ASA AND GRACE GBM EXPERIENCE
By Grace Brouillette and Asa Krieger
During our internship placement, we have traveled and attended a variety of activities and field components within Nairobi, Murang'a, and Nyeri County with activities including visiting tree planting projects, bamboo biomass farms, to urban restored ecosystems, historic green spaces like Karura forest, water harvesting and soil initiatives, waste management sites, food security initiatives, and so much more. As interns of GBM from St. Lawrence University and as students of environmental studies, GBM has bolstered our knowledge base through experiential learning and interactions with local communities and the local environment. We have learned about the projects that GBM has initiated throughout Kenya from bamboo biomass farming to urban waste management to sustainable agricultural practices, and how they have positively impacted the environment, community members, and the relationship between the two. Above all, these projects have thrived due to preexisting social networks among community members which have bolstered community engagement and involvement with GBM. These social networks have also contributed to the success of GBM's projects, which are measured by improvements in wellbeing and livelihood of community members, and not just the increasing presence of trees.
One project we visited that stood out to us was the community-based bamboo production and learning center where we had an information session upon arrival, a Q & A with the Murang'a County bamboo project manager, a conversation with the women beneficiaries working at the farm, and a tour through the bamboo farm. The farm has five bamboo species growing, a bamboo treatment area, a storage area, and a sanding area. The farm is an opportunity to employ local women, support them as they meet every demand along the production line themselves, and make their own income, which according to the project manager, works to combat the cultural stigma that only men do manual labor. Interestingly, the bamboo farm is more than an income generator, the bamboo provides firewood, riparian services, household products, and biomass production. Above all, after speaking with the women beneficiaries of the GBM bamboo project, we learned how the project brings the community together to speak about political issues and promote political activism about other issues outside of environmental work, such as gender-based violence within the community. In other words, the project is a community center to strengthen social capital and networks among the women running the project, in addition to the resources, income, and services that bamboo provides.
During the second week of our internship, we had the opportunity to learn about GBM’s current efforts toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 12, which work to develop sustainable cities and consumption patterns. We found the community group-led waste management projects, in conjunction with the development of urban green spaces and restored forest areas that had once been dumpsites, to be especially pertinent to the development of community self-empowerment and community members’ connection to their environment. In communicating with solid waste management (SWM) and waste reuse community groups, we were able to see the positive impacts of turning “waste” into “wealth.” In reusing waste and being able to financially gain from the processing of it, community members are not only self-empowering themselves, but expressing their concerns for their community and environment, as well as preventing this waste from going to landfills or being openly burned or dumped. Additionally, we found joy in seeing the urban spaces in Dandora that were transformed for public use and for safe spaces for youth from troubled families. GBM’s connections with organizations that work to educate communities about the importance of sustainable waste management and that work to create green spaces within Kenya’s cities exemplifies their truly grassroots networks and efforts toward environmental change from the ground up.
This was just a summary of two projects we visited over the past four weeks, which speaks to how supportive, far-reaching, and interconnected the Green Belt Movement is, and how much we have been able to learn and experience with the GBM team. We are incredibly grateful for the time spent with GBM, we have learned a lot, and we look forward to maintaining our relationships with the GBM team with more St. Lawrence University students hoping to intern at GBM in the future.