“Competence, passion, flexibility, and cooperation”

5 people hold seedlings in their hands

An IKI Small Grants project in Sierra Leone shows why young people are essential in the fight against the climate crisis.

The Western Area Peninsula Forest, which is part of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, is located on Sierra Leone’s west coast. It is home to roughly 1 to 1.5 million people, which is about 20 per cent of the country’s population. The forest occupies the main part of the peninsula, covering about 17,000 hectares of closed forest. This forest reserve is one Sierra Leone’s eight biodiversity hot spots. Unfortunately, the reserve is rapidly diminishing because of insufficient forest management and funds for the protection of the forest, increased agricultural pressure and logging.

The IKI Small Grants Project ‘Strengthening youth and women’s actions for the sustainable protection of the Guma Water Catchment’ focuses on environmental education and creation of alternative livelihoods. By involving young people, women and forest guards, it ensures the protection of the forest reserve, tackles root causes of forest degradation and provides the target group with alternative livelihoods. It works together with the communities and the National Protected Area Authority to map and demarcate the forest and engage in reforestation of encroached areas. In total, about 10,000 hectares of degraded land has been reforested.

An interview with Ahmid C. Jalloh, founder of the implementing organization YARDO, about the important role of youth in environmental action.

Why did YARDO start as a youth organisation?

Ahmid C. Jalloh: YARDO was founded in 2014 when a group of young individuals decided to join forces and make a positive impact in our community. We recognized that as young people, our greatest potential for change lies in empowering our peers. Thus, YARDO was born as a youth organization with the aim of creating meaningful impact by reaching out to fellow young individuals.

How do you reach young people?

To effectively engage young people, a bottom-up approach is essential. At YARDO, we believe in leading by example. When we enter a community, we directly engage with young individuals, involving community stakeholders as advisors and advocates. We prioritize direct recruitment, starting with registration and an engagement meeting to sell the project to interested parties. Those who express interest can then participate in our trainings and activities such as tree planting.

How did you learn about the IKI Small Grants Programme, and what advice do you have for others seeking similar funding?

I became aware of the IKI Small Grants last year, but unfortunately, the timeline was too tight for us to apply. Being a part of various international environmental networks, such as the youth wing of the UNFCCC and the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, provided me with the opportunity to learn about such grants. These networks maintain communication platforms like Telegram, WhatsApp or Google lists, where members share information about available opportunities. Therefore, I came across the IKI Small Grants through these channels.

For young individuals seeking to mobilize resources, my advice would be to prioritize knowledge acquisition. It is essential to be aware of the available opportunities. Get involved in multiple networks and conduct thorough research on international grants. Once you are aware of the existence of these grants, you can then focus on understanding their specific criteria and deadlines. Each grant has its own application requirements. Therefore, my advice is to equip yourself with comprehensive knowledge by diligently researching these grants.

Why were the IKI Small Grants attractive to you?

I visited the website, conducted research and found that the projects funded by IKI Small Grants aligned with our purpose. That was the main reason why we applied for the IKI Small Grants. Unlike other grants that require complex financial processes, the grant application was straightforward and simple, as long as you provide what they are looking for. I must say that the IKI Small Grans Team team has been very helpful, and I appreciate their support. Thank you for that.

Do young people have a different response to climate change and environmental issues compared to older individuals? Are they more inclined to engage in environmental initiatives?

Unfortunately, due to a difference in priorities and education, young people show a better understanding of environmental issues. For example, in our mangrove restoration work, younger generations recognize their importance as fish breeding grounds while the generation cut the mangroves to smoke the fish as a means of income or for food. Through education and exposure, young people have learnt the interconnection between human interactions and the environment. We therefore demonstrate competence, passion, flexibility, and cooperation, effectively collaborating with one another.

Are there certain project activities that are more likely to attract young people?

Ultimately, the success of any project hinges on how well you present, market and engage the community. It is crucial to create motivation and commitment among participants. Simply proposing a tree-planting event without proper preparation and context will not yield results. Identifying key stakeholders, such as youth representatives and community leaders, is essential. Their support and involvement play a significant role. Mapping out key youth actors and garnering their participation is vital as well.

Effective marketing of the project depends on analyzing and communicating its benefits, whether environmental, financial, or in terms of capacity building. Let me provide an example of a recent project we undertook at the community level: the restoration of a local dam. During the presentation in the town hall, I emphasized the consequences of a waterless community and the importance of preserving water resources for future generations. By clearly connecting nature, water, and their well-being, I convinced the audience of the project's significance. Many young people eagerly joined, recognizing the direct impact it would have on their lives. By highlighting the potential consequences of unaddressed deforestation, they understood the urgency and embraced the project's purpose.

To what extent did young people contribute to the general project idea?

Upon encountering the IKI Small Grants application, we sought input from other environmental youth groups to enhance our project's value compared to previous initiatives. Through these consultations, a valuable recommendation emerged: to place a special emphasis on women's inclusion. Recognizing the significance of this suggestion, we embraced it wholeheartedly. The active involvement of women in our project has proven to be a commendable recommendation, bringing benefit and fostering a more inclusive and impactful approach.

What do you want to achieve over the next year?

Our primary objective is twofold. Firstly, we aim to enhance environmental management knowledge and raise awareness within the community. This knowledge and awareness serve as catalysts for driving positive change in the community. Additionally, we recognize the importance of effecting systemic change. By engaging communities, key stakeholders, and government agencies, we strive to collaborate with diverse actors to collectively address deforestation issues in Sierra Leone. Our goal is to foster a collaborative approach where all stakeholders play a crucial role in implementing sustainable solutions.

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Interview partner

A man wearing a white construction helmet and a yellow high-visibility waistcoat kneels on the forest floor.
Ahmid C. Jalloh, founder of YARDO.

IKI Small Grants

Further infromation are available on the  IKI Small Grants website