Volunteer

Fight For Climate Justice: Eric Mbotji’s Story

By Morgan Taylor Peterson, MPH

Eric Mbotji

Eric Mbotji

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

I love advocating for the environment and planting trees is my own way” – Eric Mbotiji

I love advocating for the environment and planting trees is my own way” – Eric Mbotiji

Check out more photos of Eric’s work and volunteerism below! 

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Amalen the Artivist

Amalen built a massive puppet of the Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death & New Life for the Climate March. The Goddess demonstrated a strong woman beating back the greedy capitalist destroying the world.

Amalen built a massive puppet of the Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death & New Life for the Climate March. The Goddess demonstrated a strong woman beating back the greedy capitalist destroying the world.

Sticking out a paint-covered hand, Amalen reaches over to greet a new arrival at the Rhizome Collective “It’s Dry!” he assures them, with a warm smile. Easy going and friendly, Amalen spent much of his time at COY and COP23 practicing “art-ivism”, as he calls it: the practice of using art as a medium for activism work. Amalen not only made his own banners, capes, puppets, posters, and prints, but he helped others to do so as well. He was one of three people leading the ArtSpace at this year’s conference. Along with Danny & Kevin, they set up a space where youth could gather and provided resources for their creative expression with the goal of launching actions and campaigns, protests and calls for support during the two weeks of UN negotiations on climate change.

Amalen is from Malaysia, and has spent nearly a decade dedicated to environmental justice, indigenous rights, and capacity-building. Long before I even knew what that word meant, Amalen was leading training sessions on how to communicate your message, organize volunteers, and influence policy in creative & effective ways. He even spent time leading corporate trainings commercially. I had the pleasure of getting to know Amalen over the past year. He participated in Care About Climate’s Online Youth Exchange, where we gathered in online webinars to discuss some of the very same issues that he trained people on. We met in person in July in China during the CYCAN International Youth Summit on Energy & Climate Change. 

Climate Sign from Great Wall of China with OYE and IYSECC participants

Climate Sign from Great Wall of China with OYE and IYSECC participants

When we went to visit Amalen in the Rhizome ArtSpace during Week 1 of COP, he gave us a quick tour, then put us to work on making a banner for our action: asking negotiators to step up their Nationally Determined Contributions to close the emissions gap to protect the lives and livelihoods of future generations. “Start with a quick background on your fabric, it makes the words stand out really well and draws attention towards the center! There are paints and rollers over in that bin. Just remember, personal responsibility is sexy, so please clean up after yourself!” We got to work painting as he scurried off to help another group. There were at least four actions planned for Thursday, and more on Friday- each requiring a team working alongside each other in the Rhizome.

Amalen is also the coordinator for the Actions Working Group among the youth in COP this year, and used his

organizational skills to create an easy-to-use form to register an action with UN security (under the UNFCCC Secretariat) and a spreadsheet of all the actions that were planned so that we could support each other’s events and draw a crowd. Amalen is a fantastic leader, in that he knows when to step back and let others shine, while supporting in the background. He is a critical thinker, creative and mentor. Back home, he serves as Chief Executive Farmer at Tu:Gu with his friend Kelvin, another youth delegate at COP23. They started their aeroponics farm less than 6 months ago with all recycled and repurposed materials. 

Amalen wears his No Coal No Oil No Gas cape at a second Climate March in Bonn

Amalen wears his No Coal No Oil No Gas cape at a second Climate March in Bonn

A “typical” day at COP for him looks like this:

7:00 Wake up

8:15 Leave for Bonn Zone

9:00 YOUNGO daily meeting

10:00 Actions working group meeting

11:00 Zip over to Bula Zone to catch some negotiations

12:00 Bike back into the center of Bonn to open the ArtSpace

12:00 Send emails about that day’s actions

14:00 Make some fabric prints

16:00 Take inventory of supplies and pick up more

18:00 ArtSpace fills with youth, community members, and other Art-tivists

22:00 ArtSpace closes, some people stay late to finish

23:00 Start cleaning up and hang the last of the banners to dry

00:00 Arrive back at the hostel, start working on press releases, and check emails

3:00 Climb in bed

This is just a taste of what Amalen does, as there is so much more that he was going each day that I missed. While COP is over now, If you’re in Bonn, be sure to go visit the Rhizome Collective at  Dorotheenstrabe 99, Bonn. And check out some of the powerful actions Amalen has done in the past in this trailer to the film, Voices Not Heard: The Climate Fight of Malaysian Youth, by Director Scott Brown. 

If you’re interested in seeing or screening the film with your school or organization, please contact Scott Brown at scottbrown@u.northwestern.edu

From left, the Author, UNFCCC Focal point on Education & Youth, and Amalen flash the Climate Sign after moderating the opening ceremony of COY13

From left, the Author, UNFCCC Focal point on Education & Youth, and Amalen flash the Climate Sign after moderating the opening ceremony of COY13

By Sarah Voska

Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, and the director of the Online Youth Exchange. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at careaboutclimate@gmail.com with any questions!