Actions, Zulus, Africa Roars, Occupy & Outcomes

Seasons greetings to all my valued readers,

If you thought the last blog post was long, then I’m afraid this one is going to read somewhat like a thesis! Reason being that my laptop failed me almost as soon as I arrived in South Africa, so I have had very limited web access (and time) over the last 2-week period at the COP and in Durban.

It has been a very exciting 2 weeks indeed, and I first wanted to share with you some of the photos that I managed to salvage from that time, along with some from our expert photographer, Wolfgang :-) This provides an overview of some of the activities from the Youth for Eco-Justice programme and the actions outside the main UN convention:

Saturday 3rd December 2011: Global Day of Action on Climate

Another bright and early start at Glenmore Conference Centre, as the sun rose, brought two of the familiar caravan trucks pulling up the hill to collect the troops. Destination: the Durban Diakonia Centre, starting point for all the faith organisations on the march for Global Climate Justice. I was elated to meet the crew from the caravan, who were in higher spirits than ever as we unfurled our banners and warmed up our singing and chanting voices for the world to hear. The atmosphere was buzzing as we departed in a grand procession of several hundred to join with the main march and then on to demonstrate outside the ICC. When the faith march caught sight of the WWF and Greenpeace flags, as well as local workers, farmers and womens’ groups, a huge cheer arose, and the whole street erupted in a roar of colour and cries for “Climate Justice Now”! 8,000 of us made our way through the street stalls and soaring high-rise buildings of down-town Durban, as the heat of the sun parched lips and throats – we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. We carried the Youth for Eco-Justice banner from the interfaith rally, along with one Thea and I had made at 2am the night before demanding “POLLUTERS, PAY!” These joined the demands of the caravan petition, and thousands of other messages and voices with a general theme of Save our Planet: Save our Future. It was extremely moving and powerful to see so many local white and black Africans come together to walk the streets side by side for a common cause.

As we arrived at Speakers Corner, we whipped out the 6 tents that we had bought at a huge warehouse store at 7am that very morning to declare the presence of the Occupy movement at COP17. We quickly deployed spraypaint, flags and decorations and promptly had an OCCUPY visual-protest tent-banner stretching across speakers corner hill, opposite the UN. People took shade and stowed their belongings in the tent, and we listened to Christiana Figueres (Chari of the COP) speak from a platform 50 metres away, to address the gathering crowd. After the speeches, I went back to socialise with the Caravaners, Y4EJ’ers and Occupiers for a while, as the rest of the groups and banners of the March passed along the road between us and the UN, until I suddenly caught glimpse of the bright green and purple of the Grow Campaign disappearing off down the road. This could mean only one thing: Oxfam was in town! And I knew that Chris would be with them, puppeteering the immense straw figures of Mother Earth and Father Water, so I dropped my things and conversations and jogged along after the procession. It was so heartwarming to see a familiar friendly face from the UK, and catch up, after 4 weeks of completely new people and places, and not a trace of home. I felt excited about the role of UK youth in the process that would be continuing in the second week, and my own participation with Y4EJ, UKYCC, WAGGGS, Oxfam, Tck Tck Tck and plenty of other influential organizations. The March had brought us all together on a truly momentous day, and a renewed hope rose inside me, refreshing my motivation and energy for the demanding and intensive week ahead. I joined Chris, and his friends Kylie and Sarah for a more chilled out afternoon at North beach, where I could take a bit of a breather in good company – a grateful break from thinking “what’ve I got to do next!?”

Sunday 4th December 2011: Zulu Church & a Chilled Afternoon

Sunday brought the 35 Eco-Justice warriors at Glenmore their well-earned Sabbath day of rest! We set off early on a 45-minute drive out of the city to Lungelo’s Zulu Church – one of the most fantastic places I have ever been to join in worship and fellowship. Unfortunately, due to late minibuses to pick us up, we arrived well into the service, after the welcome and initial singing, which is a significant part of any African gathering – faith-based or otherwise! Still, we enjoyed an excellent programme of scripture, sermons and song. Langa performed his dramatisation of the stages of the cross with his small drum and his big voice, which was extremely powerful indeed. Then a lot of spontaneous song and percussion and praise… And after the main part of the service, a local woman came in to speak to the congregation about HIV/AIDS and gave a very informative, educating speech about many aspects of this terrible disease and its reality in the life of so many members of this small, bright community. In the afternoon, I headed to the ICC to meet at Occupy COP17 and plan more activities for the week. After a quick meeting there, I headed again to North beach, where I met my UK friends and Thea from Durban to sit on the grass and enjoy some nice acoustic music in the sunshine. It was exactly how any Sunday afternoon should be…

