Interview With Sustainability Hero Sam Mutua: Part I

Konza Greens Tree Nursery
Konza Greens has already planted over 3000 trees, compensating 562,000 kilograms of CO2!
GSA Intern Ava interviews Sam Mutua, an everyday sustainability hero who runs the Konza Greens Nursery project in Kenya - a program that plants trees and educates youth in partnership with 8 Billion trees.

In Part I of this blog series, Sam shares the beginnings of his journey to becoming an everyday sustainability hero. 
“I have learnt that children and youth learn best  when they are socialized to do things or participate in doing things with their own  hands. Hence, our rallying call and motto- #greenschoolsinitiative where each student in our partner schools, not only plants a tree, but also takes care of the tree they have planted.” - Sam Mutua



Ava: Where did you grow up? What it was like there, what the landscape looked like,  and what experiences shaped you to be the person you are today?

Sam: I am a PK (Pastor’s Kid) and the second last born in a family of 10 siblings (5 boys  and 5 girls). My parents were very strict, but they taught me strong values that I hold up today. 

I grew up in Kamuthini, a remote rural village in Kenya’s Makueni County in the  Lower Eastern part of the country. Growing up in the village was not easy though. My  childhood memories of receiving elementary education in a local school, herding  cows and fetching water in the river while watering the family herd are still fresh in  my mind today.  

The village I come from is in an area that scarcely receives rainfall and is exposed to  recurring droughts. Thus, drought and famine frequently used to hit our communities  leaving us without food and water for many months or years depending on the  intensity and length of the drought episode. More often than not, during such periods,  we would survive on one meal a day. I still remember the day, when I came home  from grazing our cows and my mother announced we were going to sleep without  food because she had nothing to fix us for dinner.  

I guess this experience shaped my career path in Water Engineering and later on, in  Disaster Risk Management (including droughts among other risks that exposes  vulnerable communities to untold suffering in Africa). Indeed, when I started my  career path, I never settled down until I made sure that two community water points  were rehabilitated and expanded to meet the immediate water needs of the mothers  and children in my village, and ensured that relief food assistance was available for the  most vulnerable households during the years that had the worst droughts.


Ava: When did you first become interested in trees/ tree planting? Did something inspire you? 

I owe all this to my late mother. She really loved planting trees, especially fruit trees  for her grandchildren and trees that still provide shade in our family compound to this day. Our village experienced long hot and dry seasons every year. Her church friends  would seat and sing beautiful songs under the shade of these trees when they came  visiting during hot days. Since my parents were pastors, we used to get a lot of  visitors from their church congregation; either to seek spiritual guidance/support or  advice, others would come for counseling especially ladies among many other church  matters. No doubt, my mother imparted me with a lifetime discipline and commitment of planting trees - as a source of community, to me, trees bring people together. What  started, as a mother’s ‘discipline curriculum’ for her last-born son, slowly became - a  lifestyle and passion. 

I remember the first tree I planted like it was yesterday; it was on my 9th birthday. My  mother asked me in the morning to my 9th birthday, ‘How old are you now Samuel?’

I knew it was the start of a serious conversation when my mother referred to me as Samuel. 

‘Am turning 9 and today is September 19th my birthday,’ I replied to my mother.

And then she said, ‘Happy birthday Samuel. To remember this  important day in your life, I want you to plant 9 trees which I brought for you  yesterday on that side of the family compound…’ This started off my tree planting  journey. 

On my 10th birthday, my mum made a slight adjustment to my birthday  commemoration: ‘How old are you now Samuel? she asked.

‘10 years mum,’ I  replied..

‘Which class are you in?’

‘I am in class 4….why?” I asked.

‘I want you to plant 14 trees this year, 10 trees to mark your birthday plus another 4 to mark your new grade in school’. 

This cycle would continue on all my birthdays until  I joined a boarding secondary school. Unfortunately I was in school during my  birthdays, but I would plant a tree or two when I went home for holidays. That’s how  I got inspired in tree planting. I owe it to my mother. May Her Soul continue to Rest  in Peace! 

Today, my daughter Marlyne still teases me on my birthday. She reminded  me about this historical routine, 2 weeks ago when I was celebrating my birthday... 

‘Dad, happy birthday! Here is your birthday gift…. But remember Grandma’s  terms and conditions...” she teased me.

I am glad she has taken after my mother on  this; she plants trees every year, not necessarily in that order… but she has kept the  legacy alive and I am glad she loves it! I still remember 2 magnificent trees, which she  planted before she travelled to pursue her studies in Australia. They’re strong evidence of the tree-planting legacy running in the family.

Join us for Part II of this series, in which 
Sam shares his thoughts on the challenges of climate change and environmental destruction, as well as some ways to address them. 
Follow Sam's work on instagram: @konzagreens
Learn more about his work with 8 Billion Trees.




Posted by Ava Hedeker on Jan 29, 2021 9:00 AM America/Chicago

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