Art and environmentalism, haven for local youth

ARUSHA – Environmental pollution is a burgeoning problem in East Africa, from toxic landfills to widespread littering. Recycling seems like a pipe dream. But a new grassroots movement looks to change all that.

Active Green Society was formed less than two years ago by Mohamed “Brother Dee” Salim and Godlove Tenga, but it’s already taken off with popularity, featuring prominently last week at the Sanuka concert in Dar Es Salaam. Music is just one of many mediums of artistic expression woven into the group’s message.

Mohamed Salim (right) and Godlove Tenga (centre) founded the Active Green Society in 2012.

The AGS uses art for the spreading of awareness, in the form of badges, t-shirts and posters, and also for fundraising. They craft busts and other sculptures from clay, and sell them in order to fund their projects. Salim says the medium of clay is used out of an environmentally-conscious attitude to spare trees, and tribal symbolism in the sculptures is to inspire pan-African solidarity.

“We’re trying to make the connection from Kenya, Uganda, everywhere, to bring this thing together for the protection of our environment. Because that’s the only thing we have, we have nothing else. That’s our richness, that’s our future.”

‘Brother Dee’ Salim is just twenty-three years old.

The AGS motto is ‘our city, our nation, our responsibility.’ “It means we’re bringing in everyone in the society, because it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep the environment clean,” says Salim.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect their brother, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make this country, and Africa as a continent, a better place to be and a safer place to live in.”

He admits the AGS has yet to go truly continental, but that they’re already making impacts in Arusha and throughout Tanzania. He says their main focus is youth mobilization.

“We see a lot of potential – maybe they’re too blind to see, or maybe they’re just not exposed to the chances that will engage them to achieve,” Salim said.

“If they join they’ll have employment opportunities in the recycling sector, and we do handmade products that will help them get income out of it. These youth will be active, and they’ll be positive instead of staying on the streets.”

He says that art has started to become an alternative to drugs for many of these kids, with no clear direction in life. AGS teaches them to channel their energies into something positive and productive, while giving back to the community at the same time through volunteer clean-up efforts at places like hospitals and water supplies, called ‘safisha safisha’ (‘cleaning, cleaning’).

“The young kids are spreading the message on their own now, how they want to protect the environment and stop cutting trees and stuff. It’s a really good thing, it’s what we’ve really wanted to see.”

Walking around his community, Salim says he can already see the positive impact. “I’m really grateful to see people talking about it. The impact is growing, and people are starting to understand about the environment.”

Salim’s real goal is that one day, these kids will grow up, and foster an aware and informed environmentalist society. That’s why, with Godlove and fellow members, Salim puts so much emphasis on the youngest members of the community. “If we’re going to invest in these young kids now, we’ll have a clean city, we’ll have a clean country. We’ll have a well-protected environment in the future.”

Brother Dee says it all starts mentality, and changing the way people think – to be willing to walk the extra 20 metres to a garbage bin instead of just dropping trash on the ground.

First published for Speak Magazine.

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