Student Environmental Leadership Program in Liberia

Name: Abraham Varney

Age: 24

Country: Liberia

I’m Abraham Varney a servant leader, climate advocate and an entrepreneur with over three years experience in environmental issues. I grew up as an orphan in a slum community with other underprivileged youth. As an orphan, life became very complicated for me- no food, no education, and poor health care. I have attended three universities upon completion of secondary school in 2014 but couldn’t maintain my stay due to financial constraints. We are five children our parents left behind among us I'm the only child who has entered university. Currently, I’m studying Global Challenges with an emphasis on Climate change at the African Leadership University in Rwanda where I serve as Vice President for the University Student Presentative Council. A university with the aim of developing 3 million ethical and entrepreneur leaders for the African continent and the world by 2060.

In pursuit of college education, I tried to identify how my education can impact my country. I came to the realization that having a college education that contributes to job creation and environmental sustainability was very key to the developmental agenda of a country that suffered fourteen years of civil unrest and beginning to put her pieces together. Liberia natural resources were used to feed the civil unrest that turned a lot of young people into children soldiers and consumers of illegal drugs. As a result, today we find a lot of vulnerable youths that post a treat to society. The advantage we have as a country is to use the limited resources sustainably to transform and improved the living standards of Liberians.

After completion of secondary education, I saw the need for the conservation of natural, job creation and climate change as key challenges that impede social, and economic development of my beloved country so I enrolled in the Environmental Science department at the Stella Maris Polytechnic in 2015 to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to address these issues. Unfortunately, after two semesters, I dropped from the polytechnic due to lack of funds. With the passion I have developed for environmental sustainability at the polytechnic, I requested for an unpaid internship at an environmental conservation Ngo in Liberia called Farmers Associated to Conserve the Environment (FACE). FACE is a Liberian national environmental non-governmental organization established on November 27, 1998. The mission of FACE is to contribute to the enhancement of the environment and support the conservation of the biological resources of Liberia through working with local communities and building their capacities to adopt environmentally sound practices in their livelihood activities.

As a volunteer, I was opportune to serve as a research assistant on The Economics of Environment and Biodiversity (TEEB) project coordinated by United Nation Environment Program collecting biophysical data on major wetlands (mangroves forest) and how the mangroves forest can be used to mitigate climate change in Liberia. This project ignited my passion for climate action and entrepreneurship. It brought me to the realization that with all the environmental challenges post-war Liberia faces there lies a great opportunity to create business-oriented solutions to mitigate these challenges at the same time provide employment for her 4.5 million citizens.

Base on my passion for these fields and youth development, and the youngest staff in the institution, I saw the need to empower my generation so I founded the Student Environmental Leadership Program (SELP) with the aim to build the capacity of native farmers, youths, students and resource users into environmental sustainability, conservation, pollution control, climate change mitigation, and adopt best environmental practice, entrepreneurship, and other pressing environmental challenges. Currently, the Student Environmental Leadership Program (SELP) is operating in the Lake Piso basin, Robertsport City, Grand Cape Mount County, Liberia. The Lake Piso Multi Use Nature Reserve, one of Liberia protected Areas established by law, therefore building the capacity of native farmers, youths, students and resources users on sustainable livelihood activities is significant to the management of this biodiversity hotspot.

The Student Environmental Leadership Program runs on the following pillars:

  1. The Young Environmental Leadership School (YELS): YELS is a program that provides training for resources dependent through a week-long training that tackle a wide range of environmental challenges with an emphasis on climate change with practical solutions toward these challenges. At the end of the YELS program participants are introduced to a network that will provide mentorship and career guidance in an environment and environmental related fields. However, we hope that YELS will be launched this year.

  2. Community Waste Management Initiative (CWMI): CWMI is a program under the student Environmental Leadership Program that focuses on the well-being of community dwellers living in a vulnerable environment (pollution). Well-being is a major factor in the development of any nation as such the SELP program works with community dwellers in making sure that there is a healthy environment by putting proper waste management in place to dispose of domestic waste. We work with the communities in the Lake Piso basin to carry on monthly cleaning up initiative of the environment.

  3. Voice of the Environment (VOE): VOE is a radio platform that gives stakeholders who are into the environment and environmental project to share their views on national and international issues. It also provides students participating in the SELP program to share what they have learned to the public and their involvement ensuring environmental sustainability in Liberia.

  4. School Environmental Club (SEC): The School Environmental Club is a flagship program with the aim of engaging future Leaders in schools to develop a passion for environmental conservation while in primary and secondary school. Students are involved with organic gardening, climate change advocacy workshops, and environmental excursions off their campuses. They are trained in manure production to grow their organic produces. Under this program, SELP conducted the first Environmental Poster’s Competition among high school students in Liberia. The Program brought together sixty students from four high schools in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County. The competition made young people think critically to identify environmental problems especially plastic pollution and formulate practical solutions to mitigate those problems. The competition was a mean of celebrating World Earth Day; a day set aside to raise awareness globally on Environmental Issues. The theme for the celebration was “End Plastic Pollution while SELP domesticated the theme as “End Plastic Pollution in Lake Piso Basin.” The program was held at the Robertsport High School library in Robertsport City, Grand Cape Mount County. The program reduced plastic pollution by 23% in the area.

  5. Farmers Agricultural Advancement Program (FAAP): Under this program farmers, are trained on climate-smart agriculture practice. Basically, the aim of this program is to discourage farmers from Highland (forest) farming to get involve in low land farming. Over time, the use of chemical fertilizer has been the best solution for farmers for crop production, however; with the help of our program, we were able to train 10 farmers in our project site on the use of biodegradable for fertilizer on their farms. Unfortunately, other farmers who don’t subscribe to the solution experienced low crop production due to the excess use of fertilizer on their farms damaged the water body negatively impacting the production level. So now they are requesting to be part of our FAAP program. With limited financial resources, we hope to generate funds to extend to other farmers in the region.

When I dropped from the university four years ago and embarked on this journey, many of my colleagues didn’t understand the financial constraints and the urgent need to mitigate this environmental challenges I was confronted with but thought I was chasing little salary not knowing that I was led by my passion for climate justice. One thing I want to point out is that we who are orphans, we can’t afford to lose the fight of environmental sustainability for generations to come. Because we are one of the most vulnerable groups to environmental challenges so there is a need to have a more actionable solution to aid young environmental leaders with technical and financial supports like scholarships and grants in this global fight.

Everyone can’t be environmental advocates or activists; however, everyone can contribute to the capacity building of committed and passionate environmental advocates and activists to save mother earth. There are many first-generation environmental leaders around the globe like me who lack access to funding to run their projects and/or build their technical capacity to enhance their contribution to mitigating climate change for this generation and generation to come. until we invest in youth development, the fight against climate change can not be achieved.