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Voices for change

by Archives October 4, 2006

Catherine Mulinde is not your average teacher’s assistant. A climatology specialist at Makerere University in Kampala, she also stands as an inspiration to young people and activists working towards a sustainable future.

At the age of 24, she is already well-known in Uganda as a passionate advocate of environmental responsibility.

Mulinde wants to link the energy of the world’s youth with the global community to solve environmental crises.

She has worked closely with a variety of organizations such as AYA-Uganda, a youth environment network that provides support services such as orphanages in Uganda, and the United Nations Climate Change conference.

Mulinde flew in from Uganda Friday night to participate in the Global Forum on International Cooperation (GFIC).

This second annual conference on African development was jointly organized by GFIC and FIC-Concordia. Concordia graduate Awel Uwihanganye, the GFIC Director General, FIC-Concordia President Jad Haddad and Nick Bleser, executive director of GFIC-Canada, invited local and international professors, MPs and non governmental organization (NGO) leaders for the two-day conference at Concordia this weekend.

Catherine Mulinde spoke on Sunday’s panel entitled, “The future of environmental sustainability”, in hopes that the youth of today would understand the importance of preparing the world for future generations.

“The next generation must inherit the environment and sustainability goals we set today: the present generation makes sure the next will be well off and give them the same or better environment.”

She said African governments need communities’ knowledge in order to shape environmental and social policy.

Her drive for change is motivated by the fact that Ugandan society is 80 per cent agricultural, so the environment has a huge impact on the community. According to Mulinde, this sector is most affected by the current trend in global warming.

Born and raised in Africa, Mulinde holds a B.A. in environmental management and a postgraduate degree in meteorology from Makerere University, where she is now a teacher’s assistant.

Saturday, in an interview with The Concordian, Mulinde said she recognizes that positive change is happening in Africa. She said there has been definite improvement since the time she was born, especially in areas of privatization and the private sector of Uganda.

“Most of the sectors and institutions are now privatized,” she said. “There are better products and more exports. The people have opportunities to participate, in their own way, in the development of countries other than basing it on a government level.”

She stated she hopes western nations will not just see the continent for its problems because, she said, “It is a continent with ideas, it is a continent that is rich. with awareness.”

Because of her involvment with international organizations, she knows that many western societies see Africa as a “dark” continent. She says that is far from the truth.

Mulinde and the other panelists understand how African communities perceive western aid and NGOs from outside Africa. She said that most communities are quite accepting, as long as the organizations get involved at a grassroots level.

Mulinde believes this will help reverse the old system of top-to-bottom policy-making, helping governments find the information they need to change society and policies through the decisions and influence of the communities.

“Community is very important: rather than decisions coming from the government or from their top people, they should come from the community.

“It is better to have this bottom-to-top approach because the people know their problems. When the participants or volunteers come from western countries and go to the people themselves, it results in a better implementation of solutions,” she said.

Citing an example, she described a program for second-year environmental students at her home university. It requires students to live in a small agricultural village and get the villagers to draw a detailed map of the village, including houses, trees, fields, wells, irrigation systems, etc. From this, the students work with the villagers to find more sustainable ways to grow and harvest crops, including creating efficient irrigation and finding more suitable crop types.

Mulinde recognizes the need for government in the process and said, “If anything is to be implemented, you need policy-makers. NGOs should work hand-in-hand with governments and communities… NGOs can not stand on their own.”

Mulinde pointed out in her panel discussion that environmental degradation is ongoing and that whole regions of Africa, though they have set goals in environmental care, are failing to achieve these set standards. She touched on the apparent reluctance of corporations and large organizations such as the United Nations to fully invest in and apply the outlined environmental regulations. She asked whether it was because there is a fear of altering the economical or social structure of the world.

Again she stressed the main thrust of her message: that the global youth of today is responsible for the environment and climate. It is in their hands to stop environmental degradation and improve, strengthen and prepare the ground for future generations.

“Important events that take place in one part of the world end up having consequences all around the world.”

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