Growing up in Kenya, Rahmina Paullete, young climate activist, environmentalist, and wildlife conservationist started her own organization called Kisumu Environmental Champs to bring together environmentally conscious youth to inspire collective action for the planet back in 2020 while she also runs her own sustainable business. Looking at all the sufferings that her people are facing in the Lake Victoria region, Rahmina decided to speak up and take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa.
Tell us about your backstory. How did you join the climate movement and become a climate activist?
I have been an environmentalist almost all my life since I was 5 years old, but I have now become a climate activist because I realized that the actions that we are demanding are not being taken seriously by the government, the community, and especially by the private sector – the multinational companies.
So, back in 2021, I started demanding change for us, for our future, especially in the Lake Victoria region. This was mainly inspired by the climate crisis impacts that we have faced for the past years – like the rising of the water level of lake Victoria and how it has affected the community and the biodiversity.
What motivated you to start Kisumu Environmental Champs?
I started Kisumu Environmental Champs back in 2020 during the outbreak of Covid-19. So I came up with the idea of having a group of environmentally conscious people, especially young people, mainly students. I thought, maybe at this time, when schools are closed, students can take the time to bring in the changes in the community and act with the purpose of enlightening people on environmental conservation and the urgent need of creating climate solutions. Now we have many students, youths, and also parents in the organization.
Besides being a climate activist and an entrepreneur, you also focus on sustainable living. So how can anyone start living sustainably? What’s the formula?
Well for me, I believe in small steps. I mostly buy second-hand clothes. I know that people from all parts of the continent of Africa buy second-hand clothes very often. Apart from that, to reduce plastic waste, I always carry my water hyacinth bag. Also in our house, we have a little kitchen garden where we usually use our food waste as compost. So, in a nutshell, I always keep emissions of greenhouse gas and pollution in my mind and I try to act accordingly, no matter what I do.
Tell us about your sustainable business. Do you plan to give it a more formal outlook in the future?
It’s a funny story that actually made me come up with this sustainable project. So the story is from back in 2016. I had just come back home from the lake where I went with my mom for boat riding – because I love boat riding. But sadly, that day we were told by one of the boatmen that we could not go on a boat ride. So I was really sad when I got back home as I had nothing to do. So, then I just had an urge to look up water hyacinths and found out that they can be reused and beautiful products can be made from them.
So it started off as a project where we were making papers and cards, but then, we actually realized that we were just limiting the production so we expanded into a small business called “Rahmina Paullete Eco-Products”. So that is when we started making eco-friendly products from that. Right now, we’re looking towards expanding the business, in terms of increasing the production, and having more machines. So I guess I can say that the outlook towards the future for the business is to bring more sustainable products.
Tell us about some sustainable practices in your culture.
In my culture, we normally eat indigenous vegetables – which not only has medicinal properties but is also very sustainable and climate-friendly. Then, originally before our culture became vastly westernized, we used to wear clothes made from nature, like cow leather – just creative wears made from things like animal skins and plants like Sisal. Although it is something that we still occasionally do, most people do not wear that normally anymore. So that was actually one of the ways for us to live sustainably. We also used to have bags made of Sisal. These practices have been passed from generations to generations and that’s how the knowledge was preserved.
How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do while dealing with negative emotions like eco-anxiety?
I do suffer from climate anxiety due to the impacts of the climate crisis like floods, the environmental degradation and pollution. But these things also motivate me to see a vision for my people from the Lake Victoria region where they can swim in the lake without facing any irritation to their skin, where there are plenty of indigenous fishes in our lake, where there is no pollution, how our ancestors saw it. These are the things that make me want to take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria.
Normally when I face negative emotions, I like to visit places that are peaceful that can help me to connect with nature. Sometimes I go to Kisumu Impala Park to look at wild animals. Also, music helps me a lot to overcome my negative-emotions.
What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?
Well, I would advise them to continue their work. I know it can be tough but it’s important to know that the combined result of our efforts, no matter how small they are, can create bigger impacts towards restoring ecosystems and make our planet a better place.
Do you have an idol?
For me, I can’t say that I have an idol. I’m not really looking up to anyone, but I am currently following the steps of people such as the late Wangari Maathai. I also follow the steps of my mentor, Paulene who is actually an agronomist and a specialist in climate change adaptation. I also have someone who I look up to who is called Kevin Mtai, who is the founder of Kenya Environmental Action Network (KEAN) and also a climate activist.
What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?
For my hobby, I love going on boat rides. Apart from that, I love listening to music and also singing this song called “Save The World” by Jarvis Smith. That’s my favorite song.
What’s your mantra for life?
Change starts with us, for us and by us. We can make a change in a span of five minutes and it should reflect on the future to come.
How can others join you in the climate movement?
Well, it could be in different ways. One, someone can join the movement through Kisumu Environmental Champions. Or even by supporting our campaign that we are running to restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria which is #LetLakeVictoriaBreatheAgain.
So people can join the campaign by sharing a one minute video talking about Lake Victoria and the urgent need of restoring its ecosystem. That will really empower the indigenous community. People can also join the campaign by doing cleanups and they could help us financially which will help us bring resources since we need a boat for the Lake Victoria cleanups and removing the water hyacinths – because boats can be quite expensive. If we have our own boats, we can go from Kenya to Uganda and Tanzania for advocacy. Apart from that, I think financial support will really help in terms of getting us tools for cleanups and transportation for people. So, I think that would be amazing but in case they also want to join Kisumu Environmental Champions, we are open and glad to welcome anyone to join us.
Where can people find you if they want to get in touch with you or follow what you’re doing?
You can follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram and I also have a website. For Kisumu Environmental Champions, you can just search ‘Kisumu Environmental Champions’ on all social media platforms and find us. You can also follow our campaign Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again on Instagram.