When I enter these spaces and teach children, I sometimes wonder if they have actually understood the value of nature. But then months later I’ll hear that some of them have become enthralled by permaculture. There’s always at least one person who you inspire.

I weave my environmental work into art as well. Taking scraps of discarded fabric, I hand sew them into textile collages that illustrate the campaigns I support. When you put them all together in a series of images, it traces a story of our struggles as human beings.

It is an interesting process for me, thinking about my reforesting work along with other initiatives I’m involved with, such as the youth campaign group, Fridays For Future. I see that my activism spans many roles: teaching, planting and art. But at the heart of it all, there’s one belief that threads it all together: the young need our help - they cannot do this on their own.

Patrons of the Planet is a weekly series to amplify the voices of heroes on the frontline of climate campaign work, as told to Blyth Brentnall. Every Tuesday, we meet individuals from the global south and indigenous groups who have risen above increasing adversity to support their communities, conserve nature and protect the planet for future generations.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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