A pre-wedding ceremony for her kids’ teacher, which was meant to be a joyous occasion, took a tragic turn for Salome Ndung’u, resulting in the amputation of her hand.
This unfortunate incident occurred in March 2005 when Salome, a mother of 2, along with her children, attended the event at a hotel in Mtwapa town, Kilifi County, to show support for her kids’ teacher. The day took a horrifying twist when a group of gangsters launched an attack, firing bullets that struck Salome’s hand, ultimately necessitating the amputation.
Despite this life-altering event, Salome’s passion for environmental conservation remained unwavering. Growing up, she fondly remembered planting trees around her parents’ homestead. The traumatic incident did not deter her from continuing to engage in her beloved activity of caring for the environment by planting trees.
Today, as the deputy chairperson of the Mwangaza People with Disability Community Based Organization based in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, Salome, and her group focus on planting various types of trees, including the Mangroves.
Their choice to plant mangroves is driven by their understanding of the vital role these trees play in supporting livelihoods and mitigating the impact of ocean waves. Salome emphasized the importance of mangroves in safeguarding communities from disasters like tsunamis.
‘People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable during calamities such as Tsunami, as they often struggle to help themselves. By planting mangroves, we aim to enhance community resilience and protect those most at risk during disasters, she said.
“We have observed that along the coastal line, people have been indiscriminately cutting down mangrove trees without obtaining any permissions. Over time, what was once a thriving forest has transformed into a desert-like landscape. Our primary goal is to work towards the restoration of the mangrove forest,” she added.
Based on the current assessment by the National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan, the total mangrove area in Kenya is about 61,271 ha; with Lamu County accounting for the largest cover (37,350 ha), followed by Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, and Mombasa counties.
However, according to Julie Mulonga, the Director of Eastern Africa at Wetlands International, Kenya has witnessed the loss of 1,000 hectares of mangrove forest over the past two decades. This reduction can be attributed to human activities such as deforestation, as the mangroves are cut down for construction purposes, including building houses, boats, furniture, and charcoal production.
Deforestation leads to detrimental consequences such as soil erosion, degradation, depletion of water resources, and increased vulnerability of the local population to climate-related events. Hence, various stakeholders have made concerted efforts to plant mangroves, with the aim of bolstering the forest cover and fostering biodiversity in the region.
According to the National Ocean Service, Mangroves are a group of trees and shrubs that live in the coastal intertidal zone. There are about 80 different species of mangrove trees.
Healthy mangroves are havens for biodiversity and are critical for climate action. They support the livelihoods and well-being of hundreds of millions of coastal inhabitants around the world, are critical for carbon storage, regulate water quality, and protect coasts.
Such protection will however only work if there is enough mangrove forest to do the job.
Despite their various disabilities, women environmentalists along the Kenyan coast have taken the lead in land restoration efforts, particularly in the restoration of mangroves. They are dedicated to protecting and revitalizing this delicate ecosystem, thereby securing a sustainable future for both nature and the community
Nyevu Kiranda, 61, a mother of eight, is a dedicated member of the Chapembe Mikoko group in Kajiweni, located in Kisauni Constituency of Mombasa County. Despite facing physical challenges, Nyevu actively contributes to the group’s efforts by planting mangrove seedlings for the past two years.
Unable to venture into the ocean where the group typically plants mangroves, Nyevu selflessly volunteers her time to plant seedlings in addition to her small–scale farming around her homestead, allowing her to participate in the crucial task of restoring degraded mangrove areas just a few meters away from her homestead.
“I admired the work these women were doing in restoring the mangroves, and I wanted to be a part of it. I usually plant the seedlings in waste plastic bags at home, and then the group comes to collect them, placing the seedlings in the nurseries within the mangrove wetland areas,” she explained.
Shani Swaleh is the chairperson of the Chapembe Mikoko Group, an organization dedicated to the restoration of mangroves in Kajiweni along Tudor Creek in Mombasa County. The group engages in various activities, including mangrove honey farming and showcasing traditional dances.
