Dubai: “I will not be happy to hear my children ask me one day: Father, what did you do when you saw climate change happening?” says activist Guillaume Kalonji. “Conferences must accommodate people who are badly affected by climate change.”
Kalonji, 26, is a biologist and climate activist who has flown in from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cofounder and coordinator of NGO Congolese Action for Nature, he is trying to impart to his countrymen what he sees and learns at conferences like COP28.
“I decided to become an activist after seeing firsthand the consequences of climate change in my country,” Kalonji says. “We are victims of rain and victims of drought. Both have ravaged our country.”
Kalonji was a participant on Friday at a seminar on Protecting Future Generations at the Youth Hub.
“I am trying to educate the people in my country about the climate challenges facing us. We have millions of people in Congo for whom food security is an issue. When I go back I will transfer this information so that others can be climate activists too. If Congolese people are outside the climate spaces, they will not know how to save the Congo rainforest. We will fail to solve the problem of climate change.”
“In 2017 in Kinshasa I saw the first impact of climate change in agriculture. People began planting corn expecting rain, but that year it was hot and the seeds died.
“Two years later my teacher taught me about the extinction of some animals because of drought.
“He then showed pictures of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist, and spoke about the change she was trying to bring,” Kalonji says.
“After that I started to check if there were activists like Thunberg in Africa. I found people in Kenya and Uganda who were climate activists, but none in Congo – no one who was representing the country in the international space.”
This drove Kalonji to learn more about the subject, determined to help people in need.
“I then had two challenges – to learn English and to study ecology.”
Determined to study both, Kalonji downloaded videos of Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda. “I learnt English and ecology from her videos at the same time – watching the same video many times over.”
Today, to understand the effects of climate change, Kalonji visits the villages and the community in Congo, asking people about the challenges they face every day.
He is a volunteer with various NGOs, many of whom use his help because of his knowledge of five languages – including English and French.
“I cannot look out for full time work, because there is much work to be done for the earth. Money will be useless when the temperature rises.”
Kalonji now hopes to organise a conference in his country to impart what he has learnt here.