World Environment Day is observed annually on 5 June. The theme this year, ‘Seven Billion Dreams, One Planet, Consume with Care’, aimed to raise awareness on how humanity, the environment and societies all rely on the responsible management of the planet's natural resources. Climate change, waste management, water management and other environmental issues affect all of our daily lives, though we are not always aware of how. World Environment Day exists to bring these issues to the forefront of our minds, everywhere around the world, to ensure that all seven billion of us take personal responsibility for the world we share. 80 percent of the world’s resources are consumed by 20 percent of the people. That’s 20 percent of the world’s dreams being realised at the cost of everyone else’s. Now imagine if everyone consumed to this level. There would be no world left to share.
Here in Mulanje, next to the highest mountain in sub Saharan Africa, signs of over consumption exist. The loss of the indigenous Mulanje Cedar and other large swathes of forest land to charcoal production and farming, plantation encroachment into protected land, and non-ideal waste management systems are only a handful of such.
Malawi also celebrated their own national theme; ‘Prevent manmade disasters, Consume with care’. Actions such as deforestation and charcoal burning contribute to CO2 emissions, triggering environmental disasters like droughts and flooding. As it was just earlier in the year that 250,000 Malawians were affected by the devastating flooding that rippled through the country, which will cost 23.9bn kwacha ($51m) to repair, World Environment Day’s message became even more pivotal to spread. It gave us an opportunity to suggest possible solutions, such as planting more trees to counteract deforestation, using ‘mbaula’ or stoves to reduce the amount of fuel wood households use in preparing daily food, just to mention but a few.
Throughout our ICS placement, we have been working with youth clubs, schools and communities to raise awareness on these important environmental issues. Accordingly, we saw World Environment Day as an opportunity to bring together these groups and inspire the Mulanje citizens to think more about the environment they live in, to accept that environmental degradation is a direct result of the individual choices each of us make within our daily lives and to take the small positive steps needed to look after our world.
Schools, youth clubs and Mulanje community members join together for the procession across Mulanje
We began our celebrations by doing a 45 minute procession with members of schools, youth clubs and communities joining us from one end of Mulanje to the field where we held our event. We did this to grab Mulanje’s attention, to spread a message and to encourage other citizens to join us. We held banners and signs with environmental messages, had the traditional Ngole drum playing, sang songs, danced and ran to make as much noise as possible. For me, this was one of my favourite parts of the day, seeing a whole range of people of different ages and from different areas come together, bring enthusiasm, energy, positivity and a sense of responsibility to spread a vital message across their district for the better well-being of their society.
The procession leads into the field with the new members that joined along the way
When we reached the field, in true Malawian style, we played music and had traditional dancers perform to get the audience in an upbeat mood for the afternoon’s events. We then began by making a speech about why we were holding the event and the importance of World Environment Day. We discussed the global and national themes and highlighted the importance of each and every one of us doing our part to make the right choices to prevent further environmental damage.
Participants being entertained by Malawi’s traditional dancers
It was then time for our main activity to take place, which was a talent show consisting of eight groups from either schools or youth clubs who performed an act that had to be based on the environment. The acts performed consisted of songs, dances, dramas, poems and a rap. It was so inspiring to see the effort and time the acts had put in to ensure that they entertained the crowd, each act performed with incredible spirit, energy and enthusiasm. However, for me the best part was to see the youth set an example to their community by integrating vital environmental messages into their performance to spread knowledge across to the Mulanje audience. The acts were then judged by a panel made up of ICS volunteers, a member of the organisation Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) and a journalist who judged the acts according to their enthusiasm, crowd performance and the strength of the environmental message spread. We then announced the top three who were awarded panga knives and watering cans to encourage the sustainable upkeep of the environment within their community.
The talent show begins with excitement from the crowd
Once this was over, the Chairman of WESM and the Senior Chief Mabuka and the Director of Planning and Development, representing the Mulanje District Commissioner, were given the opportunity to make speeches. They too passed on important environmental messages, which addressed the conservation of Mount Mulanje, deforestation, burning of charcoal and the importance of utilising Malawi’s resources sustainably. When we went and asked various community members from the audience what they had learnt from the day they responded by stating that they had learnt about the urgent need to consume natural resources sustainably, the importance of trees, caring for seedlings, avoiding deforestation because of trees’ ability to absorb rain, which could have prevented Malawi’s deadly flooding if steered cleared of, and the necessity to avoid charcoal burning. Yet, what I was most happy to hear was their eagerness to spread this information. Hearing that the information imparted would be spread made me believe that Mulanje Cedars had successfully played a part — albeit a very small part in the bigger picture— to help some of the seven billion of us to work together and consume with care, to look after this one planet to which we all belong, for generations to come.
The Chairman of WESM makes a speech addressing the need for environmental sustainability in Mulanje
Written by ICS volunteer Ashleigh Morris. Photos by ICS volunteer Jonny Gregson.