15 January 2013

Kenya: Young Man With a Passion for Environment

David Okul says the need and passion to conserve the environment inspired him to develop a curriculum in forestry and gardening that would be used by teachers in vocational training colleges.

The 28-year-old environmentalist is spearheading a forestry vocational school for the youth and encouraging them to join conservation projects.

Okul was awarded the Ecotourism Student of the Year 2012 for his role in drafting a manual in vocational training on forestry, gardening and environment education.

The award was sponsored by the African Fund of Endangered Wildlife. Okul is currently teaching the system at the Karen Blixen Camp Forestry School and is optimistic that the Kenya Institute of Education will adopt it.

The award, according to Ecotourism Kenya, is given to a student who has demonstrated or initiated strong leadership in a project, product or programme that advocates harmony in tourism, communities and conservation.

"After graduating from Egerton University, I worked for two years on tree planting projects and felt that was not enough. I went back to start a forestry school for the local youths on vocational training. I had looked for a curriculum from the KIE to guide me on this but could not get one; that is how the idea of developing a teacher's manual came to mind," he says.

Six years ago, Okul, now an environmental planning and management masters student at the University of Nairobi, did not pay much attention to the environment but he is a name to reckon with in the field.

"My dream was to be in the IT field and conservation had never crossed my mind. Things however took a turn as I was awaiting to be admitted to the university. My admission letter was on natural resources course. I decided to change to my preferred course but I found a long queue of students who also wanted to change their courses. This discouraged me and I went ahead and pursued the course unwillingly but little did I know I would come to love it and become fully involved in converting young people to conservation and sustainable development," he says.

Okul has been involved in starting an indigenous tree nursery in the camp at the Maasai Mara with a holding of 5,000 trees and planted 12,000 woody species in areas around the camp.

Today he traverses the woodland of the Mara conservancy educating people on the need to conserve indigenous trees which are slowly disappearing.

"My overall work involves forestry/tree planting but I am also promoting organic gardening of herbs and salads. Most camps and lodges are located in remote areas and I want to make this gardening marketable and demonstrate that we can produce herbs and salads locally," Okul says.

Besides being active in disseminating information on conservation and reforestation to the neighbouring Maraerienda and Aitong communities, Okul is currently finalising a concept that will involve primary schoolchildren in planting indigenous trees and make it a fun venture. "When we talk of the environment it is where we live and everybody should think about how we are using it or treating it," he says.

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