As Africa continues to develop and embrace more sustainability initiatives, more grassroots efforts are underway by the continent’s youth. They vary from educating peers in the classroom to helping with reforestation by planting trees. Some of these initiatives are creative, using their favorite hobbies and sports to make an impact.
One amateur footballer in Kenya, Lesein Mutunkei, has replanted native saplings in the forest by using the power of soccer and collaborating with his teammates. He calls this initiative Trees4Goals, and his work since he started this campaign in 2018 is remarkable.
Kenya has suffered from historically horrible deforestation. The Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Forestry reported that only 6% of the nation’s forests were still standing by 2018, a problem amplified by the increasing development of Africa. Mutunkei didn’t want to see the natural beauty of his country fade away, so he decided to take action.
For every goal he scores on the pitch, Mutunkei plants eleven trees, each one representing a teammate on his team. It’s an innovative and unorthodox way to raise awareness about conservation and reforestation.
Now, he travels across his country, speaking at schools, leading them on reforesting excursions, and of course, playing some soccer.
“Everybody has a great time getting their hands dirty,” Mutunkei commented on Trees4Goals. His work is already yielding some incredible results, with 700 saplings planted by his 22 teammates in Nairobi’s Karura forest, incredibly done in just under an hour. In total, Trees4goals has planted around 5,500 indigenous trees in Kenya.
Photo Courtesy Trees4Goals
This effort did not go unnoticed by the international soccer community. Mutunkei gained international recognition when he was part of an environmental awareness docuseries. It caught the attention of Arsenal Football Club in London, and they were so impressed with his efforts they sent him an autographed jersey.
He gave interviews with BBC World and was even awarded the Children’s Climate Prize in 2021 for his reforestation efforts. Mutunkei hopes he can garner the attention of soccer mega-stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar and get them to promote environmental conservation.
International football governing body FIFA even commented on Mutunkei’s efforts, saying, “This and other similar projects led by young people around the world are not only commendable but also necessary.”
Photo Courtesy Trees4Goals
Trees4Goals is operating when Kenya needs more natural scenery to help tackle its growing emissions problem and to avoid displacing thousands of people from their homes.
Like many other East African countries, the country relies on biomass fuels like charcoal to power the grid, which means timber is in high demand.
However, this comes at the cost of destroying wildlife habitats and displacing several Indigenous Tribes that live in forests. Reforestation efforts like Trees4Goals have helped bring back 9% of Kenya’s forests, helping to reduce carbon dioxide produced by burning wood and providing cover for wildlife and citizens.
Mutunkei says he draws inspiration from the Green Belt Movement of 1977 and the late Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who planted 51 million new trees. Trees4Goals’s approach combines the joy of soccer with the ambition of the Green Belt Movement, steadily yielding positive results.
There is still much to be done regarding reforesting Kenya. However, the work of Trees4Goals and the activism among the nation’s young people are setting the country up for an eco-friendly future. As Mutunkei continues his campaign, he might get his wish and find himself standing next to players like Messi or Ronaldo, planting new trees and promoting his cause to millions.