Within the group, Shani said there are seven women with disabilities who play a crucial role in planting seedlings in the dryland. Subsequently, other members transfer the seedlings to nurseries in the mangrove sites.
Over the past 15 years, the group has successfully planted more than 30,000 mangroves in different areas along Tudor Creek. This effort is a collaborative one, with the group working independently and occasionally joining forces with the local chief at least once a month.
“We decided to involve women with disabilities and those whose children have disabilities in mangrove restoration. Our aim is to foster inclusivity within our community, ensuring that everyone feels a sense of belonging as we work together to restore the glory of our mangrove forests,” she said.
The Mwangaza People with Disability Community Based Organisation, situated in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, comprises 15 disabled members hailing from Majengo, Barani, Mtomondoni, Maweni, and Umoja Rubber areas. Their journey into mangrove restoration began a decade ago.
Salome Ndung’u, serving as the deputy chairperson, takes the lead in guiding the group through mangrove restoration efforts. She said their decision to embark on this initiative stems from the desire to promote inclusivity within the community, ensuring that everyone plays a part in the restoration of mangroves.
“I chose to engage in mangrove restoration to demonstrate to others with disabilities that we, too, can unite with the community and participate in all the activities they are involved in,” she said.
Salome said the group has undertaken mangrove planting initiatives in various locations, spanning along Tudor Creek in Mombasa County and Mida Creek in Malindi, Kilifi County. To date, they have successfully planted over 10,000 mangroves in these areas.
Their approach involves acquiring seedlings through a combination of self-funding from their savings and occasional support from donor funding. The mangrove seedlings are purchased, with each seedling priced based on its size, ranging from Kenya Shillings 50 to 100.
Hamisa Zaja, the visionary behind the Coast Association for Persons with Disabilities, is actively engaged in empowering individuals with disabilities. One of the initiatives led by her organization involves the restoration of mangrove forests along the Kenyan Coast.
Since 2017, they have planted mangroves in various locations across Kilifi, Kwale, and Mombasa counties. She said their efforts extend beyond just combating climate change; they aim to revive mangrove populations that have fallen victim to deforestation.
According to Hamisa, this year, their mission has a specific focus on the Kibarani area along Tudor Creek, an area grappling with the aftermath of developers decimating the mangrove forest cover and disrupting the once-thriving fishing grounds. Since the beginning of this year, the organization has successfully planted 1,500 mangroves in the area.
“We chose to plant mangroves in the Bandarini area at Kibarani because the construction of the Kibarani Super Highway wreaked havoc on the region, destroying the crucial breeding grounds for prawns, lobsters, crabs, and other fish species. This, in turn, has left local fishermen in dire straits,” she said.
In all their planting activities, Hamisa emphasized the importance of ensuring inclusivity by actively involving at least 5 people with disabilities in the exercise.
Global Mangrove Watch data indicates that total mangrove cover in Kenya has increased by some 578 ha between 2016 and 2020.
According to Salome, individuals with disabilities face numerous challenges, such as accessing information on climate change and environmental conservation.
She said people with disabilities, particularly the deaf, often miss out on crucial information regarding climate change and environmental issues because the information is not presented in a format accessible to them.
To address this issue, Salome advocates for the inclusion of leaders from organizations representing people with disabilities. This way she said leaders can effectively communicate information within their communities, leveraging their understanding of the unique needs and preferences of individuals with disabilities.
Additionally, she said people with disabilities are disproportionately affected when disasters occur. Lastly, navigating through mangrove areas poses a significant challenge for those with physical disabilities, and transportation to various mangrove sites is often an issue.
“Given that a majority of our members rely on small businesses for their livelihoods, there are instances where they lack the financial means to reach the areas where we aim to plant mangroves. In such situations, I personally cover the transportation costs for them to ensure that we can reach the designated sites,’ she said.
Hamisa alluded to that saying individuals with disabilities, such as the deaf, typically find it easy to actively participate in mangrove planting at the site. However, for those with mobility challenges like her, accessing the areas can be difficult.
