Prosperous year 2020 to every one of you. We are very grateful for every support you have accorded us over the last 40 year of The Giraffe Centre existence and over 20 years of the annual Competition participation. W are very grateful for every penny you have used towards supporting environmental conservation around the world and our activies.
As customary, we have always given the Kenyan student a chance to express their thoughts on various environmental conservation topics through an Annual Competition, 2020 won’t be different yet bigger.
We are all in the move. Some move with a pretty clear understanding of where they are going, in which case people would call ambitious, focused, role models, you name it. The other group is the nonchalant, easy-going, live-in -the moment type who toss care to the wind. We all have these types of people in our inner circle. Each personality brings the best or the worst in us, but one thing remains for sure, they all form part of this closely-knit fabric without which we fall apart.
Then there’s the loners, the sojourners or backpackers. These don’t subscribe to the famous maxim “For the strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the park is the wolf.” They are very loyal to solitude and go about everyday life in a manner only particular to them.
With all this evolution and growth in the human mindset. One thing has stood the test of time. The desire to know. To find meaning and understanding. To explore. This would explain why ancient explorers would leave the comfort of the familiar to seek something far much more significant- a knowledge of what’s out there. I imagine this is how most of these conversations went.
“ For heaven, sakes Vasco, get a grip of yourself! Who says there’s something far much better beyond our shores? Why go sailing unchartered waters?”
“But mother, how will I know if I don’t take the risk? There has to be something beyond that horizon. There has to.”
“We better get you a wife. Maybe that would give you a reason to stay,”
“Don’t sweat it mother, I’ll marry my kind.” Says Vasco as he storms out of their cottage.
Just like that Vasco da Gama sets off to a journey of the unknown. He finds himself in the tropical weathers. Back home was freezing, but here. This place is different. I will try not to indulge in the stereotypical writing of Africa’s sunsets, neither will I talk of its savannah and the Maasai because there’s much more to the continent itself than starving bushmen.
I will, however, talk about Africa’s beauty in a different light-the People. They say people make culture and that the opposite is false. I agree. Africa is vibrant because of its people. This continent became a transition point for many races after the Pangea broke. And for centuries we still find our way back. We come back to what our hearts know or longs.
Giraffe Center is one such confluence. One tributary comes carrying friends from Athens, another brings the explorers from Korea. One loner backpacking across North America may save enough just enough to come to Kenya or a curious individual watching Ellen DeGeneres’ experience at giraffe centre may decide to pack up and come have a feel of the same.
These rivers all meet up here. That is what makes Giraffe Center special. The joy shared by those having their first giraffe kisses or lack thereof due to fear draws them to a common understanding. We pride ourselves in being matchmakers. Giving people a taste of both worlds. Some of the friendships formed here last a lifetime, so do the connections. This is why we do what we do. Bring people closer and promote universal coexistence.
People ask me why I am obsessed with words. Why I seem to know a lot about things but at the same time be so clueless about the things that matter. Well for starters, what things matter? Unless we are talking about SDGs or African poverty, I think “things that matter” are very subjective concepts and cant, therefore, be pinned to a world view.
I love people who play with words. Heck, Love could be an understatement. I adore them. The other day I was listening to LSD’s track “ No New Friends.” There’s something about that song that has me playing it on repeat. It could be the unique message sent across by the video.
The video takes us to a world of utopia, a land of paradise, no sorrows no worries at all (I used to love that song in Sunday school). This paradise, however, is dominated by dancing Truffula Trees. Have you heard of the story of the Truffula trees or more precisely The Lorax? No? Okay, walk with me. For those who have, take this as a refresher.
The Lorax is a children’s book written by Dr Seuss in the seventy’s documenting the plight of the environment. The Lorax a mystic creature in the book “speaks for the trees” by confronting the Once-ler who promotes environmental degradation. And so the story begins, Once-ler is walking one beautiful morning in search of fertile land. In his walk, he comes across a forest valley full of the Truffula trees. Up until that point, the Once-ler had never seen a tree with such silk-like foliage and incredible colours. So he decides to cut down the tree and from the foliage make a thneed (an incredibly versatile garment).
