Lesein Mutunkei is not your average teenager, he’s a ‘green footballer”. The 17-year-old environmental activist from Kenya is one of Africa’s leading climate activists with a unique path – combining two of the things that he loves the most which are football and the environment.
How it all began
Lesein Mutunkei began to learn about the impacts of climate change at a young age and, drawing inspiration from Prof. Wangari Maathai’s story of the Hummingbird – doing my ‘little thing’, he wanted to do something to combat it. He wanted to make sure his initiative is simple and anyone, especially young people, can be part of it.
At the age of twelve, he decided to channel his love for football into something that was beneficial to the environment. He came up with a simple idea – planting a tree for every goal he scored.
Lesein Mutunkei called the initiative Trees for Goals, and the knowledge that he was doing something good for the planet if he scored a goal motivated him to play better.
In 2019, after learning more about the urgency of the negative effects of climate change and air pollution, Lesein thought about how he could make his simple idea more effective. What if, for every goal scored, eleven trees were planted, one to represent each player on the team? After all, every goal is a collaborative team effort, he reasoned.
He decided to increase his commitment: for every goal he scores, he plants eleven trees to represent his team, given that football is a team effort of eleven players.
Lesein Mutunkei inspired and encouraged his football club, Ligi Ndogo, and his school football team to join him to adopt an environmentally-conscious attitude of linking football to the environment. He was excited when his school’s basketball and rugby teams also adopted Trees for Goals but the basketball team called it ‘Hoops For Trees’ instead. Soon they had planted nearly 1,000 trees around Nairobi.
He decided he wanted to expand his approach across Kenya, but he would need some help. Fortunately, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry noticed his campaign on social media and he was invited to meet their board and the minister.
They discussed how his approach could engage young people in the environment and agreed to provide him with trees.
Lesein began to get more and more media attention for his simple, clever idea. His school was so impressed that it nominated him to join the very first UN Youth Climate Summit in New York in 2019.
Though he was one of the youngest delegates at the conference, he was inspired by all the other young people taking climate action. When he returned, he was invited to meet Kenya’s President and plant a tree with him.
Lesein Mutunkei is committed to creating a forest of Trees for Goals in each county of Kenya, then a forest of Trees for Goals in each country in Africa. His biggest goal is for FIFA to adopt his approach of Trees4Goals and for famous football players to start planting trees.
He believes the world needs to keep solutions simple and know that sport is a powerful force that can educate people and inspire them to do more for our environment.
Lesein Mutunkei dreams of creating a forest of Trees for Goals in each county of Kenya, then a forest of Trees for Goals in each country in Africa. He wants FIFA to adopt his approach and famous football players to start planting trees. Lesein believes we need to keep solutions simple and that sport can educate people and inspire them to do more for our precious environment.
Over the last two years, Lesein has planted over 1400 trees, most of which are fruit trees and indigenous trees including 600 trees at Karura Forest with his football team at Ligi Ndogo.
Lesein Mutunkei commits not only to plant trees but also to grow them. He has planted trees in urban forests like with his school at Ngong forest, his home compound, Karura forest, and at a rural primary school in Kajiado – always ensuring he is accompanied by other young people.
He is part of Kijani World Kenya – a group of Young Kenyans who use their talents, art, and passion to promote an environmentally-conscious generation among their peers.
Lesein Mutunkei has been featured in a number of books such as ‘United We Are Unstoppable- 60 Inspiring Young People in our World’ by Akshat Rathi and ‘ How you can save the Planet ‘ by Hendrikus van Hensbergen. He has been featured in The Ecologist, BBC Africa, and National Geographic.
He has won various environmental awards including Eco–Hero International 2020 Award, Green Kids Award, and Environment Day Art and Essay Competition.
Through his work, Lesein Mutunkei has been able to inspire many people in and outside of his community to get involved in the fight against climate change. He continues to reach out to schools and football clubs to adopt the Trees 4 Club initiative.