By Morgan Taylor Peterson, MPH
Fellow Care About Climate and Climate Sign user, Eric Mbotiji is an inspiring individual who continues to show his fierce love for the sustainable ecotourism, the environment and the protection of the planet for future generations. Eric is a fellow climate advocate, who also trains young people to serve as advocates. He continuously encourages young people to fight for climate justice by planting trees within their communities. Along with this he organizes tree planting days in order to get communities to think globally and act locally.
This story shows how Eric was taken as a Prisoner of War for 20 days while protesting deforestation in Cameroon. Most of Cameroon’s forests are located within the southern part of the country and much of the deforestation is occurring in the southwest. These forests are what we can call a hot-spot” of biodiversity. Within the rainforests are housed some of the oldest and most unique woodlands in the world containing 620 species of trees and bushes and around 500 different herbs and lianas. There are many causes of deforestation in Cameroon that are extremely complex and have changed over the years. According to Eric, the major causes to this deforestation is agricultural expansion and general land use management. However, what does this mean for air quality, environmental health, and human health?
In late 2016, the armed conflicts began to arise as a result of the marginalization of English-speaking minorities by the French-speaking majority in Cameroon. As a fellow climate change advocate, Eric became very concerned about the wellbeing of internally displaced citizens as well as the devasting effects of climate change. Before this crisis and conflicts, Eric was an educator who trained young people from primary, secondary, and high schools in Bamenda as Climate Justice Ambassadors with support from the Plant for the Planet Academy. Around 60 young people were trained and educated on the importance of planting trees and the effects of climate change. Due to the overall success of this training process, this training was taken further to various campuses across the region, where students and young people planted trees, designed gardens, and school orchards.
With the upcoming conflicts, Eric witnessed citizens cutting down trees and forests illegally to sell, use as firewood, and for other uses. From a climate change prospective this did not sit right with Eric, because he had advocated for so long with local town councils in order to establish policies geared towards getting families to plant trees as one of the requirements for the establishment of a birth certificate. This became a community effort for couples to plant trees in their communities after having a newborn. However, due to the conflict and government crisis affecting the country, the council was not functional, because of the burning of government buildings and insecurities. Due to this, citizens began cutting down the trees in the region.
As a climate advocate and protector of the environment, Eric and 10 other volunteers moved about in the villages of Santa, Bali, and Bafut to protest the illegal deforestation caused by other citizens in order to raise awareness of the effects of climate change and deforestation. As a result of this protest, Eric was abducted by a Nonstate Armed Resistance group for almost three weeks. Eric pleaded with the resistance group to not take the other volunteers and to just take him alone with them. The group accepted these terms and held Eric captive in three different camps with different leaders for questioning.
Eric was accused of being a government spy, because the group that kidnapped him had declared themselves as pro-independent fighters. After one week of torture and questioning, Eric fell seriously ill, sustained substantial injuries, and was only fed once a day with hardly any water. After weeks of convincing, Eric was finally able to talk about what he was really doing, talk about being a climate advocate, the effects of cutting down forests and trees, and why these trees are important for the environment. After three long weeks, Eric was finally set free, however, due to dehydration and his injuries, he spent a week in the hospital to recuperate.
Even after all that he has been through, Eric is glad he was able to organize these campaigns to bring awareness to the illegal cutting of trees and the effects of climate change. Eric believed this was the best way to contribute to the fight against climate change in his community and will continue to advocate and educate his community through the planting of trees. In the past, Eric has inspired many young people to cultivate gardens at their homes, recycle waste from homes, and transform it into compost, manure, and biogas. Eric has always been an advocate for environment and continues to train young people to care about the environment.
After a few weeks of, Eric already has his next project in sight, which is to support the internally displaced households with solar lamps, in order for children to do their school assignments at night and be able to carry out other household duties. Eric is also creating a psychosocial support group for young people who have been affected by the conflicts and crisis in Cameroon. This support group creates a way for these young people to heal through social traveling and hiking in order to “Connect to Nature”. Eric hopes that this travel program will be meaningful and help heal some of the trauma caused by war, as he himself, has experienced.
Check out more photos of Eric’s work and volunteerism below!