He sells that garment to a passerby who pays back in kind. This becomes like an epiphanic moment to him. He gets the worst idea ever but to cut down all the trees and expand his industry. So the Lorax who “speaks for the Truffula trees” confronts the Once-ler. He warns the Once-ler against his actions towards the environment. Eventually, all the animals are forced to migrate. The air becomes toxic, The rivers become polluted from the industries waste. Chaos wreaks the land. Now the dude decides to wake up. Things are going bad. With a lack of resources, his industry shuts down. The Lorax writes on the trunk of the last standing tree, the word “Unless” and flees.
Years later, after pondering over this word in turmoil. The Once-ler realises what the Lorax meant. That “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I think by now you get where am going with this analogy.
The fable depicts our current reality. Cooperate greed over the environment. The Once-ler could very well be our industries and the Lorax the environment. We exploit, degrade, destroy all in the name of economic growth. How is that even self-actualisation? I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. It’s a shame that the human mind is only accustomed to change when pain is involved.
Now you might not have felt the pain yet and are probably wondering what am ranting about, but others have felt it. Take, for example, the case of Mozambique and their floods, or the millions of intoxicated children living in India. If you are wondering what you can do to change this, am proud of you. That’s a significant milestone you took there.
My answer to you. Plant trees. Most of these problems we struggle with find their way back to deforestation and irresponsible logging of trees. Planting trees reduces the carbon footprint in the air, thus bringing a balance in the atmospheric gases. A case like Mozambique would have been less detrimental if they had a large forest cover. The children in India would breathe cleaner air.
The Lorax story ends with the Once-ler giving a young boy Truffula seeds to plant and save the planet. We’ve tried implementing the same line of thinking in the giraffe centre with our school greening initiative. We donate trees to schools and monitor their planting and progress. This ensures that the students take on the full responsibility of planting trees and understand the importance of doing the same.
On sustainability, we educate the students on alternative sources of energy that saves from cutting down trees. This involves teaching them how to make charcoal briquettes with the hope that this message will be passed on to their communities.
Wondering how you can be part of this amazing initiative? Join our 1 dollar 5 seedling project, and for every dollar, you donate 5 seedlings will be given to a school for planting. Before you get this twisted, the donations are for buying seedlings. “Unless we do this, then we might as well start packing our bags for the journey to the world of the dead.”
A typical day for me as an educator at giraffe centre starts with a strong cup of coffee. It should be strong enough to get me up and about. Days can be long and hectic during these peak seasons, but one rule goes unspoken for an intern: always be on top your of your game. Today is a Wednesday, and Wednesdays are good days because we have chicken for lunch and who doesn’t like chicken?
My first task for the day is the packaging of pellets. Not my ideal way of starting the day but Ed, the giraffe, is present today and that most certainly is a sign of good luck. Ed was a case of love at first sight. I don’t like cheesy statements, but for Ed, I will make an exception. You see, if Ed were a man, then he would be the modern-day Idris Elba or Aqua man if you are into fiction. He is quite the gentleman with tender and amazing kisses.
From packaging pellets, I lead visiting students, if any, into a lecture hall. There I will give a full-on presentation on Sustainable Environmental Conservation and all there is to know about giraffes, why? Because I am an educator – quite a fancy name, in my opinion. The talks happen for the better part of my morning. I might change shifts with the intern at customer care and take over the issuing of pellets to our customers. It is interesting how a communication barrier is never a problem when it comes to food. Most of the time, guests know what to do with the pellets.
Later on, I move to the platform to facilitate the interaction of the guests and the giraffes. Here you will find two groups of people; the First timers who can’t seem to believe that they are up close to a giraffe,(Their eyes are always dreamy like they might have accidentally walked into a magic shop), and then there are the Regulars. These have who mastered their way around the giraffes and even know from experience that giraffe head butts are real. Either way, the fascination in their eyes every single time is priceless.
