This is the first installment of a new series of posts by the Talloires Network Student Ambassadors. Purity Wamuyu is a graduate of Laikipia University in Kenya, and she was also part of the MasterCard Foundation Youth Think Tank program.
The 15th goal of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aims to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.’ This goal can only be attained when all institutions, and not just the government, take it as their responsibility to conserve the environment.
Universities have existed for centuries in certain societies and many more are coming up especially in the developing world. These institutions are part and parcel in the communities they are in and hence they ought to positively contribute to the well-being of those communities. Long gone are the days when scholars would immerse themselves in labs conducting experiments with disregard to what was going on around them. One of the biggest concerns in the world right now is environmental degradation. Each society, in every corner of the world, has experienced the impacts of this. Universities, their scholars and their staff, are part of the society and they too are subject to the same impacts. As the mind of society, they can use their position to help restore and improve environmental conditions.
My alma mater, Laikipia University (Kenya), has demonstrated that higher education institutions can support environmental causes in their own ways. The University is situated in a region where there locals have no connection to piped water and rely on a dam that serves both the university and the community. Due to encroachment, the dam has been slowly polluted over the years. The dam’s condition was worsened by the spread of water hyacinth. The University, which relies partially on the dam, could not access water since the hyacinth had blocked water pipes, and locals, who have no proper way of chlorinating water, were at risk of water borne disease. As a result, Laikipia University launched an occasional dam cleaning exercise that involves students and members of the community. The efforts have been highly successful since the dam is now cleaner and water levels have risen compared to how it was few years ago.
Another example is that of Egerton University, the mother institution of Laikipia. Egerton is located at the end of Mau forest, the largest forest indigenous forest in East Africa, and the largest water catchment area in Kenya. Due to population expansion, parts of the forest have been cleared for settlement. Illegal timber trade has also played a major role in the destruction. The role of protecting the forest was previously a government affair with support of several community organizations. Egerton University, which is the largest institution based near the forest, initiated projects to champion for the conservation of the forest. The Mau marathon is one of the successful success stories of University-community engagements. In 2014, the marathon attracted over 13 partners including media companies, banks, the County Government of Nakuru, and the National government. The marathon has continuously attracted more organizations in the course of preserving the forest and the Njoro River. This project shows that the University is cognizant of the fact that they have a role in creating environmental awareness and practically contributing to positive change.
Higher education institutions should mirror the positive aspects of the society and should pride themselves to promoting livelihoods by participating in such causes.