The sports enthusiast scoring goals for climate action (YOUNG CLIMATE ACTIVIST SERIES)
22-year-old Menia Chaphamtengo plays hockey and tennis - and doubles up as a sports ambassador in her district. She is using her experience and position on and off the field to increase climate action awareness.
by bird story agency staff
“Sports offers lots of opportunities, yet to be fully exploited,” remarks Menia Chaphamtengo, a 22-year-old who introduces herself as a climate action ambassador and hails from Malawi.
While her interest in sports has been an integral part of her personal growth - she describes sport as “a path I was destined to take” - the student of politics and history at the University of Malawi has become known among her peers for a lot more than her ability to swing a hockey stick or serve up aces on the tennis court.
“I always carry the climate action message along,” she explains.
Chaphamtengo has made it her personal ambition to lobby for climate action at every possible opportunity, including when she serves as the university's sports ambassador, a post she uses to instil a culture of sports among university students.
Menia Chaphamtengo watering tree seddlings. Photo : Menia Chaphamtengo
The young activist says sporting events are a great way to engage and involve young people in climate discussions.
“The youth account for a larger portion of (the) population in Malawi,” she notes, “(the) majority of who do not find the climate action message a priority because of information gaps.”
For the young leader, capitalizing on sports to expand peoples' knowledge and understanding of the climate emergency is a no-brainer.
Menia Chaphamtengo playing tennis and a colleague. Photo : Menia Chaphamtengo
“Many young people love sports but have limited knowledge on climate change and what they can do to reverse the drastic changes. Why not blend the two?”
The fourth-year student is not leaving anything to chance, however. She is now looking beyond sports to rally her community to adopt nature-based solutions, manage waste and conserve the available green resources.
She leads the Rotary Club of Zomba and has managed to incorporate more than 100 youths in planting trees and visiting primary and secondary schools to spread the climate message.
Menia Chaphamtengo and members of the Rotary Club of Zomba . Photo : Menia
Her focus and goal is to increase climate awareness among young people, both in her own community in Zomba District and further afield.
“In 2019 we went to Mt. Chawe where we had a week-long conversation with the surrounding community, about 500 of them, discussing issues relating to conservation and energy transition,” she narrates.
The interaction with the community around Mt Chawe made it very clear to the group just how much misinformation and limited knowledge are hindering action on climate issues - and how under-resourced efforts like hers, to improve knowledge, actually are.
“Awareness efforts should not be one-time, lest we fail at keeping up with the pace. But then, resource inadequacy pulls us back. It is the reason we have not managed to create a follow-up forum,” she explains.
Chaphamtengo however, has actively engaged the Malawian government, seeking to partner with the Ministry of Youth and Sports to facilitate a network of tournaments, especially in rural areas.
Menia Chaphamtengo holding a hockey stick. Photo : Menia Chaphamtengo
“The proposals are out to the ministry but a lot is happening today, especially with the current droughts, which makes it challenging for the government in isolation to come through for such a program,” she explains.
First-hand experience of how climate change is impacting Africa keeps her motivated.
“The rise in temperatures has already affected sports. We strain to keep up the heat while playing. This means climate change is here but we all should have a hand in building resilience,” she said.
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