Monday 5th & Tuesday 6th:  YOUNGO Working Groups & Friends

These were free days to participate in the COP and side events and to generally immerse ourselves in the Durban Climate. I spent the morning in the YOUNGO (Youth NGO) constituency meeting, followed by the GCCA (Global Campaign for Climate Action or Tck Tck Tck) meeting, followed by the YOUNGO Finance working group. We discussed topis such as the governance and sources of the GCF (Green Climate Fund) and what the different campaigning organisations were planning in terms of actions: The Robin Hood Tax team were planning a huge dart-board-style target, with the centre representing the youth position on successful global financing for Climate Adaptation and Mitigation, and the country positions being marked with darts, according to how far away they were from the direction we consider necessary. By lunch time, I was shattered, and popped over to the shops to find some lunch. In the afternoon, I headed up to the C17 Civil Society space at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, where there were lots of talks, workshops and seminars going on for the rest of the day. On Monday evening, Thea took us to a local bookshop/café/gig venue called the collective, where we watched local acoustic acts compete in a small intimate battle-of-the-bands competition, which was extremely enjoyable. Tuesday was a similar story, with more information overload from the COP in the morning, and some chance to reflect on it and discuss with people in the afternoon.

Wednesday 7th December: Africa Roars & Robin Hood Football

Another immersion day saw a small crew from the Youth for Eco-Justice group head down to Addington beach to join and help 2,000 local school children form the shape of a lion on the beach to roar for climate courage from our world leaders. We took the Occupy tents for shade and to make our statement at the seafront, and plenty of large bottles of water, since it was a scorching day. We also picked up some facepaint from a local trader and decorated ourselves as lions, offering this to the children as well. The group gathered to be addressed by officials form the conference as well as the director of the GCCA, to explain how everything would work, and what it meant in the context of the UN proceedings. The school children were extremely engaged with the issues and their relevance in their own context. It took a lot of patience and resilience on their part, as they filed into their positions, and waited there, sitting on the sand, in the African summer heat. I particularly enjoyed a video put together by OneWorld TV covering the event:

This incredible human beach art was recorded by a helicopter which passed overhead 5 or 6 times, sweeping by while we all roared and waved! Here is the final image which went to press:

After this, we packed down the Occupy tent-banner, reclaimed our flags and paints, and headed for Speakers Corner, where an historical football match would take place outside the ICC. The “World COP” brought together representatives from “the Robin Hood Tax” (a strong international campaign advocating for the Financial Transaction Tax) to face the clowns of the “1% Bankers” (youth dressed up in suits and clown shoes and hats, to show the folly of our financial system). As the whistle blew, immediately the bankers rugby-tackled the Robin Hood team (dressed in green, with pointy hats) to the ground and ran off holding the ball (decorated as the Earth) towards their goal, which by this time had been conveniently enlarged for easy access, as they slid through for their first goal. The crowd was raging, but the ref wasn’t listening… In fact, no one was quite sure who the referee actually was any more. Robin Hood’s team made an amazing comeback just before halftime, but the score was fiddled and by the end of the short second half, the bankers had given up on the game, and had somehow made a sideline dash off the pitch to grasp the huge cheque, representing the winners’ prize – the Green Climate Fund! This time, the crowd’s displeasure grew to a level that was too much to ignore, and someone had to step in to check the real score by discerning and weighing up each side’s story. The Bankers were finally penalised for their foul-play and the Green Climate Fund was released by the Robin Hood team to those with the greatest and most urgent need for Climate Finance for mitigation and adaptation. The national SABC news team covered the game and interviewed the star player from the 1% Bankers, with our “Green Climate Fund” placard in the background, and the ¿People or Profit? cardboard cut-outs of suited men.

