Youth Voices Lead the Way on Environmental Protection in DRC

April 20, 2021

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The impact of climate change and environmental degradation is being felt more and more every day. Without immediate action and concerted international effort, those least responsible for this crisis — children and generations yet to come — will inherit and suffer the consequences.


No wonder youth around the world are taking up the mantle to lead the charge on environmental activism. UNICEF is supporting them by elevating their voices to address climate change and helping them take action to preserve the overall health and future of the planet. 


Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is supporting children's rights to publicly and freely express their views on all matters affecting their well-being, including environmental sustainability. Piloted in 2010, the DRC Child Reporters program introduces children between the ages of 12 and 16 to basic journalism techniques and CRC child rights concepts that help them identify and report on issues impacting children within their communities.



One UNICEF DRC Child Reporter, 16-year-old Ketsia, above, met with youth and adults across the country who are speaking out and mobilizing daily to protect and preserve the health of their country.



In DRC’s capital city of Kinshasa, Ketsia met Peggy, 16, who collects discarded cardboard boxes she finds in her neighborhood and uses them to create art that sends a powerful message to her community. “I make my art with cardboard. I assemble pieces to transform them into robots,” says Peggy. "I recycle these cardboard boxes to show people who neglect them, who throw them in the streets, who turn our neighborhoods into rubbish bins, that I don't agree with this. It's bad for the environment.” Above, Peggy models one of her wearable cardboard robots. 



In Kinshasa, a group of young people between the ages of 4 and 18 armed with brooms, shovels and wheelbarrows meet every Saturday morning to remove waste and discarded debris from their neighborhoods. The older children also use machetes to clear tall grass and brush while the youngest use small wooden brooms to sweep the ground. Their weekly community clean-ups help educate others about waste management.



When he's not doing schoolwork, 15-year-old Destin collects and sells plastic bottles he finds in bins and rubbish heaps on the streets of Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province. For him, recycling is both a means to earn some money and a civic act. “I collect these bottles so that it helps me to satisfy my needs, like buying shoes, clothes or getting my hair done,” says Destin, above. “The environment is a place where humans, trees, animals and plants live. I don't like to see our environment dirty [so] I also collect these plastics to help eliminate waste.”



In the nearby town of Buhumba, Ketsia, left, met with 12-year-old Prisca, who shared her concerns about her community’s routine cutting of forest trees to make charcoal for household tasks, a practice that contributes to deforestation and global warming and prevents children from attending school. “When I see the children going into the forest, it makes me very sad because they cut down the trees," says Prisca. "They go with their parents to cut them down and burn them to make charcoal. Some children don't go to school because of this. If there are no trees … how are we going to live?” 



Also situated in North Kivu Province, an area that has been deeply impacted by years of armed conflict, is Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas. Ketsia, left, spoke with Aline, an eco-guard who monitors and protects the park. She shared how youth can get involved in its conservation efforts. "They need to educate their parents to plant trees, not to cut down trees in the park and destroy the forest. The children must also understand that animals must not be killed so that they do not disappear.”


Despite the dangers linked to their job, Aline and her fellow eco-guards remain committed to protecting the park’s wildlife, natural resources and bordering communities. “People enter the park for poaching," she says. "There are also people who want to harm the population. We live with them, sometimes we clash. Here in North Kivu, there is insecurity everywhere, sometimes we are threatened, but we always try to resist.” 



Thérèse, above, a widow whose husband was a Virunga National Park eco-guard, reflects on the legacy her husband and other fallen eco-guards have left behind. “Our husbands loved nature and wanted their children to know how to protect it,” she says. "Some worked in the forest to prevent the cutting of trees for charcoal making, others died protecting the gorillas. They understood the importance of nature and prepared for the future life of their children. The children who grew up here … know why their fathers died, it is ingrained in them.”



Above, Ketsia interviews André, who has been a Virunga National Park eco-guard for over 22 years.  “Children are our hope, they are the hope of tomorrow," he says. "So if this nature, this park, these animals can be protected for future generations, everything will depend on the education we give to children. We have to develop in their minds a love for nature. When we have love for something, we know how to protect it.”


On Earth Day and every day, support UNICEF's environment and climate change work, and help young people take action to protect the future of our planet. Your contribution can make a difference.


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Top photo:  A group of young children from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, pause their clean-up activities to take a photo. The group, who range in age from 4 to 18, meet every Saturday morning to remove waste and discarded debris from their neighborhoods. All photos © Sibylle Desjardins for UNICEF