By Liz McDaid
Looking back as well as towards the future of FLEAT: case study of Sheik Qassim and Andrew Gwambe
Sheikh Qassim attended his first FLEAT programme in 2014 in Cape Town and Andrew Gwambe joined in 2015 with the second intake. The first induction session provided FLEAT participants with an overview of the environmental challenges facing Southern Africa and ended with each faith leader committing to take action. Sheikh Qassim and Andrew decided to focus on deforestation, for firewood and charcoal.
Back in Malawi, Sheikh Qassim visited the Assembly of God church, and the Assembly of God church visited Sheikh Qassim, the first time either of them had visited a place of the others faith. They worked together, creating tree nurseries, and planting trees in faith communities and teaching people about Climate Change and the need to plant trees.
In its second year phase, FLEAT members applied the knowledge they had acquired and in addition to meeting to share what they had been doing and empower themselves through new knowledge, helped their fellow FLEAT members in activities on the ground in their respective countries.
In October 2016, FLEAT met in Zomba, one of the areas in Malawi that Sheikh Qassim and Andrew had been working in. Fifty faith leaders gathered in Zomba and heard from the FLEAT team about various issues.
Faith leaders expressed appreciation for the various topics covered. They were also asked to complete an exercise on sustainable leadership, which had everyone intrigued: how to push a bottle though a piece of paper. At the end of the session, Kelly Ngeti from CYNESA (Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa) showed them an alternative solution, demonstrating thinking out of the box.
FLEAT is more than just training and advocating for change through discussion. It is also about impact. FLEAT members visited the tree nurseries that have been created, and meeting members of a congregation that is involved in this particular nursery.
The Thank You Jesus Community Church Nursery had 1000 seedlings which they have been growing. In about 3 months’ time, the seedlings will be big enough to plant out. For this church group, the aim is to plant trees along the river bank, to conserve soil, water, and restore the environmental degradation that is there. Members of the church will then look after the seedlings, ensuring that they reach maturity.
There are 39 similar nurseries in this area, each one in the care of a variety of faith groups. In this area, one of those affected by the Malawi floods of 2015, it is hoped that the planting of the trees will help cover the mountains which are bare and degraded from deforestation.
Sheikh Qassim and Andrew are not only active in Zomba but also in other areas of Malawi. In total, 132 000 trees have been planted over the last couple of years.
This is about bottom up advocacy. Grassroots level faith leaders are working with their faith communities on the ground to restore our degraded environment, with Sheikhs and Pastors working together.
In Lilongwe, another couple of projects have gotten off the ground. People use charcoal to cook and to sell in order to raise an income, and Sheikh Qassim has worked on two projects, one in which plastic goods like video tape is woven into bags to sell. Caps and other goods such as table mats were also available.
Sheikh Qassim has also been using recycled paper to create briquettes as an alternative cooking fuel. Initially making them in a simple way, Sheikh Qassim’s school entered a competition and won a machine which has enabled them to meet the increased demand. At times, Sheikh Qassim runs out of recycled paper (school exam papers were a favourites), but a nearby sawmill had sawdust to spare and so more briquettes can be made.
Similar projects are underway in Uganda and Kenya. In two years, faith groups in Malawi have initiated a programme of responsible earth keeping. It is only a pilot but so far, it has been enthusiastically received as faith leaders lead their congregations to take up their God given responsibility of caring for the Earth.
Another part of the FLEAT training is about using the media to spread the message of earth stewardship. Andrew has developed a friendship with a young producer, Arthur Chokotho, of a show called Good Morning Malawi. This producer who presents the show 3 days a week, was fascinated to hear that a group of faith leaders from different faiths from different countries in the region was in Malawi for environmental reasons.
When FLEAT arrived, we were recorded for the programme at the Malawian Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Then the producer came through to the workshop in Zomba and covered the event for MBC. Good Morning Malawi is broadcasted at 6.30am which is prime morning time, reaching a large proportion of Malawi’s 17 million people, with government officials and ministers often watching.
FLEAT Malawi was the last FLEAT gathering for the year and it was really impressive. We were able to reflect on the past and plan for the future, as well as gather insights from our Malawian team members, engage with faith communities in the area, and see the impact that FLEAT has had on the ground in Malawi.
Yes, Wi-Fi was erratic, power was a mix of grid and diesel generator, and cold showers were the norm for some of the team. But the Malawi experience was the culmination of three years of the SAFCEI FLEAT pilot programme. We believe this programme has come of age, and are planning for next generation FLEAT, or FLEAT 2.
Sustainable leadership has gone from a presentation by FLEAT member Kelly Ngeti, from CYNESA, to a proposed SAFCEI programme. This presentation was first given in Same, Tanzania and now again in Malawi. It was well received both times and 50 faith leaders in Malawi proposed that SAFCEI run a sustainable leadership course for them. So in response to this, SAFCEI is developing a programme of sustainable leadership. This new programme will not only be offered to FLEAT1 but also be part of FLEAT2 as part of their training. However, it will be targeted at local grass roots faith leaders who are keen to embrace a style of leadership that is in line with sustainable development.
FLEAT1 continues to carry on with all members expressing their wholehearted appreciation of the opportunity to attend the training programme. However, this was not a training course that finishes with the participants going their own ways. No, this programme has created a multi-faith, multi country family of faith leaders who are working together beyond SAFCEI. Projects are underway and links continue to be forged across different faiths and across the SADC region.
Even if SAFCEI were to disappear, the FLEAT programme members will continue spreading their work.