By Charles Bartlett
A workshop for Rotary District 9212 clubs was held in Nairobi on 5-6 November 2022 to share the lessons learned from their Clean-Up+ projects and to discuss future plans for their Adopt-a-River programmes. During the workshop, Rotary clubs, from Kenya and Ethiopia, discussed their challenges, aspirations, and how best to continue collaboration within District 9212.
In 2020 UNEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rotary District 9212 which covers Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan on the “Adopt a River for Sustainable Development” initiative. Since then, Rotary International has introduced environment as a new area of focus, underscoring the relevance of the Adopt-a-River initiative. The projects implemented by Rotary and Rotaract clubs under the MoU have proven the effectiveness of the initiative and helped move Adopt-a-River onto a global stage.
Participants attended in good numbers and included Azeb Asrat, District Governor of 9212; Henok Alemayehu, country chair of Ethiopia; Jimia Yasin, country chair of Kenya; Lamech Opiyo, District Chair of the Green Rotaract Concept; Joe Otin, Melbourne 2023 Promotions Chair and Rotary Peace Centers Committee Member; Salome Gitoho, Rotary International’s Representative to UNEP; and Lillian Nzioki of I.& M Bank.
The 50-plus participants highlighted some of the many challenges they have faced since the last workshop in 2021 and the completion of their Clean-Up+ projects. These included continued waste dumping, the need for follow-up after tree-planting, sewage discharges into rivers, local lack of awareness and apathy, the drying up of some rivers, illegal logging, sand harvesting and vested interests and corruption.
Participants highlighted the need for strong partnerships and recommended early stakeholder engagement as a vital lesson. Getting the community involved before starting a project and using national and local languages to communicate is very important for success. They also recommended building long-term partnerships with the private sector and schools.
They said working with government is essential but can be complicated. Some Rotarians are already in government and can help clubs understand government budget lines, processes and the best people in government to talk to. Going to the right people in government with a plan helps.
Partnerships within Rotary are seen as being very important, particularly those linking to youth to build up the number of Rotaractors and Interactors. Also seen as important is collaboration with nearby clubs, using the Adopt-a-River website and social media to share information and upcoming events, and make links with the global Adopt-a-River community.
Looking to the future, clubs will be moving beyond clean-ups to further protect, restore and sustain their river through beautification, improved waste management, dialogue with and training and education of local communities, and working with local industries that pollute rivers. Wherever possible finding solutions that result in some form of income generation improves sustainability such as helping communities to start recycling waste into briquettes or fertilizer.
The discussion highlighted the role of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG) which seeks to promote nature-positive action in line with “Adopt a River for Sustainable Development”. ESRAG is a catalyst for action and will play a strong role in developing a Technical Advisory Group to help support and guide club activities around the world.
It was suggested that a Regional Support Committee (RSG) should be set up to help support and coordinate Adopt-a-River activities in the District and Region. Led by Rotarians with a strong interest in Adopt-a-River, the RSG would also have strong links to the District Environment Committee. If the RSG is set up, it would be a first for Adopt-a-River and allow District 9212 to continue to be at the forefront of the global Adopt-a-River initiative.