Recap of Laudato Si Generation conference in Nairobi & Meeting with JPIC Franciscans Africa
By Kelly Ann Moltzen OFS
I was able to attend the Laudato Si Generation conference in Nairobi, Kenya on July 15-16 which was put together for the Fourth Anniversary of Laudato Si. It was organized by the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) during CYNESA's Fifth Anniversary year, along with the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, UN Environment (which is based in Nairobi), and WWF Africa. Support for the conference was provided by Catholic Climate Covenant and Partnerships for Change. The Holy See mission in Nairobi, led by the Apostolic Nuncio, was a valuable contributor to the conference. The conference focused on the four themes of the role of faiths and religions in care for our common home; the role of youth; the role of indigenous communities, and the role of Africa. Some of the main takeaways for me were learning about the New Deal for Nature and People effort of WWF, with the goal to halve the footprint of production and consumption by 2030, for heads of state to adopt within the next 18 months; the Great Green Wall (and forthcoming film of the same name) and Laudato Tree initiatives supported by Don Mullan and the Society of African Missions from Ireland; and the Faith for Earth initiative of UN Environment which is planning to start a youth forum.
It was fascinating and encouraging to hear how the Irish government has provided $1.2 million to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to support research into what is needed in order to actually create the Great Green Wall - what kind of peacemaking dialogues are needed between tribes in order to get everyone in a particular community to agree to the initiative, which is set to create jobs and livelihoods for many people across the Sahel. (As I heard about the the momentum around the Great Green Wall, I kept thinking about how much Latin America needs something similar to stem the violence and migrant crisis in the Americas.) There is also an Interfaith Rainforest Initiative; a sister effort to REPAM working on the Amazon is REPAC working on the Congo basin. I was glad to hear of what the Vatican is planning for 2020 for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, to get 50 dioceses, 50 schools, 50 universities, 50 hospitals, 50 banks, 50 cities and 50 farms to lead by example and commit to Laudato Si practices. Also, the work that individual CYNESA country chapters are doing is encouraging. The Rwanda chapter has planted 6,000 trees in 2 parishes and 2 schools with 1400 students from Catholic primary schools, and in the future wants to work on wildlife conservation and protection for youth; plant 100,000 fruit trees by 2022; print Laudato Si books in local languages, and hold Laudato Si workshops.
Some issues I encountered which are worth noting:
-Access to land especially for indigenous peoples is a serious issue.
-When activists speak up and challenge the governments, they put themselves at risk. Several people I met have been threatened due to their activism. Most African countries do not have a seat at the UN Security Council; Kenya is lobbying to have a seat on the council and if selected, would focus on climate change and sustainable development.
-Air pollution especially in Nairobi is a huge problem. The fuel is highly toxic and lacking in regulatory standards: "Pollution and poor air quality are now killing more Africans than AIDS/HIV." UN Environment has called for a stop to the flow of dirty fuel to West Africa and written about how the idling of buses is contributing to the air pollution.
-CYNESA is comprised of many young adults who are just finishing college and looking to network for potential job opportunities. There are many educated youth who are in need of green job opportunities. Yet illiteracy is still 46% in Africa.
-Youth need to be very savvy if they want to be in dialogue with the business sector through the UN. On the one hand they want to say to business, "We are aware of what you are doing. We are forming our youth to fight against it." On the other hand some African businessmen are destroying the environment but may not be aware of the impact of their actions and need to be sensitized. The business community provides statistics about employment provided by their industries (i.e. plastic industry); but environmental advocates are not as organized when it comes to having statistics prepared about the potential of green job creation.
I also had the opportunity to meet with members of the JPIC Franciscans Africa (JPIC FA) office while I was in Kenya. They are doing tremendous work on promoting a rights-based approach to lobbying and advocacy, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, building upon the trainings they have done with Franciscans International to engage people at a grassroots level. Their efforts are rooted in a sensitization about the importance of ecological solutions and a keen understanding as to the need for land access especially among indigenous peoples. They have successfully advocated for Mukuru slum in Nairobi to be recognized as a Special Planning Area by the national government, which means it will get attention by the government. One of the core volunteers with JPIC FA, Steeven Kezamutima, is a YouFra (Young Franciscan) member, musician with the band Prophet's Voice which has become popular among activists in his home country of Burundi to the chagrin of the Burundi government; and he is getting his Master's in Justice and Peace at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), where he has started a YouFra fraternity. Every year since 2014 they have held an Interfaith Youth Forum for Peace and Environment at CUEA. This year's will be on September 20-21 to include participation in the Fridays for Future worldwide climate strike initiated by Greta Thunberg, as well as the International Day of Peace. He has hopes of this connecting with other Laudato Si Generation efforts around the world. Steeven has also created a documentary about Fr. John Kaiser, an American priest who served in Kenya for decades and was assassinated for standing up against human rights abuses; and has partnered with the Capuchin Franciscans to create Capuchin TV episodes such as Earth in 2050, Green Talent Show and Birthday Tree Planting.
JPIC FA used to receive funding from Misean Cara from Ireland; however because there are no Irish missionaries in their region currently, Misean Cara has not renewed their funding. Sister Mary Frances, the director of JPIC FA, is allowed by her congregation to do the JPIC FA work, though she is not able to also contribute to her community. Steeven will be graduating from CUEA within a year and while he wants to be able to continue his work with JPIC FA, will need to find a job. It is my hope that efforts such as theirs can be funded in Nairobi as well as for us to find a way for others to be funded to bring this work elsewhere such as the United States. Sister Mary Frances has shared numerous documents with me already, reports from their work over the past several years. I would be glad to share them with anyone interested in helping me think through how to support their efforts.
My experiences at the Laudato Si Conference and by hearing about the great work of JPIC FA provide examples of how the rest of us can better link together the elements of JPIC; Formation; Youth and Young Adults; and Ecumenical-Interfaith Relations. My hope is that these stories from Africa may inspire us to find new ways to integrate these efforts more strongly together, to form and engage more youth & young adults and all people to work on JPIC issues together, through ecumenical-interfaith relationship building and collaboration.
CYNESA is working on a report from the conference and undoubtedly will remain in contact with both the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development as well as UN Environment. The Vatican actually wants to do Laudato Si conferences in different regions of Africa, with the vision that Africa will lead and other areas of the world will follow. Allen Ottaro, the founder and executive director of CYNESA, is working on getting a visa to hopefully visit the U.S. this fall. He would very much like to meet with a variety of people who can give him an understanding of U.S. culture and politics and grassroots efforts, and partner with him on Laudato Si efforts. Meanwhile, I would be glad to meet and further discuss my learnings from the conference and my experience in Kenya, my first trip to Africa where I was privileged to meet people from across the continent, especially eastern and southern Africa, as well as several people from other parts of the world (Samoa, Philippines, India, Ecuador, and Germany).
Peace and all good,