Winne looks out past the grounds of her Kenyan boarding school and what she sees upsets her. Putting her hands over her face, she feels helpless. “I’m just a kid,” she whispers to herself, “what can I do?” Just beyond the tended grounds should be trees filled with monkeys and other wildlife. But Winne has learned a disturbing fact – the animals and their habitat are dying off.
Winne decided she had to do something. So she started asking questions, and with a little investigative work, learned that wild monkeys were damaging the crops of the surrounding farms and threatening the welfare of the village. They were becoming a nuisance and danger because they were losing their food supplies due to the tree cutting going on around her school.
While sitting at lunch that day, Winne noticed that many of the kids weren’t eating all their food. That got her thinking and asking more questions. She discovered that the school cafeteria was throwing away all that food.
Winne put two and two together and came up with a solution. As chairperson of the school’s environmental club, Winne organized the students who then collected the leftover food from the school kitchen and set up a regular feeding program to sustain the monkeys.
But their good intentions only created another problem. The monkeys were becoming unnaturally dependent upon humans for their food. So Winne came up with another solution; she developed a plan to plant native fruit trees in and around the school for the monkeys and other wildlife.
Her questions and resulting actions are paying off. In 2005, Winne Owade became the first African to win the International Young Eco-Hero Award. She received third prize and used the money to pay for her high school education.
In her acceptance speech, Winne urged the audience of students, parents, teachers and community leaders, to be proactive in environmental conservation. She pledged that she would work even harder to accomplish more wide-reaching goals.
Winne is a wonderful example of how a person (young or old) can make a huge difference in her community. She not only identified a problem, she found creative solutions that helped save local wildlife and opened the eyes of her community to a complex need.
Age isn’t a requirement to creativity or participation in an area that interests you. Whether you are young or old, you can make a difference. Don’t let the fear of what others might think dissuade you from taking action where you see a need. Keep an open mind, listen to others’ ideas and invite people to join you.
Like Winne, you can be influential in directly affecting the quality of life around you – and be a role model for others!