Voice of Sport

Tree planting, environmental conservation in Baringo receives boost from support of sports people

Having around Mathew Birir, an Olympic Games gold medal winner enhances the image of a fledgling rural town environmental conservation campaign


AS a 19-year-old high school student at St Patrick’s High School, Iten, Mathew Birir upset the form book to win the 3,000m steeplechase Gold medal in Barcelona during the 1992 Olympic Games.

For the heroic reception back in his school, he planted a tree in the compound. Twenty four years later, on a huge trunk it stands providing wonderful shade on hot days. Mathew — you have to refer to him by his first name because he has a brother, Jonah, who also ran (1,500m) in Barcelona — is a native of Baringo County and his nearest town in Eldama Ravine.

Tournaments

Despite all the heroic athletes coming from this part of the larger Baringo, at Eldama Ravine Town the most passionately played and followed sport is volleyball. Teams formed around friends and neighbourhoods regularly compete in tournaments held there and other parts of the country. Several good players from the area also belong to big teams in the Kenya Volleyball Federation [KVF] national leagues.

The other remarkable determination of the Eldama Ravine locals is to plant trees. The town, as its name suggests, rests on a ravine. On the east is the leeward side that for many years appeared scorched by the sun, in complete contrast to the western side that drops towards the Eldama Ravine River and which is under the welcome coolness including that of Chemosusu Forest where a huge dam was recently commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Love of sport

The residents of Ravine have long running 15-year tree-planting and environmental conservation effort especially to tackle the hitherto deforested part of the town and areas towards the east, namely Esageri and Sabatia.

The Esageri-Sabatia Environmental Conservation Organisation (ESACO) is a community based organization. Many of their inspiring leading lights love sports and interestingly like Mathew Birir point at St Patrick’s Iten, where several of them attended, as having inculcated the ethos of sport and community service. Albert Koskei Lagat, the ESACO chairman is an old of St Patrick’s who recalls his volleyball playing days when the school was simply unbeatable in the Kenya schools national championships.

Jamboree

Lagat and ESACO’s efforts have already engineered a turnaround of the environment in Eldama Ravine Town through sustained aforestation, reforestation of both public and private lands in the region. Recently a huge jamboree brought people together for a tree-planting week. A volleyball tournament was the accompanying attraction. Lagat was hoping for wider attention to their campaign. And what a price catch to have Mathew Birir around. To outsiders, the Olympic champion was clearly the attraction.

Mathew said: “I have always been a member of social groups involved in conservation, not necessarily ESACO. I am handing over leadership to newer members and it’s wonderful to see our people embrace this noble course.” On most days Mathew is involved in business including using his lorry to transport goods including timber.

Targets

Because of Mathew Birir the ESACO project would get world-wide publicity and Lagat appreciated that saying: “Sports and music are tools to rally interest and support to our project which also targets fighting social ills e.g., drugs, teenage pregnancy, idleness and HIV/Aids.”

At Ravine town they turned out for a two-day volleyball tournament to kick off a week-long tree planting campaign. The total number of trees planted were 3,475 trees in the following breakdown: Eldama Ravine Town (75 trees); Kenya Wildlife Service [KWS] Arboretum in the town (200); Lake Kamnarok Primary School (2,000); Turu Turu Primary School (200); Turu Turu Water Project (100); Muchukuwo Primary School (200); Kapluk Primary School (200); Kakibel Primary School (200). The target, according to Lagat, is to plant 50,000 trees a year for the next 15 years.

Benefits

Utilising his connections among fellow sportsmen is Lagat’s tool to advance his crusade. Charles Nyaberi, a former vice-chairman of the Kenya Volleyball Federation [KVF] and a member of the Kenya National Sports Council was a visitor in the last function that was a familiar face to many of the project leaders he may have once mentored as a school master at St Patrick’s in the late 1970s and early 80s.

“Already our town is looking like one of the cleanest, safe and healthy in the rural areas. The benefits of the project will accrue to, not only the current generation, but also to the future ones to which we owe great obligation.”