One tree at a time

EELCO youth clear church grounds where new trees will be planted. Photo: Cedrick Y. Kitwa

Young Reformers turn attention to deforestation in Congo

(LWI) - For Cedrick Yumba Kitwa, the 500th Reformation anniversary sub-theme “Creation – not for sale,” is a call to turn attention to what is happening in Africa’s largest rainforest.

Two years ago, he reached out to young people across the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo (EELCO) to launch a reforestation and environmental education project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Katanga province.

Over the next 14 months they had planted 71 trees and created a park with a variety of plants that will be replicated in the regions of Upper Katanga, Haut Lomami and Tanganyika. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Young Reformers are driven by the desire “to see sustainable development and safeguard the creation,” Kitwa explained. “We want to see the church involved in climate action because we are suffering very much from climate change already.”

Congolese young reformer Cedrick Yumba Kitwa explains to community members in Mutabi village, Katanga province, why it is important to care for the environment. Photo: EELCO

There is good reason for the EELCO youth to be concerned. While half of Africa’s total forest cover is spread across DRC’s 2.3 million square kilometers, an assessment by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in 2011 warned of alarming trends such as increased deforestation, depletion of species, heavy metal pollution, land degradation from mining, and an acute drinking water crisis, leaving millions without access to potable water. On the other hand, the voluntary Climate and Clean Air Coalition, of which DRC is a member, says the government has a national policy to lower emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and works with local communities to reduce climate change impact on agricultural production and food security.

Through trainings, community actions and campaigns the young reformers are determined to continue encouraging fellow youth to plant more trees. “All I keep in mind and advocate for is that we need to grow trees in order to safeguard our planet. Whatever our experience is: let us protect our motherland and look after it.”

Kitwa, who was the EELCO delegate to the 22nd UN Conference on Climate Change in Morocco last November, says he is now ready to start the second phase of the project, with a focus on environmental education in primary and secondary schools, and meeting charcoal traders to sensitize them about the effects of cutting down trees for fuelwood.

“Even if the world is talking about climate change, other countries don’t necessarily know its true impact as we see it here in Congo. We need to continue climate justice efforts every day,” Kitwa added.

“As Congo youth, we can change this situation and participate in correcting climate change,” Kitwa adds.

“We dream of creating a ‘Luther Garden’ with climate-adapting trees in Katanga. I have seen pictures of a Luther Garden in Wittenberg, Germany, now we want to bring this to our church.”

The EELCO initiative is one of the 54 Living Reformation projects inspired by the anniversary and carried out uniquely by youth in LWF’s member churches.

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