This is a guest post from Samantha Bailey, South and Eastern Africa co-ordinator for 350.org
Mohammed Okala is from the village of Jambiani on Zanzibar, and he attended our 350 Youth Leadership Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. His flight to Joburg was the first he’d ever taken. He’s a tall, quiet man who radiates sincerity and integrity. During our 5 days together at the Workshop, he never stood up in the large group to share – until our very last night together. When he finished speaking, I sat with tears in my eyes and gooseflesh on my skin. Needless to say, he got a raucous applause from the group.
He spoke of how he didn’t feel confident talking to the whole group, because there were people there with much education and he had only done 3 years of schooling. He is a fisherman, and sometimes he takes tourists diving to earn a little cash. He does not understand all the science of climate change, but he had been noticing the deterioration of marine life on his island for many years.
It was this that led him and some friends in 2001to found Jambiani Marine and Beach Conservation (JAMABECO), which focuses on reducing the pollution and environmental destruction in the seawater and along the beaches in their area. They voluntarily provide information to their communities on sustainable utilisation of marine life, and organise activities such as reef research and monitoring, beach cleanups, and providing safe fishing and boating instructions.
Okala told us how he understood the importance of getting our atmosphere’s carbon balance back down to 350ppm – how important this is for the planet, and for Zanzibar. When he shook my hand goodbye to go back to Zanzibar, he told me he would take the 350 stickers we gave him and put them up at shops and schools all over the island.
He recently registered their plan for taking action in Jambiani on October 24th. It involves a series of activities leading up to the day itself, with a community clean-up, a village debate, and planting of mangrove trees to restore the coastline’s integrity. And he’s inspiring other Zanzibarians to organise events in other parts of the island. Go Okala!