Being a Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QES) is truly an amazing experience. Seeing new corners of the world, learning about diverse communities, and analyzing global issues is a unique opportunity that every scholar cherishes. When two UFV students, Kenzie Ekkebus and Amanjot Dhaliwal, headed to Nairobi for a placement with UN-Habitat, they were also thankful to bring funding for an event that could impact local communities. However, not being familiar with the needs of the area, partnering with local organizations was necessary. 

UN-Habitat, University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (M.E.C.Y.G), and Queen Elizabeth Scholars came together to host a Green Christmas event in Kenya’s second-largest informal settlement of Mathare. Aimed toward children and youth empowerment, the event focused on how the next generation can make meaningful impacts on their community by recycling and upcycling waste products, thus practicing environment conservation and sustainability. This is in accordance with the 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. By teaching children and their families about recycling, the community can focus on minimizing the amount of solid waste that cities and towns produce and accumulate around living areas.

The planning began a week earlier, with members from M.E.C.Y.G., Mathare Roots, UN-Habitat, and UFV coming together to brainstorm an engaging and exciting event. It was clear during planning that the most important outcomes were giving the children a fun Christmas event, a delicious meal, and using the opportunity to teach them about sustainable living through environmental conservation. It was a chance to bring the community together before the holidays, and empower youth to protect the environment around them.

The day began with 44 children welcomed into the Mathare One Stop Youth Centre. They were shown an educationa youtube video, by Humming Birds tales, on how Mathare youth (Kaka and the friends) took lead in the environmental conservation of Mathare and the set up of the Mathare One Stop Youth Centre and the Soccer Pitch Ground. The children were then divided into three workshops. The first group consisted of younger children (ages 4 to 10 years), who made creative artwork from waste bottle caps, shredded plastic, popped balloons, and leaves. It was a fun workshop that showed children how garbage can be reused to make meaningful art.

The second workshop was designed for older children (ages 10 and above), and they learned about the recycling machines at the centre’s recycling workshop. The importance of collecting waste plastic bottles and recycling them was described because they can be recast into plastic trinkets, like ornaments, fridge magnets, key chains, and souvenirs. For the last workshop, children collaborated with a local producer to record a Christmas song. Music plays an integral role for people of all ages in Mathare, and the children were excited to have the chance to work in a studio and learn relevant skills. 

Children recording “Jingle Bells” under the mentorship of a local producer.

The workshops were concluded before noon, and another group of children was invited into the community centre. Around 100 children were served lunch and the Christmas party officially began. Music blasted through the neighbourhood as children gathered for balloon animals, face painting, and friendly dance competitions. Treats like candy and biscuits were handed out to excited hands and the children played until the evening came.

It was a lot of fun,” said a Mathare youth. “I loved the painting, music, and crafts. It’s great to get to be creative.”

When speaking with the community leader, Isaac Muasa (also known as Kaka), he noted, “Events like this are important in creating tomorrow’s leaders and activists. They learn lessons here that will stick with them as they grow.” It was also clear that youth centres like the M.E.C.Y.G. play a large role in the children’s lives and it was a privilege to partner with them on this project. A 12-year-old mentioned the M.E.C.Y.G. meant a lot to her as it directly gave her a platform where she could express herself creatively, learn, and interact with inspiring leaders. 

Waste management in places such as Mathare can be difficult. Some garbage dumps are in the middle of inhabited neighbourhoods, and floating trash can be seen accumulating around the river. While many organizations work to help reduce the amount of litter and improve local sanitation, it is not an easy task in these densely populated areas. Teaching the children about recycling in programs like these is one way of helping further reduce the amount of waste that makes it onto the streets and encourages kids to be creative with the materials they have on hand. 

Overall, the event was successful beyond expectation with 115 children in attendance. They were all given a chance to learn about ways to better their environment and had fun while doing it. 

(Permission for photos obtained from community leaders and Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group) 

Leave a comment