“We usually engage in planting various types of trees. Personally, I’ve taken part in tree planting in non-wet areas, as venturing into the wet mangrove environment is challenging for me due to my disability. While I actively do advocacy and awareness efforts for mangrove restoration, I usually accompany my members to the site without entering the wetland,” she explained.
A sentiment echoed by Levis Sirikwa, the Global Landscapes Forum Oceans Restoration Steward 2023 and an expert in mangrove restoration. He said individuals with disabilities have distinct opportunities in contributing to mangrove restoration through engaging in various activities.
“Individuals facing mobility challenges in the mangrove environment encounter difficulties due to its distinct features compared to terrestrial land. However, despite these obstacles, there are unique opportunities for them to engage in advocacy and raising awareness about the crucial importance of mangrove restoration to the community,” he said.
Empowering the disabled environmentalists
Ceriops Research Organization is made up of scientists who work together with the local communities and stakeholders to create opportunities in the blue and green economy.
They conserve the environment by training local communities on sustainable utilization of natural resources. One of their major projects is mangrove restoration. They combine both indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge to come up with a sustainable solution for mangrove restoration
According to Levis Sirikwa, the Co-Founder of the organization, individuals with disabilities can actively participate in mangrove restoration, just like anyone else. He emphasized that the community can collaborate with physically disabled individuals in seedling preparation before transferring them to nurseries, especially for those who may face challenges accessing mangrove areas, advocacy, and creating awareness on matters to do with environmental conservation to the community.
“Some groups utilize waste bags such as yogurt packets for planting mangrove seedlings. Individuals with physical challenges can actively engage in this process by filling the packets with sand. The transportation aspect can then be managed by those who are physically able. The key point is to focus on the strengths of each individual, recognizing that everyone has a unique role to play,’ he said.
“Furthermore, when the group establishes nurseries and sells the seedlings, everyone who participated is entitled to a share. This ensures that individuals with disabilities, who actively took part in planting the trees in the packets, also receive their fair share,” he added.
Salome’s dream is to have her group empowered and be able to purchase a piece of land where they can establish their own nurseries. This she said would allow them to have an abundant supply of mangroves, eliminating the need to wait for donors to buy them.
“If we could secure a location for our own nursery, allowing us to cultivate ample seedlings, we could plant them in wetland areas without relying on donors to make the purchases for us. This would be a significant empowerment for us, ensuring that we are actively restoring our mangroves without any delays,” she said.
Call for action
Sirikwa emphasized the importance of achieving full inclusivity for people with disabilities in environmental conservation. He urged individuals with disabilities, particularly those unable to engage in physical work for mangrove restoration, to also develop computer literacy and familiarity with social media platforms. This, he believes, would enable them to effectively raise awareness about mangrove restoration and conservation. By leveraging these digital tools, he said the message can reach a wider audience, inspiring more people to recognize the actions necessary for long-term sustainability.
Additionally, Sirikwa called on the community to act as a support system for people with disabilities, especially in matters related to environmental care.
‘The community’s opinion leaders should acknowledge the resourcefulness of these individuals and provide them with a platform to showcase and apply their skills in environmental conservation,’ he emphasized.
Hamisa emphasized the crucial need to empower individuals with disabilities, particularly in the realms of climate change and environmental conservation, since in times of disasters, she said the impact is indiscriminate, affecting everyone.
“People often overlook the impact of climate change on individuals with disabilities. It’s crucial to remember that during events like floods, while others may flee, those with physical challenges may face significant obstacles in escaping. Inclusion of people with disabilities across all sectors is essential, ensuring that information reaches everyone, especially those who are differently-abled,” she concluded.
On her side, Salome emphasized that it’s important for people to recognize that individuals with disabilities can actively volunteer and contribute to various fields, all with the shared objective of environmental conservation.
“People need to understand that having a disability, like in my case where I lost one hand, doesn’t diminish the capability of my mind. I know the importance of trees in supporting the environment, like mangroves which are crucial breeding grounds for fish. So discrimination against people with disabilities in environmental conservation is unwarranted; we are equally passionate and capable contributors to these vital causes,” she concluded.