Someone asked me the other day, “what memories of this place are sure to stick with you even long after your internship?” My answer was obvious – the people. Each day I get an opportunity to interact with different personalities. One may be on a journey of backpacking across Africa; the other could be a couple that decided to take a vacation to Africa right after retirement. They all have fascinating stories to tell. Stories of which I never get enough. Having the ability to interact with these people and listen to their views on various topics has made me more open-minded and liberal, a gift I wouldn’t trade for anything.
The other group of people that have made a significant impact in shaping me as a person is the staff at giraffe centre. You see, my view of workspaces was that of a mean boss who seems to have taken a vow to make your life a living hell. At Giraffe Center, the opposite is true. It felt too good to be true at the beginning. But as time went by I learnt that it was the work ethic and the culture of the staff that made this place feel like a home away from home. Their authenticity in helping the interns grow socially, emotionally and professionally is praiseworthy. I, for one, would not hesitate to recommend a friend to work at here. Giraffe Centre indeed has the one in a million people, wonderful counsellors and genuine friends.
Say one day you are sitting at a café after a long day of work taking iced tea or whatever it is you fancy. Across the road from the restaurant is a curio shop which seems to be having a sale. You’ve never seen a curio shop do promotional sales before, at least not one with mascots in giraffe and elephant costumes. How do they do it with all that heat – you wonder. Going back to your phone, you hear chatters and giggles. One laugh, in particular, attracts your attention. So you look up and see this group of school kids in hysterics. They look so fascinated by the mascots -I mean their eyes are even sparkling (am just assuming at this point cause how can you possibly see their eyes from across the road in a coffee shop).
They have been standing at the curio shop for almost an hour now. And as you leave to go home, you hear them talk of how they’d love to meet the real giraffes and elephants. The longing in their voices is so overwhelming. It takes you down memory lane. Childhood memories of going for school trips to national parks and how you could not sleep the night before any of these trips. You’d love to give them this experience because every child deserves to be happy.
At the Giraffe centre, we have enjoyed the privilege of bringing smiles to thousands of these children. The inspiration that brought to life our Ecological trips was not just born over a cup of tea but the desire to educate and pass on the knowledge of conservation. So for the last nineteen years, we have committed to taking school children, especially from rural or disadvantaged backgrounds to these day-long trip.
Each year, in partnership with Kerrigan Waves Trust, we take students from Mukuru Kayaba Primary School to the Ecological trips. These trips’ aim is to learn while having fun as some would call it- edutainment. It starts with a trip to our centre. Here the kids can feed the giraffes and if lucky kiss them too. The next stop takes us to Mamba Village, which is an Ostrich and Crocodile Farm. Did you know that crocodiles don’t have tongues? And that male Ostriches are called Roasters? Thought you should know, Cool stuff there!
From Mamba Village, the school proceeds to Nairobi Animal Orphanage. Here they see the Big Five animals and many other animals that have been orphaned or injured and are under rehabilitation. It is an amazing sight to come close to a roaring Lion or a panting buffalo. Their final stop is the David Sheldrick Animal Orphanage. Have you seen an elephant up close? They are magnificent creatures. Tender giants of sorts, and quite frankly my bias. The kids learn how emotional and demanding elephants can be, which explains why they are very social.
The day ends with a spectacular meal in which the educators and children interact and share exciting things they learnt from the trip. Eventually, we take them back to school and wait to read their compositions on that experience. It is a fulfilling job to give back, a habit that should be inculcated in all of us.
If you are an intrepid soul that only finds peace in the knowing, then David Attenborough would be your best friend. He being a curious individual by nature has spent a better part of his life exploring the wild and bringing it closer to our homes. I remember for the longest time the only TV channel we’d watch as a family that resonated with all of us and would almost immediately put an end to the remote control fights would be the Nat Geo Documentary – Blue Planet.
His calm voiceover as he spoke of the high seas and low tides took us to places we’d never been. I blame my introverted nature on of some these series because I would prefer sinking to a world of fantasy, my little haven of sorts, than having a mindless chatter with those around me. I know what you are thinking. Yes, this is not proper behaviour, especially in cooperate spaces. I am working on it. There’s always room for the personal growth right?
