By now it is widely known that rural and indigenous communities are at the frontlines of the climate crisis. They are the most vulnerable and exposed to climate change impacts, despite being the least responsible. In the small village of Bamunka located in northwest Cameroon, Tamo witnessed the impacts of climate change first-hand.
But the concept of climate change was like a fictional notion among the village community. Anomalous heavy winds tearing through the crop fields during the planting season were attributed to witchcraft, and lack of rainfall was believed to be a punishment from the gods. Tamo recalls the village women engaging in elaborate rituals to appease the Gods in times of drought.
It was only when he began his studies in Environmental Science at the University of Buea that Tamo learned about climate change and began to understand the causes of the puzzling phenomena he was experiencing first-hand. He was able to link it with the plight of his community back home. In Tamo’s home village, crop yields have decreased from when he was a child. He also noticed drastic seasonal changes, such as a prolonged dry season and a shorter rainy season.
“At my home community, the cocoyams are dying and disappearing. I discovered at university that it’s because of climate change. Climate change has impacted food production.”
In some regions, prolonged drought has caused deadly conflict between farmers and villagers. And in Douala, the economic capital where Tamo currently lives, heavy rains and floods have become prevalent, causing houses and buildings to collapse.
Despite growing up in Bamunka, Tamo’s family was originally from the French-speaking Baham. In 2017, the family was displaced due to the Cameroonian Civil War. When he completed his studies, he found that he could no longer visit the village he called home for 21 years.
The Cultivation of a Climate Leader
Tamo’s climate action began in 2016 while passing through Limbe in the southwest. The boarding facility he was staying at was next to a petroleum refinery. Tamo noticed that they were improperly releasing natural gas at night. Upon speaking to the villagers of nearby Mokundange, he found out that this was common practice and the odor could be perceived throughout the vicinity. The villagers were aware of the dangers and feared for the safety of their village.
What Tamo had witnessed in Limbe cultivated his passion for environmentalism and an urgent need for change. Upon his return to university, he gathered his coursemates and resolved to take action.
Action through Climate Literacy
Tamo realized that there was a glaring lack of information on climate change in Cameroon, which was also reflected in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), despite the government’s awareness of the impacts of climate change on the country’s development.
“Without climate change information, people cannot take action. If we say that we are planting trees without telling people why then they will not [participate].”
Poverty in Cameroon is high, and without understanding the benefits for the future, people will not see climate action as something important.
Tamo’s prior volunteering experience with Women for Change gave him an idea. He saw what the organization was able to accomplish for women’s rights and decided to apply what he learned from that experience to tackling climate change.
Together with his coursemates, Tamo founded a youth-led non-profit organization called Environmental Education for a Better Earth. He also decided to create an afterschool curriculum for secondary schools, covering all aspects of environmental education, including climate change and sustainability.
But this was a gargantuan task due to the lack of information and available resources. Tamo started gathering information through multiple online courses.
Building a Network through Climate Reality
In the quest for climate information to develop his curriculum, Tamo came across a tweet about the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training and saw it as an opportunity to help him move forward. He applied for the training in Las Vegas, and despite being selected, Tamo was unable to raise the money to attend – although this training was soon postponed at the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not long after, he heard about the global online training and was thrilled that there was a way for him to participate.
“Thanks to Climate Reality, I can change many lives and help many people on the path of climate consciousness.”
Through the training, Tamo came into contact with many Climate Leaders, including Susan Shockette from a U.S. chapter in New York. Susan helped Tamo develop his curriculum and continues to mentor and support him as he is constantly working to improve his curriculum.
Tamo has partnered with several schools where he teaches his curriculum to learners as a free service every Wednesday after school ends. He also trains school and university graduates to teach under him so they may gain skills and experience. But Tamo soon realized it is not easy to keep students engaged. When he discovered their passion for technology he blended his program with ICT, teaching them how to use computer skills for climate activism.
Dedication to Climate Action
Tamo refuses to take on any full-time work so that he can focus on his NGO and curriculum.
He recently learned how to develop food gardens through African Climate Reality Project’s virtual workshop under the Sink Our CO2 campaign. He has since started engaging with communities and plans to extend it to schools.
He is also planning tree-planting activities, with a special focus on fruit trees to improve the lives of the people in his community.
“When you plant a fruit tree, people will protect it because they know they can eat from that tree, benefit from it, and even generate an income.”
Through his organization, he has also launched several awareness campaigns on climate change, such as the #quartierstrikeforclimate.
A Challenging Road to Take
The path of an activist is paved with many obstacles, and Tamo’s is no exception. From dealing with climate deniers to overcoming the lack of resources, there are many hurdles to jump.
One of the challenges Tamo often faces is the language barrier among French communities, as information often requires translation.
Tamo has also found that many people are not interested in anything they cannot immediately profit from. For this reason, proposals he sends to schools often get rejected. To overcome this, Tamo offers free ICT classes and tutoring in maths and physics.
Tamo is currently collaborating with other community-based organizations to develop a program. He is also in the process of applying for scholarships to further his studies in climate change.
His advice to other climate leaders is to use every resource available to enhance their climate action.
“When you are passionate about something, you must go into it with your whole heart”.
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