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Barack’s lamp: Raising environment ambassadors in Uganda

A young man stands in front of a school.

Barack with his Environment Club at Kinaakyeitaka Primary School in Uganda. Photo by David Mutua.

Barack with his Environment Club at Kinaakyeitaka Primary School in Uganda. Photo by David Mutua.

"It was not easy for me to work late in the evenings or very early in the mornings because we did not have light at home,” says Barack, a seventh grader at Kinaakyeitaka Primary School in Uganda.

In Barack’s home, as it is for 90% of the rest of largely rural Uganda, much of the light to read and write by comes from the sun. But when the sun isn’t shining, the light often must come from dim, smoky lamps that can have long-term health effects like respiratory conditions or eye damage. If not these dim lamps, then it would have to be burning fuelwoods like charcoal and firewood, which, for many Ugandans, is the sole source of energy for their more urgent cooking and heating needs.

The idea of using this precious energy for schoolwork, even for a diligent student like Barack, is almost unthinkable.

Tragically, continuing to rely on these fuelwoods – even for light and heat — is becoming increasingly unsustainable for the more immediate needs of Ugandans facing the harsh realities of the climate crisis.

The need for new energy

Globally, burning fuelwoods like charcoal and firewood releases nearly a gigaton of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, and these emissions are a major contributor to the climate-fueled flooding and drought already ravaging Uganda.

According to a recent World Bank report, flooding, drought, deforestation, and climate-fueled mudslides have affected nearly 41% of Uganda’s total area, already leading to the loss of nearly 122,000 hectares of livable and farmable land.

What’s left often isn’t used for farming, but instead for the unsustainable harvest of more of the fuelwoods contributing to the climate crisis in the first place. Since 80% of Ugandans rely on farming and fishing for their sustenance, small farmers and families are urgently feeling the pressure of both the causes and effects of climate change.

Even though Uganda is responsible for less than 1% of the global historical emissions since 1750, the country bears the brunt of the global need for new ways of thinking and new sources of energy.

CARE Uganda has started a solar initiative to help address the global and local challenges of the climate crisis. With funds from Innovation Norway and Novo Nordisk, CARE has established solar-powered kitchens in community centers in the country’s southwestern region, as well as in the Kinakyeitaka Primary school where Barack and his fellow students study new ways of tackling the challenges of the climate crisis.

CARE has constructed and installed solar powered institutional stoves at schools to reduce fuel consumption. Photo by CARE Uganda.

Young people from four different schools in the Kikuube district recently formed “Eco-Clubs” to train their fellow students in practical environmental stewardship skills, as well as to raise climate awareness. During the commemoration of Uganda Water and Environment Week earlier this year, they gathered to share ideas and provide a community forum during a CARE-organized debate competition.

Barack’s instructors say the club has not only helped him gain environmental knowledge but also to become an orator in the process — the exact type of leader the world will need to put it on the path to a climate-safe future.

For his participation in the debates, Barack and his fellow Eco-Club members earned a unique prize, a practical tool for studying as well as a symbol of the more sustainable world the students are trying to bring to life – a solar lantern.

“My lamp has greatly helped me to revise and improve on my school performance.”

“I have learned the importance of taking care of the environment,” Barack says.”And I am no longer shy about my poor English making me not speak in public.”

Now, even when the sun isn’t shining, they can spend time dreaming up ways to help Uganda put climate solutions into practice.

As part of this solar initiative, CARE supports communal cooking at Kagoma Reception center. Photo by CARE Uganda.

“Through the project students are learning about environmental protection and increasing their passion for environmental conservation,” Mary Awori, Partnership & Innovation Specialist from CARE International Uganda said.

“They are engaged in activities like tree planting, which is essential for our environmental protection and recovery. We intend to ensure that children learn the importance of protecting the environment so that they can apply this knowledge as they grow. In so doing, they will work towards stemming the impact of climate change in Uganda.”

The solar lamp is just a small emblem of the work Barack and his fellow environmental ambassadors are doing with CARE, but the students now have a renewable source of light that, in the short term, enables them to extend their working hours while at home, and in the long term shows the way towards a sustainable future.

The solar kitchen at Kyangwali Refugee Center. Photo by CARE Uganda.
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