The other day, Netflix released David Attenborough’s documentary- Planet Earth. Now, I won’t lie to you because no one is paying me to promote it, but the truth is the series is dope! To show you that I have grown as an individual, my thought process consequently evolved from the lines of, are mermaids real to more sophisticated thoughts like what is the role photography in the conservation of wildlife?
So I did a bit of nose-diving, thank God for the internet! and came across two intriguing wildlife photographers. Their works could arguably stem on inspiration from Sir Attenborough. Fun fact: Sir David Attenborough was knighted by the Queen of England for his exemplary work in natural history programmes.
Let’s start with the less complicated photographer- Matty Smith. So Matty is an ocean explorer and photographer who mainly focuses on showing the difference between the dry land and the deep seas. His collection, a Parallel Universe: Windows beneath the Waves, showcases some of the best- half over half under – water photographs the world has seen.
His signature style of taking images of marine life has won him internationally acclaimed awards and recognition. One of his photos that gives me the creeps is the Smiling Assassin which shows an American Crocodile lurking on the water surface but seems somewhat ready to pounce on his unwary self.
Karren Lunney is the second photographer who deals with more contemporary and complex ideas. Her concepts rally around liminal spaces. In this case, liminal spaces mean states of transition, a point of uncertainty where a thing has ended, and another is yet to come.
Take, for example, a rite of passage, the point just before you are initiated into adulthood. It is a point of uncertainty, and these are the kind of situations Karren loved to document in the wild.
Her famous collection, Dante’s Inferno. Showcases a confusion of wildebeest ( for my diligent students a confusion of wildebeest is the collective name for a group of wildebeest) migration as they cross over from the Maasai Mara to Serengeti plains. During the migration, the Wildebeest cross the Mara River which is inhabited by crocodiles, and some of the wildebeests fall, victim. In Karren’s view, it is a point of uncertainty if the wildebeests will make it to the other side of the river. It is also a test of bravery as with all rites of passage.
You all have to agree with me when I say, wildlife photography is not just a way of documenting our heritage but also a way of life. It is rather sad to note that very few Africans have actually ventured into this art of photography. And as the world evolves, I do hope we begin to document our own beauty as a continent.
The other day I was browsing the internet looking for tips on mindfulness and meditation because hearsay has it that the two help rid us of bad energy and makes us whole again. I admit to being a curious individual in nature and trying out new things is sort of my life’s desideratum. So I kept digging from site to site and came across the concept of Forest Bathing. Forest Bathing, despite its name, doesn’t involve anything to do with water. Such a bummer, right? For a second, I was entertaining the idea of going skinny dipping in the woods.
So what is forest bathing you might ask?
Forest Bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku in Japan, is a practise that was first developed in Japan around the 1980s by physicians to help patients improve their health and well being. I don’t know if you know this, but Japan is one of those counties in the world with a strict set of rules for anything and everything. So even though people have been roaming the forests since time immemorial, Japan just had to come up with instructions on how to do the walking while practising Shinrin-yoku. Because we are all for healing souls and having green time, I will be your very own Yoga sensei and take you through the process of forest bathing.
The first step is to find yourself a forest with a thick canopy, great news we have one right here at the giraffe centre. As you move into the woods make sure to heighten your senses, I don’t even know how am supposed to do that, but I’ll follow instructions none the less. Slowly walk while touching the trees, looking at colours and patterns and listening to the chirping of birds. Important to note, like all being- one -with nature activities, cell phones are to be left behind. Give your body a chance to slow down and deeply breathe in the scent of the flowers. This almost sounds like a detergent commercial. At the end of the exercise, lie down under a canopy of trees and watch the colours of the leaves and the sky.
As I was writing this, someone said show don’t tell. So I decided to go forest bathing to make sure I am feeding my audience with practical knowledge. See, taking a walk is one thing, but doing a Shinrin-yoku is another thing. It takes a great deal of patience and self-control to walk in these woods without a phone or camera because once in a while an exotic bird will start humming right above your head, and you won’t be able to record it. Then instead of focusing on being in the moment, your mind will just keep running back to your phone, at least that’s what happened to me.
