Amnesty International Young Journalist of the Year Award

Year 12 student Ele Saltmarsh has won the Amnesty International Young Journalist of the Year Award. From 2700 entries Ele won the 16 - 18 category and was invited to collect her award from the Amnesty International HQ in London. She began the day at the offices of The Guardian Newspaper where she had to create a front page layout for her own newspaper under tight production deadlines as if she was a professional journalist.

Mrs D Wood, Director of Arts

Torching the Tribes

“All school uniforms, cooking pans, water containers, cups were burnt. Now the children have to stay home while I find uniform and books. The children are very upset because we have lost everything. The children and elderly people will end up getting pneumonia because we don’t have anything to cover ourselves at night.”-a Sengwer woman, heartbroken, after her home was burnt to the ground.

The Sengwer are an indigenous tribe based in Embobut forest, Kenya- but not, it seems, for much longer. Since 2007, repeated attempts at evicting the tribe have been made, all in the name of conservation. REDD (A UN initiative; Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), in collaboration with the World Bank and Kenya Forest Service, are behind the  torching of over 1000 homes. In 2013 a moratorium on forced evictions was granted in response to complaints of human rights violations. However in January 2014, police accompanied by armed soldiers invaded the villages, chasing out the inhabitants without even allowing them to collect their belongings. Now the whole tribe are sheltering in the forest with their livelihoods gone up in flames, and no authority to turn to. 

At an indigenous peoples' conference in 1999, David Kiptum, a spokesman, explained how their ancestral lands were being taken and the tribe was being forced into a small forest area. In order to preserve the forest's resources, they had had to make a dramatic lifestyle shift to subsistence agriculture. They were a small but resourceful tribe, experimenting with organic growing and bee keeping, living in thatched mud huts.

Since they established themselves, many others have seen the wealth of the forests. An influx of settlers has been having a detrimental effect upon the natural resources, polluting and drying up the water sources, scaring away wildlife. Much like people in developed countries, these lifestyles damage the environment much more than the Sengwer. Despite this, these settlers are receiving compensation to leave the forest while the Sengwer's untitled claims are disregarded.

Globally, deforestation/degradation is the 3rd largest carbon emitter (IPCC 4th Assessment report), meaning that run properly, the initiative would be a significant blow against climate change.. However, REDD has failed to grasp that some inhabitants live in harmony with the forest,  benefiting the environment while providing for themselves. Having lived sustainably for thousands of years, the Sengwer are ideal stewards of the forests and could be even more effective than REDD at preserving the forest's ecological value.

The REDD program claims that 'creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees' will help to tackle climate change. But the true value of the forest is multifunctional- its benefits are reflected by  how well they are integrated into the full web of life- a web which includes human cultures.

The Sengwer need to be allowed to protect their ancestral forests, and soon, before the only space for this indigenous tribe of Kenya is between the pages of a history book.


Amnesty International Award

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