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Saving the world, one coconut tree at a time

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

A young climate activist is "greening" schools in Liberia by educating students about climate change and planting coconut trees.

By Laymah Kollie, bird Story Agency

When Eleazer Barclay, 22, started climate activism in 2018, he visited six schools in Grand Bassa County, Liberia and asked the students to come with coconut seeds.

"My objective was to educate the students and teachers to champion environmental conservation by planting trees. To start off, I asked the participants to come along with a symbolic plant, a coconut seedling, and on that first day, we planted 150 coconut trees on six campuses," said Barclay.

"The most important thing was that the young students saw themselves as problem solvers. They also learned that trees provide clean air, and food and are a habitat for wildlife besides combating the effects of climate change and global warming by acting as carbon sinks."

And four years later, through his Youth Exploring Solutions (YES) organisation, the initiative has spread to five of Liberia's 15 counties with plans afoot to reach the 15 sub-divisions.

In 2020, YES conducted a clean-up exercise in one of Monrovia's most polluted communities, Soulneywen, responsible for spewing enormous quantities of garbage into the sea. The action jolted the Monrovia City Corporation to start a regular area clean-up.

The coconut tree planter launched a Facebook Live show dubbed; 'Environmental Hour' in July 2022 to increase his reach and educate more Liberians about tree planting. The show talks about major environmental issues ranging from local, national and global, and their effect on humanity.

Barclay says one of his main challenges is that awareness of climate issues, especially among the rural communities in Liberia, is still low. For instance, a 2018 Afro-Barometer survey report indicated that almost half of Liberia's 5 million populace is unaware of climate change and its causes.

"A slim majority (54 per cent) of Liberians say they have heard of climate change; almost half (46 per cent) have not. Awareness of climate change is particularly low among the uneducated, youth, women, and rural residents," said the report.

For Barclay, this was an opportunity to preach the climate and conservation gospel to the youth and create future climate crusaders.

Nelson B White, a student of the St. Peter Claver Catholic School and a participant in the symbolic planting in Bassa, referred to the process as a "developmental initiative".

He said the coconuts planted in 2018 have not only greened the area but made the air around the school feel fresh and cleaner. "It is as if they are generating fresh oxygen, and I am glad I took part in planting them. And since then, I have been planting more. I don't think I am ever going to stop doing so for the rest of my life," he said.

Coconut tree seedlings.

White added, "I see the event as a development, it provides fresh air for human comfort and green space for the environment, which is a way of combating global warming. "

Venson Cee, another student at St Peter Claver High, said that through Barclay's initiative, he has learned about conquering the GreenHouse Gas effect, storms and preserving biodiversity. He appreciates YES for the opportunity to build a network of environmentally conscious students across the country and hopes it can spread to the region and other parts of Africa.

"I learned about conquering Greenhouse gas effects, storms and preserving biodiversity by planting trees. I want to applaud the organisers for the great opportunity provided to us to learn about our environment, climate change and ways to mitigate these problems," said Cee.

The principal of the Grand Bassa High School System, Augustus Z Quoi, who is also implementing the project in his school, says the YES initiative has enabled his students to appreciate the importance of creating a greener atmosphere for everyone.

"It is good because it helps in making the environment suitable for everyone. These coconut trees growing on the school compound helps protect the infrastructure from the storms, which are common in this region," he said.

Barclays' work is also being appreciated by the community. Mama Johnny, Chairperson of Kortu Quarter in Bong County, praises him for his passion for saving the environment. She adds that coconut trees don't only eradicate soil erosion and other climate effects but are also a source of food and income.

"It's good we plant coconut trees in our various homes, campuses and the community. I want to encourage other young people to join hands with our Coconut tree planter to fight climate change," she stressed.

Barclay was recently awarded the 'Golden Image Award' with his organisation receiving the Best Environmental Institution of 2019. His initiative also recently earned him a five-day trip to attend the 2022 Africa Climate Week in Libreville, Gabon.

The event, organised by UN Climate Change in collaboration with global partners UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme and the World Bank Group, brought together more than 2,300 stakeholders.

Africa Climate Week Week 2022, which was held from August, 29 to September 2, 2022, was a crucial forum ahead of the November COP 27 meeting as it brought together key stakeholders to explore climate challenges and opportunities and showcase ambitious solutions.

"It was a knowledge-enhancing event, and I am glad to have represented my country at that great event," said Barclay.

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