While at the forest, I learnt a great deal about the trees, especially the Sycamore Fig ( Mugumo tree). Remember the cursed tree from the bible?, yes that’s the Mugumo tree. This tree for the longest time has been considered as sacred by many tribes from Kenya.
Its fall is also believed to signify a major event in history is about to take place, whether negative or positive. I saw one fallen on my track, maybe the apocalypse is about to hit.
As forest cover continues to deplete, we pride ourselves here at the giraffe centre for having a natural habitat that still continues to thrive with different species and subspecies. At the end of the nature trail, I did feel much better so we can say the idea of forest bathing may work. If you don’t make it to our trail, find yourself a green space to meditate, but if you do, don’t forget to carry your camera- the phone can remain- because you don’t want to miss out on having captured beautiful pictures of birds and Dik Dik’s for your office table.
As the world evolves and talks surrounding sustainability become a daily dose to people’s routines, one topic remains at the top of the charts, and that is renewable sources of energy. People are coming towards a common understanding that at this point fossil fuels need to go because they are the primary cause of our problems. So when you see an influencer go on Instagram promoting something green, not a soul is surprised because that’s what up, at least they are woke, we say.
The buzz surrounding Clean energy has got the World’s scientists pulling strings to come up with alternative sources of energy for our sustenance. Now I must warn you, some of these alternative sources of energy may seem quite over the top or ridiculous so to speak.
Yes, you read that right. This is how green we are going friends. But how is that possible? Every morning as we wake up a large population of us resort to coffee, whether iced if you are enjoying summer or hot for us fellows of the tropical winter. Coffee powers our day,
but what if it could do the same for our cars? You see coffee waste thrown away by countless shops across the country can actually be used to produce bio-diesel. Cool right? Well, the production of energy through coffee is still underway, but this form of energy is proving to be quite efficient and cost-cutting. I am getting myself a coffee-powered vehicle in the future if they are mass produced because no one likes FOMO ( FOMO for my pre-millennial audience being the Fear Of Missing Out)
It just keeps getting better. So we found something better to do with chocolate other than handing it over to valentine dates. And on that note, I would like to demystify the stereotype of chocolate and ladies – no, not all girls love chocolate. Anyway, chocolate waste from factories, according to research, can be fed to a bacteria E.coli to produce Hydrogen, which is one of the cleanest fuels in existence.
The fat from the chocolate can also be converted to biofuel and used to power cars, now that’s a sweet deal!
3. Body Heat
Harnessing body heat to produce energy is one of the energy sources above that has proven viable since implementation in Sweden. The heat generated by people crowding subway stations year in year out can be harnessed and used to heat water or redirected to offices during cold weather to heat up the rooms and save us from wasting electricity.
Excellent I must say!
Last but not least. Ye who love going out to drink on Friday nights, what if all that energy you used showing off your dancing skills would power your kettle the next day for a cup of coffee to help with the migraine. This is what some would call a win-win situation, but I call it forward thinking. How does it work?
The dancing floor is fitted with piezoelectric material. These materials produce energy when vibrated. So as we move towards mechanisation, dance battles in clubs will no longer be a 90s thing because… well, we are trying to be sustainable.
Today is a good day. Why? You may ask. Well, today is
World’s Giraffe Day, and that makes it as special like Christmas or Hanukkah
for the Jews who pop in here once in a while. We did not have a secret Santa
again this year, so disappointing. One would have thought that after nineteen
years in the wild I’d get used to the way of the jungle, but no, every year I
keep hoping that Santa would stop by with a stack of Lucerne grass.
Forgive my manners, “je’mappelle Betty, enchante!”
