UNE to welcome delegation of Kenyan environmentalists April 12 to 15

UNE students and Kenyan school children participating in NYADEC’s Football for the Environment program.
UNE students and Kenyan school children participating in NYADEC’s Football for the Environment program.

Since 2010, several University of New England students have taken advantage of the University’s Global Education programs by traveling to Kenya, where they have benefited from hands-on experience working with various Kenyan organizations dedicated to environmental causes.

Students in the short-term study abroad course Environment, Health, and Community Development in East Africa, taught by Rick Peterson, Ph.D., professor of environmental studies at UNE, have profited not just from educational experiences but from the cultural enrichment of home stays provided by Kenyans who are involved in environmental issues in their region of the world.

In the spirit of reciprocity, UNE will soon host a delegation of two Kenyan environmentalists from one of the organizations that has hosted UNE students. The two will visit the University from April 12 to 15 to share their knowledge and experiences and to learn about the environmental challenges that Americans face.

The visit will include a University-wide, public talk on April 14 titled “Government, University, and NGO Collaboration for Environmental Amelioration in Kenya,” which will address the work of the Nyando Development Community Center for Environmental Conservation (NYADEC), a Kenyan nongovernmental organization that has been partnering with UNE and other government and university agencies to fight soil erosion and improve solid waste management in Kisumu County, Kenya.

This is the second delegation from NYADEC to visit UNE, the first of which came in September of 2015.

NYADEC has been working since 2006 to combat severe soil erosion on the slopes of the Lake Victoria Basin through a unique community-based model. The UNE-NYADEC partnership has grown in recent years to include the co-organization of a mini-symposium that has been held at various universities and high schools in Kenya, where students of both institutions present research on pressing environmental issues in their home regions.

UNE has also partnered with NYADEC in the latter’s Football for the Environment program, which uses soccer as a medium to raise local primary school children’s awareness of environmental stewardship. UNE’s soccer teams have donated numerous suitcases of soccer gear, which Peterson and his students bring with them each time they travel to Kenya.

Members of the delegation include Benerd Nyabua, chief executive officer of NYADEC, and Sospeter Onunga, NYADEC chief financial officer.

Nyabua is also the chief environmental consultant at Mahesh and Tirth Engineering Construction Company, Ltd., in Nairobi, Kenya, and holds a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Nairobi. Onunga earned his degree in development studies and environmental management from the Management University of Africa and also works for the Kisumu County Government’s Environmental Office.

In addition to enjoying the hospitality of local families who are providing home stays, the Kenyans will visit UNE classes in environmental studies and education to exchange knowledge through discussion with UNE students and faculty.

During their time in Maine, delegation members will also visit Portland Trails Urban Land Trust, meet with the sustainability directors of both Portland and South Portland, and tour EcoMaine’s waste-to-energy facility. Other possible visits include Cultivating Community, a Portland nonprofit involved in urban agriculture; New American farming start-ups in southern Maine; and meeting with the York, Maine Rotary Club to discuss possible areas of collaboration, a contact spurred through UNE alum Drew Fortin ’16.

Peterson is eager for the opportunity to give back to NYADEC which, he says, has provided UNE students with invaluable experiences.

“NYADEC colleagues have done enormous service to our students by hosting them in home stays and educating them about life in Kenya and the pressing environmental challenges they face and the solutions to those challenges under way,” he stated. “It will be great to reciprocate by hosting them now at UNE and showing them a bit more about our world.”

The delegation’s visit to UNE is sponsored by the School of Marine and Environmental Programs, the UNE Office of Sustainability, the Global Education program, and the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. The talk on April 14 will be held at 4 p.m. in the St. Francis Room of the Jack Ketchum Library on the Biddeford Campus. It is free and open to the public.