Temilade Salami is a Nigerian Environmentalist, Circular Economy Enthusiast and Marine Biologist with over four years experience leading on various youth-led environmental sustainability initiatives across Nigeria. She is the Executive Director of “Ecowarriors”, one of Nigeria’s largest networks of professional environmentalists, leading environmental change through tree planting, ocean conservation advocacy, plastic waste management and environmental education in Nigeria. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks on how Ecowarriors is leading environmental change in Nigeria through tree planting, ocean conservation advocacy, plastic waste management and environmental education. Excerpts:
What endeared your focus on the environment?
During my undergraduate days at the University of Lagos, my field research as a Marine Biology student required me to visit coastal communities around Lagos. A supposed academic inquiry process exposed me to the stark realities of the damaging effects of ineffective waste disposal and uncontrolled marine pollution. I witnessed first-hand how indiscriminate disposal of plastic on land and water adversely affects water species as well as health outcomes and livelihood opportunities for residents of coastal communities. My sincere desire to address this environmental, social and economic challenge, through citizen-led activities, motivated me to rally my friends and course mates and towards organising periodic beach clean-ups and coastal community sanitation exercises as part of our course practical engagements. Our biweekly trash-picking group efforts have since metamorphosed into a full-fledged organization. With over 1000 volunteers in seven cities, we are currently leading environmental change through tree planting, ocean conservation advocacy, plastic waste management and environmental education.
In two years of operations, we have educated 2000 students about smart environmental conservation practices, planted over 500 trees, organised community sanitation exercises in 15 communities and educated over 16,000 people about proper municipal waste disposal and sustainable production and consumption.
What are your activities at Ecowarriors?
We have designed programmes and projects to help us create lasting environmental change through tree planting, ocean conservation advocacy, plastic waste management and environmental education. More than ever before, the rate of deforestation has been alarming, it has turned vibrant areas and vegetation into desolate and barren lands. The result of this is that incidences of food insecurity, land degradation, and climate change proliferate. We designed TreeVolution- a reforestation initiative to enable us plant 50,000 trees before 2048. Individuals who join our organisation plant trees as a landmark activity while people commemorate their birthdays and plant trees as a form of celebration. Over 2000 trees have since been planted. We also have the Eco Kids Klub programme which is centred on training the next generation of environmentally conscious children in schools through classroom learning and after school activities. Children are the future, and we know that they will grow to become our country’s decision-makers, consumers and social contributors in years to come. This is why we are equipping them with the right knowledge to make better decisions.
Our Climate Awareness March is a yearly Climate sensitisation walk, where EcoWarriors gather with other Environmental Organisations to walk the streets of Nigeria, one community at a time. The awareness March aims to sensitise people about climate change and the need for urgent actions. The goal is to change the mind of the people, and our elected leaders to act now to address the Climate Crisis the World is currently facing.
According to the Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Less than 30 percent of over 13,000 metric tons of waste generated daily in Abuja goes through recycling schemes. The remnants litter the road sides, accumulate in landfills, block drainage systems and get washed off into the waterways. To address this potential public menace, I led my team to design one of our recent programs called “Plastic for Good”, our goal is to collect and channel waste plastic bottles towards the advancements of Innovative incentivised Recycling initiatives. These bottles are donated to initiatives like Recycles Pay, and Education in bottles for the payment of school fees for low income students and construction of learning spaces in rural communities.
You recently released a children’s book, ‘Jojo and Jade – Heroes of Mother Earth’, tell us about it and what key message are you passing with the book?
The book is primarily a comical guide on how children can be actively engaged in environmental sustainability but in simple, practical ways. This book seeks to teach kids how to be environmentally conscious and responsible. The illustrations and examples provided in the book provide every child with the opportunity to acquire the right knowledge, values, commitment, and skills needed to protect and improve the environment.
It will also create new patterns of behaviour for children towards the environment and also give them the right information to make informed decision as they grow.
Running an environment-focused organisation must come with its challenges, what are those for you?
I would say that funding is one of the major challenges we face at EcoWarriors. We have designed very sustainable programmes and projects, but there is no doubt that we can achieve more with the right support and funding. Our TreeVolution project which is aimed at planting 50,000 trees in Nigeria before 2048 requires us to buy trees. We also have an EcoKidsKlub Programme which allows us to go to school to teach kids about Environmental sustainability; we spend money on logistics and resources for facilitators to teach properly.
Recruiting the right volunteers is also one of the challenges we face as an organisation. Unlike every other focuses in the NGO space, where volunteers can contribute their time to food distribution and other item donations, Ecowarriors is different.
Recruiting volunteers who have a basic knowledge about topics spanning around environmental sustainability can be quite tedious. We have tried over the last three years to bring every volunteer to a level ground by organising by-weekly educational chat on different environmental sustainability topics.
What role do you think the government can play in terms of policies for a sustainable environment?
Setting environmental policies isn’t enough; implementation and domestication are key processes to achieving environmental sustainability. We have policies that span across deforestation, plastic pollution, energy and wastewater management, but the big question is, ‘what are the implementation procedures involved?’ We as individuals can decide to do our bits by bringing people together and designing programmes and projects to better the environment but we are aware of the magnitude of impact one policy implementation can cause.
What keeps you going?
The problems I see around me are a driving force. I say to my friends every time, that until I walk through the streets of Lagos and find no trash in our drainage system, until almost every household is environmentally conscious, my work is not done.
Results also drive me, the gratification that comes with seeing your ideas come to fruition and experiencing the joy of the impact it creates is definitely a springboard to do more.
How would you access the level of sensitisation of people about their environment?
I think I would give it a four over 10. We have been to many primary schools under our EcoKidsClub programme at EcoWarriors, and we have always observed that, not until we come, these kids do not have a basic knowledge about environmental education. We have also been able to design Climate awareness programmes which allows us to go to communities to talk to people about the need for Environmental sustainability. Majority of the people we get to talk to on the streets, in their shops and homes, do not have a basic knowledge about the environment. This clearly shows that there is much work to be done still.
You are also a creative writer, poet, how do you combine all these portfolios and still be at your best?
I have found a meeting point for them. I’ve been able to use poetry to creatively communicate socially the issues of environmental sustainability and actions that can be taken. My passion to see Nigeria become a greener country where almost everyone is environmentally conscious also led me to write my two books ‘Jojo And Jade – Heroes of Mother Earth’ and the current one, ‘ABCs of Recycling’. These two resources exemplify how I have been able to successfully engage my creative writing skills to talk about the environment. Finding a meeting point for these skills has made my work less tedious.