( I am using French cause introductions sound sexier in French) I am the oldest
giraffe here at the giraffe centre. I look at some of the interns my age and
can’t help but wonder why they are so full of life like I was at ten
years. Now I can feel my knees getting
weaker; my vision is not as sharp as it used to be, the air smells different
each morning. If I could speak my speech would start to get a little slurry,
but you know what, all this is justified because I, my friend, have lived
longer than most of my cousins in the wild.
I like it here. They give us pellets and salt licks on a
daily. But today I don’t feel particularly motivated to eat pellets and salt
licks. I mean if I did, then what would make this day different from any other
day. I have made peace with the fact that Santa is never going to pop up here,
so the least my human friends can do is feed me a different treat.
I did have Rhus today, quite a delicious treat and not very common around here. I must say I was impressed by the rangers. So even when they hit their buckets of pellets calling unto us, I heeded. The day is almost coming to an end. I can see the sun setting leaving an orange layer of rays on the Ng’ong hills. It is a beautiful life, and I am happy. Tomorrow the cycle repeats itself but yet another opportunity to meet people from different walks of life at the platform.
We all at some point, come up with a bucket list of things we would love to do or accomplish by a certain age. Most of these goals are usually a product of wild dreams or being in a state of euphoria. For instance, I was convinced that I’d be a millionaire by the age of 21, cruising the Caribbean Islands on the Silver cruise and having cocktail parties in Zanzibar. Now, as 21 approaches, I look at that bucket list and can’t help but chuckle. None of those TODO activities fits my reality leave alone being practical, but oh well can’t a girl dream?
The thing about dreams is that they free us into a world of endless possibilities. This is particularly true for Singapore, a country that has for decades ranked highest as the epitome of green cities. You see in 1965, Singapore as a developing country was famously known as the polluter’s paradise.
To see mucky rivers and raw sewage pervasive was a common sight. Lee Kuan Yew (Prime minister then) as I would like to think, was strolling down the streets of Singapore one Sunday afternoon “seeking to reconnect with his roots” but that’s just a better way of saying – trying to stay humble.
Fifteen minutes into the walk, Mr Yew had almost done ten hops, skips and jumps, avoiding garbage on the streets and puddles of dirty water that covered the atmosphere with a foul smell. His heart bled. Later that evening, as he sat at his study, he wrote a speech. This speech was to be a revolutionary masterpiece, and what better way to start than to follow Martin Luther King’s prose – I Have A Dream – because it was 1960, and that was the gist.
So he began.
I have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in Green vision.
That one day, Singapore will realize that the risk to remain in this bud of traditional conservation,
Was far more painful than the risk it took to blossom with big and bold solutions.
A dream of a City in a Garden.
The letter may have been longer, but this is as far as my imagination can bring me. The people of Singapore bought into the dream, and creative solutions started to flow. Individuals set into the streets this time not demonstrating but cleaning. Within ten years the country was sparkling. There was still one problem, though. As the population continued to grow, so did the build-up of solid waste.
The Superheroes of Singapore city called an urgent meeting, and that is how the Waste to Energy solid waste management systems was born. It comprises of Recycling, Incineration and the Semakau Landfill. Four Incineration plants were constructed that are still thriving to date.
All solid waste that can be incinerated is taken to these plants where they are burnt to ashes. The heat released in this process is converted to electricity and is used to power the city all year round.
The ashes are then taken to a man-made island called the Semakau Landfill. The landfill is made of partitions that are drained of seawater then piled with the ashes until a level ground is reached. Once a level field is reached, plants are grown, and landscaping is done to make that portion a natural habitat. With years Semakau Landfill is no longer just an offshore landfill but also a recreational destination for nature lovers.
Singapore is already living SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities by incorporating parks and eco-friendly recreational facilities in their cities. The air is cleaner with trees and plants climbing skyscrapers. The young have become the forefront of conservation with the idea of green spaces becoming a norm that has been passed on to generations for the last 50 years.
Now if a developing country can rise to a first world country while still maintaining its biodiversity, who are we not to? I am not suggesting that there is a one-size-fits-all solution but when all is said and done, we as a country got a lot to learn from Singapore, now don’t we?
Image: By Merlion444 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8472987