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Lesein Mutunkei tackles deforestation with football

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Lesein Mutunkei tackles deforestation with football

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 that 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.


Image credit: Action for Nature


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. He thought about planting eleven trees (one to represent each player on the team) for every goal scored, reasoning that after all, every goal is a collaborative team effort.


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. Shortly after, they planted nearly 1,000 trees around Nairobi.


Being a passionate person and seeing the positive result of his initiative, Lesein decided to expand his approach across Kenya, but he couldn’t do it alone – he needed some help. Luckily, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry noticed his campaign on social media and he was invited to meet their board and the minister. Together, they discussed how his approach could engage young people in taking action for the environment with the ministry agreeing 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. Upon his return, he was invited to meet Kenya’s President and plant a tree with him.


Image credit: Thred

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 knows that sport is a powerful force that can educate people and inspire them to do more for our environment.


Lesein Mutunkei commits not only to planting trees but also to growing them. He has planted over 1400 trees (ranging from fruit trees to indigenous trees) over the last two years, including the 600 trees at Karura Forest he planted with his football team at Ligi Ndogo, urban forests like with his school at Ngong forest, his home compound, 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 also been featured in The Ecologist, BBC Africa, and National Geographic.


In recognition of his work and impact, he has won various environmental awards including the 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.







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