Tanzania's Climate Warrior

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I was born in Arusha Tanzania on a Saturday morning and my parents named their first born child Tajiel, meaning the ‘crown from God.’ Tanzania is known as the soul of Africa. It is also the home of Mount Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, and Zanzibar.

During my childhood, I was close to my late grandfather Ndetiyo Urioh, who contributed much to my personality, including the desire to care for nature. He forbade me to use sharp tools as I could be tempted to cut the tree and shrubs. I still honor this passion to care for nature that I inherited from my late grandfather.

In my early childhood, again my father planted eleven trees for me to take care of. When I now think of the number of trees planted I realize my Father treasured November which is my birth month.

After high school education at the foot of world highest free-standing Mount Kilimanjaro, I eventually enrolled at university to study Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam. I also studied other international courses on climate change.

I have been planting trees among others since I was a child. Today at the Appalachian State University (Appstate) there is a tree named after me called ‘Taj Tree.’ This is a redwood tree I planted while studying Civic Leadership at Appstate.

I consider working on conservation, climate action, and sustainability at large as part of living a life that matters. I work to help people to see the big picture that I see and take massive action for sustainability at the personal, family, community, corporate, and political level.

During our leadership studies at Appalachian State University, my classmates used to call me “green blood” because they saw me living the ‘green’ lifestyle.

In my second year at university, I founded a blog named “The Green Icon” to share environmental stories to create awareness. During my studies, I was doing some other personal businesses that supported me to pay 30% of the tuition fee and bills.

In my second year, I bought my first brand new performance laptop by using revenue from Neolife business. This laptop helped me to manage the blog. I learnt website management, Windows Operating System, and troubleshooting. I went on to start a software business. I bought a bulk software license and sold to students, staff, and small business owners. This gave me the cash flow to pay for my bills among others.

My initiative grew and reached many youths with inspiration to do more for our environment. In March 2014, I joined the Tanzania Civil Society Forum on Climate Change (ForumCC), there I worked in climate change communication. This opportunity increased the audience for my climate action messages.

By the end of that year, I participated in the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations in Lima, Peru, as Rapporteur for Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA). This conference was an eye-opener on the international affairs of climate action and politics. I created a network of like-minded individuals that exist to date. Engagement with other stakeholders both nationally and internationally has helped me to stay on the radar.

In mid 2015, my work contract ended so I continued working under my initiative. This was a crucial year for the climate action movement as we expected to have a global climate change agreement in Paris during UN Climate Change Negotiations. I was invited to be part of Bread for the World delegation in Paris, and we pushed harder on the inclusion of Loss and Damage in Paris Agreement. On the other hand, I was supporting other civil societies on airing the voice of the voiceless in this global decision-making platform.

I still participate in and follow international negotiations on climate change under the United Nations frameworks. This is important as these decisions impact our communities which need robust support on developing resilience against climate change. It is important to note that I have also been contributing to the formulation of the position of Tanzania and the East Africa Community respectively towards these high-level negotiations.

For the past five years, I have been working with various communities in Tanzania across various sectors on building resilience, notably in health, water, agriculture, energy and advocacy for climate action. I have been part of a team that developed an essential ministerial publication on climate change and health. I also participated in facilitating training for health professionals on the link between climate change and health. In 2017 and 2018 I joined a team of expert reviewers for two UN Environment publications namely Adaptation Gap Report and Global Environmental Outlook Report for Youth.

Despite working on global and regional climate change issues, I always maintain national and community engagement as it is important to act locally and scale up to a larger coverage. I work with the media through different programs that aim to inform, share and raise more understanding about climate change and how everyone can participate in their capacity.

Consistency and technical know-how, among others, contributed significantly to my success. Many do not see the big picture of climate change and its implication to their livelihood, some associate changes with spiritual beliefs and stick on one solution of prayers without robust resilient action.

It is important to note that many low-income families along the forest resources do not like to talk about environmental challenges in their locality because these natural resources are the primary source of income. Look at the families that merely practice subsistence farming or who make a living from charcoal burning. If there is demand for charcoal, there will be a need for them to supply it, yet most consumers are middle class residents who mostly live in urban and peri-urban areas. However, middlemen benefit more in such a business chain than these low-income families.

My work is cemented by passion and the spirit to serve. If someone is passionate about something, I would advise them to start small and local, small is good, and local is beautiful.

Many dreams and passions have died because of prolonged waiting for the right time and resources. There are many resources around us. It is just that we usually do not appreciate or recognise and explore their full potential. Starting small will give you first-hand experiences that will become handy as you grow.

Joining forces with others in the same sector will give you powerful allies. However, this will require a shared vision and dedication. If you cannot find this shared vision, then build your team. There are so many youths who want to learn, let them in and grow with them.

I encountered several challenges including a lack of interests on climate change and low morale to act as an active citizen and responsible consumer which might be the result of inadequate knowledge about climate change and its impact on our daily life. These are some of the challenges I have had to face as I try to pass my message on climate change to younger Tanzanians and Africans.

I acknowledge that behavioral change is not a result of short-term engagement, so I keep working on this subject and coming up with innovative techniques that bring youths closer to listen and to understand. Methods I employ include continuous use of media, youth publications, responsible use of Social Media like #TajTips and leading by example. Sharing my stories inspire others to understand and breed the green cause among youths. So, I mentor them to help them get started.

I often advise people to consider the carbon footprints of their actions and where possible explore various options that may reduce it. For instance, I mostly cycle to work and other places as part of reducing my transport carbon footprint. You can save the planet by choosing products, services and actions with low to zero carbon footprint.

Presenting complex topics like climate change requires innovation and a willingness to serve. So, I tailor messages and engagement to my audience and partners. Being open-minded and encouraging knowledge-sharing improves penetration of climate action communication. Many communities have the right solutions on addressing resilience in their areas, so sharing knowledge opens doors for enhancing the efficiency of their homegrown solutions.

Explore different ways of achieving your goals without giving up on it. Do not claim, "there is no way," there are many ways, but you are not just aware of all of them. Invest time to explore, ask people, read and brainstorm.

“We have power over elected decision-makers through our votes, and over corporations through our consumption choices. The harmonised climate action requires leadership from decision-makers and corporations, but ultimately we are the one to hold them accountable and responsible for the health of the planet and our generations.” 

Twitter, Instagram and Strava I am using @tajiel_urioh

 

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