Football teams at schools and clubs across Nairobi in Kenya will plant a tree for each player on the team every time they score a goal, thanks to a new scheme dreamed up by 17-year-old Lesein Mutunkei.
Twenty-seven soccer fields worth of trees are cut down every minute. Global deforestation has major negative effects on the climate, environment, flora, fauna and humans.
Lesein is a huge football fan and regular player. He saw the opportunity to engage his peers in making a difference and set up Trees For Goals (T4G). He is now one of the five finalists for the 2021 Children’s Climate Prize – with the winner being announced in November.
He has also been invited by Kenya’s minister for the environment to talk about the project, while the national forestry manager has been tasked with supporting schools and clubs with plots of forest to start their own T4G programmes.
Mutunkei said: “I am so excited to be one of the five finalists of the Children Climate Prize. This inspires me to never give up on my goal to achieve a greener and cleaner future.”
The football fan’s connections between deforestation, climate, biodiversity and the economy, with regard to forests as a future resource, impressed the jury.
The jury was impressed by how Lesein managed to combine two very different worlds such as soccer and tree planting, and recognizes the potential in getting FIFA and the world’s top soccer players involved.
Each participating soccer club is allotted an area in a local forest to plant the total number of trees during the planting season, in cooperation with the County Government.
Each team’s coach and captain are responsible for distributing information about the climate and environment to the team. These can consist of fun facts, tree species, the value of the trees, and the effects of deforestation.
The forestry management agency also support the T4G project by providing accurate data on which trees to plant.
Soccer is often referred to as the world’s most popular sport. According to the international soccer association, FIFA, more than 240 million people in 200 countries regularly play soccer, at different levels.
Lesein’s own school and soccer club have started several T4G clubs and planted over 1,500 trees to date.
The initiative has inspired thousands of young people to get involved with environmental conservation, and Lesein has now reached a broad audience through workshops and seminars.
The goal is to spread the T4G initiative throughout Kenya, and thus reach the constitutional goal to cover at least 10 percent of the country with forest.
The dream, however, is to get T4G adopted by FIFA, which could have a huge positive impact on the effects of climate change. What would be better than combating climate change as a global challenge and soccer as a universal sport?
Deforestation and the depletion of forests account for approximately 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – the second largest, following fossil fuel combustion.
By combining passion for the universal game of soccer with climate work, Lesein presents how to mobilise a large number of people towards combating the negative effects of climate change in a simple, smart and innovative way.
Ruby Harbour is the editorial assistant at The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Children’s Climate Prize.