Lesein Mutunkei: This Kenyan teenager hopes to catch the attention of FIFA, but not for his football skills


When Lesein Mutunkei scores a goal, he plants 11 trees, one to represent each player on his team. It tackles the nation’s daily loss of around 50 football pitches of forest area.

“Football is a universal game and climate change is a universal issue,” Mutunkei said. “[It] has the power to connect, engage, educate and inspire my generation to create a safer, greener future.”

Deforestation refers to the clearing of forests and trees for agriculture, or to harvest resources like timber. It contributes to global warming and damages wildlife habitats. In 2018, Kenya’s forest cover was just 6%, according to the Kenya Forest Service.

That same year, Mutunkei launched Trees4Goals to mobilize young athletes in his region to keep their promise to plant trees every time they score. Now he wants FIFA to use his audience of billions to expand his impact globally.

In a recent email to CNN regarding Mutunkei, a FIFA representative said, “This project and others like it led by youth and climate advocates around the world are not only commendable, but also necessary.”

Mutunkei said he has sent emails and social media messages to FIFA, and while he has yet to receive a direct response, some big names in the world of football have already acknowledged his efforts. . After hearing about him in an environmental documentary series, Arsenal football club sent him an autographed shirt.

These recognitions bring Mutunkei closer to his dream world where football teams compare their success to the size of the forests they have planted, not just the number of trophies on their shelves.

Unlike a trophy, Mutunkei explained, a tree grows next to you.

Find inspiration in tradition

Mutunkei began his journey as an environmentalist at the age of five. To commemorate special occasions, her family planted trees. “I was probably the same size as a seedling,” he added.

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This helped him associate the growth of a tree with celebration. But it was Kenya’s late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai, who inspired Mutunkei to turn her family tradition into movement. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which has since helped Kenyan communities plant over 51 million trees.

Mutunkei remembers Maathai often telling the story of a hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire while all the other animals ran away in fear. For him, his lesson is that “however small you think it might make a difference, it makes a change”.

This is where the idea of ​​combining football and environmentalism was born. He started by planting a sapling for each purpose. Today, Trees4Goals has planted over 5,500 native trees in forests, schools and around football club training grounds.

Mutunkei begins his Trees4Goals workshops with a lesson on the dangers of deforestation. It leads to a football match and ends with a tree planting session. “Everyone has a great time getting their hands dirty,” he added.

He took his 22 football teammates to plant 700 trees in Nairobi’s Karura Forest. The team completed the task in less than an hour, although most of them had no prior experience. “It was almost a race to plant the trees,” Mutunkei said.

Building the momentum of the movement

Mutunkei practices his soccer skills on a barren terrain.
Thanks to nationwide reforestation efforts in recent years, Kenya’s forest cover now stands at almost 9%. Yet growing demand for wood and charcoal to power infrastructure and population growth continue to contribute to unsustainable logging. Although the country is less dependent on biomass energy than neighboring Tanzania and Uganda, fuelwood still accounts for around 70% of Kenya’s energy needs.

While it may still be awaiting support from FIFA, Trees4Goals has caught the eye of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Forests. In return for advice on how to involve young people in conservation, Mutunkei said the ministry provided him with saplings and now regularly works with him to decide where to plant them.

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They choose areas of forest where there is less tree cover. While individual trees help the environment, planting them as a forest has greater benefits for the planet, Mutunkei explained.

Engaging young people in conservation is above all giving them the opportunity to do so. Passion, Mutunkei said, follows naturally.

Trees4Goals members water a newly planted sapling.

His classmates started taking Trees4Goals to their respective sports, including basketball and tennis. “To see that they take on this responsibility because of the project that I started, for me, that is the greatest achievement,” he added.

Mutunkei receives messages from young athletes around the world, saying that they have read his story and taken up the Trees4Goals challenge. It taught him that younger generations don’t have to wait for leaders to make a difference.

“Whether it’s reducing your plastic use, planting that tree, or just using your passion to raise awareness about the issue – start now, act now, speak now,” he said.


Cnn

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