I have been involved in various social and environmental campaigns for the better part of my youth activism days. I have been a part of and led youth teams in various environmental discourses on social inequalities, biodiversity conservation, and the global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, among others. Some I did as a career interest—I’m a graduate in Environmental Science—while other I did for passion as an environmentalist. In any case, they were each in the interest of protecting the planet. We’re all interconnected no matter where we come from.
One might wonder why the diversity, and where my commitment lies. Well, I was all over the place until February 2019 when an opportunity to finally become a part of something bigger than myself presented itself through Facebook. Daniel Gbujie, a friend and MAPS Ambassador who is the founder of an environmental non-profit, Team 54 Project International, approached me and said he wished to introduce me to the Parvati Foundation that ran the MAPS campaign, where he thought I could fit. I met Dr. Karen Ho and the late Darcy Belanger, who would later shape the future of my environmental campaigning.
I was trained as a MAPS Ambassador and assigned the role of leading the Kenyan and later African youth ambassadors as we prepared for UNEA-4. I knew I could not do this alone and immediately reached out to my friend Abigael Kima to help me coordinate the team. We had successful MAPS rallies not only in Kenya but also in Uganda and Benin. We got more young people involved and we have since become one big happy family willing to do anything to protect the planet. This gave me a kind of contentment that I had never felt before in my conservation journey and I knew I was finally involved in something I considered a noble cause.
UNEA-4 in Nairobi would follow. There, our delegation of five MAPS Ambassadors, led by Parvati Foundation’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Darcy Belanger, was set to engage various government representatives, asking them to sign the MAPS Treaty. But Darcy tragically perished in the Ethiopian Airlines flight enroute to Nairobi, where we had all been eagerly waiting to meet him for the first time. Through a series of virtual engagements, he had become a key inspiration that challenged us to become part of something bigger than ourselves. His demise created a void and I had to immediately step up to fill some of his roles at the UNEA-4 with the help of Vandana Ryder (remotely, from her home in Canada) as well as lead the team at the assembly. It wasn’t the easiest experience because amid all the grief, we needed to achieve his goals at the assembly and ensure his death was not in vain. We were more united and bonded than ever.
At the UNEA-4, things moved very fast for me. Besides the enormous pressure mounting to submit activity reports for my day job as a climate change governance expert, I had to meet various high-level government representatives that I never thought I’d meet before. I did two TV interviews, met various ministers with whom Darcy had booked appointments, and attended sessions all on the same day to promote MAPS. You see, MAPS had not only become a game changer for me, but a springboard that gave me the kind of voice I had never dreamed of before. It empowered me to speak to hundreds and thousands that need motivation to stand and speak for the planet. By just observing what I was doing, various young people began reaching out to me and asking how they could become part of the campaign to protect the Arctic Ocean and all of humanity. I have since learned that what we do in our small spheres can create a bigger impact everywhere on the planet.
Parvati, our organization’s founder and CEO, later entrusted me with the role of International Youth Coordinator—something that I never saw coming. It showed me I could fit in bigger shoes. Dr. Karen Ho has been fundamental in nurturing me in this role. Moving to New York City in June presented me with another golden opportunity to bring my voice to the world. My friend Joseph Njuguna and I attended the World Oceans Day celebration at the UN headquarters, where we met world-renowned marine conservationists that I had only read about in newspapers, like Dr. Sylvia Earle. We spoke to hundreds at our MAPS booth aboard the Peace Boat in Manhattan.
MAPS has become a part of my daily life, especially in motivating young people in university to join. It’s my dream to see MAPS become a part of every young person’s life. It is meant to protect all of us. With our generation being the most marketed-to demographic, we have to go the extra mile in finding innovative ways to promote MAPS daily. I can’t do this alone and therefore I ask everyone from all corners of the world to join our MAPS family. Together, there is so much we can do for the planet.
Omesa Mokaya is a Kenyan environmentalist and social justice activist currently living in New York City. His specific interests include sustainability, environmental policy and international development. He is the International Youth Coordinator at Parvati Foundation.