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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A climate toolkit for African youth

Allen Ottaro (far right) with colleagues.

Allen Ottaro of Kenya emailed with a happy update. Allen is a good friend and the executive director of Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (or “CYNESA”). Until December, he was the national coordinator of MAGiS Kenya. His email was about events that are resulting in a model educational program for Jesuit schools in Africa.

Events began last fall when Allen and colleagues met with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, which offered funding for the initiative. The Alliance must have liked the program’s goal, which “is to enhance the knowledge, skills and engagement of young people in Jesuit institutions in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, with respect to climate change, in the context of Catholic Social Teaching and the Ignatian Spirituality.”

Allen says that Jesuit schools were a natural fit given his previous work with the MAGiS program and existing relationships with the order.

Four pilot high schools have been chosen, said Allen. They are St. Aloysius Gonzaga High School in Nairobi, Loyola High School and St. Peter Claver High School in Tanzania, and St. Peter’s Kubatana High School in Zimbabwe. If additional funding can be found, the project could involve more Jesuit schools and youth centers in Central and West Africa.

Last month, Allen and his colleagues at CYNESA participated in special workshops with science teachers from the pilot schools. The gatherings also included Jesuits from the Hekima College School of Theology in Nairobi and representatives of other environmental organizations to speak about climate change in their communities and how it connects to the Catholic faith.

“The goal was to determine the kind of toolkit and resources that would be useful for young people,” Allen said. “Our next step now is to do some kind of basic surveys, to collect information from the students and get a feel of how they experience climate change and what kind of resources they need to run activities.”

The educational program’s first phase is expected to run until November. This will include forums on climate change in the pilot schools. The next phase will involve using the draft toolkit in tandem with environmental clubs in the pilot schools to see where there are gaps before completing a final version.

As things now stand, these are the project’s targeted objectives: 
  • A three-day preparatory workshop for all the key Jesuits and CYNESA team members in lead positions or whose institutions will be involved in the project. The workshop will help participants understand the context of climate change issues in the countries of the pilot schools and how Jesuits (and young people under their care) can offer a faith-based response. 
  • Two climate change youth forums aiming at educating and building the capacity of some 210 young people. 
  • The trained youth will then be offered extensive assistance to integrate the knowledge, skills, and values that will be necessary in climate change initiatives, as well as to reach out to their peers and faith communities. 
“I think it will evolve as we move along and learn new things so I am quite excited,” said Allen. “Although I am a bit nervous about the funding aspect,” he adds, noting upcoming meetings that may open opportunities to continue and expand the program.

Please say a prayer for Allen and his partners! We look forward to more news and updates, and we certainly hope that funding doesn’t hamper this quite important work.

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