Meet Tanzania’s 12-year-old environment champ

KATE OKORIE, BIRD STORY AGENCY

IT is a sunny Thursday morning in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and 12-year-old Sharon Mowo is dressed in a corporate suit, as so many are here in the city hosting COP 27.

Settling in at a table on a balcony that faces a large swimming pool, the young activist begins by talking about her foundation, which works at the intersection of tourism and the environment:

“The Sharon Ringo Foundation focuses on three main themes,” she explained. “Climate action, environmental justice and sustainable tourism.”

Her journey into full-time environmental activism began in September 2020. Her inspiration was Samia Suluhu Hassan, her country’s first female president. “If she can do it, then I can do it too,” she said. She was only nine at the time.

Not long after her, she began the Sharon Ringo Foundation and launched a five-year project to plant two million trees annually. Within eight months, she had planted 38,500.

According to her father, Ringo, the numbers could be even higher: “She has been planting trees since she was five and sometime in December 2020, she was invited to Mount Kilimanjaro to plant 12,000 trees.”

Her father has become her business coach, seeking out the best people to mentor his daughter’s interests.

On 9 October 2021, one of those mentors, the former Tanzanian Minister of Tourism and Heritage Zanzibar, invited Sharon to the first East African Community Tourism Expo. At the event, she gave a speech which made an impression on the Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC), Dr Peter Mathuki, and subsequently led to her appointment as the first child Trade and Tourism Ambassador of the EAC.

“I recognised her as a wonderful leader who needed to be mentored and supported because of her gift and ability to assist not just the East African Community, but the entire globe,” wrote Mathuki.

Since assuming this role, Sharon has intensified efforts to contribute to her country’s tourism and environmental spaces.

With the help of her parents, she registered her foundation and began writing a book — a documentary of her personal experience watching animals in their habitat at the Serengeti Safari Lodge in Tanzania. But the book is about more than just her love for the “Big Five”- she also hopes to “inspire other parents to be able to teach their kids better.”

She knows how knowledge can spur children’s interest in their world. She grew up watching documentaries by National Geographic and reading books by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates but recognises that not every child will be the same: “Climate education should be fun since kids like such activities. Educators can organise tree planting events for kids and at the same time, they can be playing games.”

At home, her work has inspired her peers to take up tree planting. “When my foundation is invited for an event in my school, I usually give a speech and plant some trees afterwards. During this time, some of the kids would gather and promise me that ‘they’ll take care of them.'”

As for much further abroad, she’s found eager listeners in Egypt. “People here at (COP27) are very interested in what I am doing.”

And she’s got a simple message for the world leaders rubbing shoulders at this all-important event: “They need to start keeping our environment safe and stop being greedy because it hurts us, the future generation.”






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