Zim conservation campaigner, Charlene Hewat, shares experiences

Campaigning for preservation of the environment is no easy task in Zimbabwe and it takes individuals connecting with nature for development to be sustainable, a local environment conversation activist said on Tuesday, June 5.

Charlene Hewat
Charlene Hewat

“It’s tough! I have been called into offices many times and told (to keep quiet)…that’s the sad thing — fighting and making a stand for the environment is not easy in Zimbabwe, and everywhere in the world,” said Charlene Hewat, Executive Director of Environment Africa.

The award winning environment conservation campaigner addressed a Food for Thought session at the U.S. Embassy’s Eastgate auditorium on World Environment Day (June 5).

The United Nations Environment Program’s 2012 theme for World Environment Day is ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’ Hewat called for public, private and community partnerships within four framework pillars — social, economic, biodiversity, and policy — in the sustainable use of the environment.

Unfortunately, it is normal is for public and private sector actors to combine forces for profit at the expense of preserving nature.

“They built a restaurant in the rainforest in Victoria Falls. We, as an organization and the community, managed to block the building for a year and a half. Unfortunately, the politicians stepped in and we had to stand aside. That’s the reality!” recalled Hewat, who won the Junior Chambers International Award for The Most Outstanding Young Person of the World for Environmental Leadership.

“There are some fights that you can take to a certain point, but if you take it further you actually then risk your life and that of your family. This applies anywhere in the world,” said Hewat, whose organization has expanded to three other African countries since her 1987 infamous transcontinental bicycle journey with Julie Edwards.

Dubbed the ´Ride for Rhino,´ Hewat said they embarked on the inter-continental adventure when they saw an increase in the number of black rhinos being poached.

“There are no longer any rhinos left at Mana Pools (Mashonaland West) because of poaching, and this year alone Zimbabwe has lost 20 rhinos to poaching,” said Hewat noting that South Africa has lost over 220 rhinos.

The two cycled through Scandinavia, down through Europe across to Africa, and down the African continent across the mighty Zambezi River at Victoria Falls and into Harare. It covered 22,000 kms over the course of a year.

“It was tough. The toughest parts were when we hit the snow in Germany and the desert in Sudan, but we met a lot of wonderful people along the way, including Phil Collins, the Pope, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and others,” explained the Environment Africa chief. “The Rhino is a symbol of every little thing that could happen to the environment. If we lose the Rhino, we could lose other species including us,” said Hewat.

As well as laying the foundations for Environment Africa, the Rhino Girls (Hewat and Edwards) published a book called Extinction is Forever, which set the tone for the organization’s watchdog and environmental advocacy roles.

She said her organization had ventured into the United States to expand its resource base for campaigns which now reach Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.

“We have registered recently in the United States. Our mission is to work together with all sectors of society, raising awareness, encouraging action of the society in many ways, and building a better environment that affects the livelihoods of current and future generations”, she said.

Speaking to this year’s theme of World Environment Day, Hewat encouraged people to “get out there and experience the beauty of the planet.” She bemoaned the failure of today’s youth to connect with nature.

“It’s unfortunate — especially among the youth today — they are losing it. They are losing a connection with nature,” noted Hewat. “How many of our children know where milk comes from? We don’t get out. Our kids sit in front of the plug-in drive and sit in front of the computer.”

Environment Africa has several youth groups based in Victoria Falls, who meet weekly for discussions and have undertaken capacity building and awareness programs within and outside the country. The youth have lobbied the local town council for a vote in the budget, she said

She challenged everyone to get out there and touch or feel the earth. “People forget that we need the environment to live. It’s so simple and we don’t have to make it complicated,” she advised before joining her audience in dance to TK Zee’s once famous hit song “Nkalakatha” to “celebrate nature.”

Post published in: Environment

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