Thurs & Friday: Project Planning, Presentations & COP17  FINALE

The final phase of the Youth for Eco-Justice training saw the participants prepare 10 minute-presentations to give to our three smaller groups, followed by questions and feedback. There was a real diversity of project ideas, from greening churches to preparing for thre Rio+20 Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, UNCSD). It was a real pleasure and privilege to be part of such an energised, global group of young people and I was proud of every single one. We will be reporting all our projects soon at http://y4ej.wordpress.com so you will be able to see all our different youth initiatives that are springing up around the world, and watch them grow and flourish.

Friday afternoon was my final change to participate in the COP and my last bit of free time in Durban, before the Y4EJ closing party that night, and my bus leaving on Saturday morning. I knew I had to make the most of it, whatever happened. I first headed to Occupy at Speakers Corner, and took part in the general assembly there, and said my last goodbye to the tent-banner that had traveled with us for the whole time in Durban, then headed inside the UN… We knew it was time for the youth now. Everything that had happened this week must culminate soon and all the disappointments and delays had led us to this point. We first passed by the Fossil of the Day stand in the now-largely-deserted exhibition area, where, ironically, Canadian youth were preparing balloons and banners for the final Fossil presentation at 6pm that evening, which would go to Canada for their poor decision to leave the Kyoto Protocol and continue to drive their polluting industries through the centre of their economy. We would have to be back at Glenmore by this time, for our own leaving dinner, buffet and final socialising and goodbye time. So we asked where all the young people were at the moment, and what actions might be going on for the rest of the afternoon. They pointed us immediately in the direction of the ICC and the main plenary room, where apparently “something big was happening”. Kaitlin and I headed over to find a mass of people crammed in the corridor between the main plenary room and the staircase, and 2 walls of UN security, blocking their way into the main conference session. Greenpeace headed the front of the crowd with huge neon banners of “Listen to the People, not the Polluters”. I knew I had to join. But this was no raucous crowd – they were organized and they were being heard: Singing, and use of “the human microphone” (a repeat after me system) were getting us heard. People from minority groups and small island nations were getting their stories out there. Many placards were being waved, proclaiming: “We stand with Africa”, “Don’t kill Africa” and “703,000 stand with you”. It was a real highlight for me to have stumbled across this pivotal demonstration and to be involved. The open staircase that boxed us in on my right side was lined with cameras, video cameras and microphones, as the press covered the messages we were sending out. Again, please take the time to watch this excellent coverage from OneWorld TV:

As the demo progressed, it became clear that we would soon no longer be welcome, and would need to make a decision about whether to try to stay or whether to give up and go. There was a division in our group, as it came to light that those who were to stay would likely lose their “badge” – their accreditation into COP17. However, this seemed to be a sacrifice that many were willing to make if it meant our voice being heard just outside the conference hall for a little longer. I quickly came round to that side of the situation and decided to stay. We continued in even higher spirits, even though our numbers were now reduced, but the twenty or so of us remaining (including several from UKYCC) continued with redoubled efforts and resolve. About 10 minutes later, another line of UN security (with the usual rabble of media pushing up close behind) boxed off our last exit, and the chief security officer began coming round to tap our shoulders in groups of three to ask us to be escorted out through a side door. By this point we had already sat down, to show willingness to cooperate, and to keep the atmosphere as calm and peaceful as possible under the circumstances. I was one of the last to go, leaving only a few particularly resolute activists, who really looked like they wouldn’t be moved! I proudly raised the “703,000 stand with you” placard high when I was finally asked to stand up and go, and made the slow pointed journey, step by step, towards the door, continuing to sing, with the others who stood side-by-side. Our badges were taken and we were directed through a maze of back-corridors and eventually ended up let out through the fence onto the street behind the ICC. We sung and marched our way back to Speakers Corner, where others had already assembled, both from outside and from the eviction. A little while later, a police van arrived, offloading the two activists who had sat by me at the front of the group, who must’ve remained after I left, trying to fight for their right to stay and for their voice to be heard. One lady explained that this was what she did every year. Part of me had a huge respect for their courage, and the other half was questioning whether the extra few minutes they had gained to shout our message, and their eventual arrest and names/fingerprints filed, would have made a difference…

Grappling with the missed opportunity to stay with Occupy for their overnight vigil, I traveled back on the Conference Shuttle bus to Glenmore and made the walk up to hill to the centre at about 6:30pm, to find the farewell party already underway. A huge buffet awaited us on the patio, along with drinks and exciting desserts. I went to sit next to Thea, who was enjoying some red wine and good conversation with Joakim, an NGO activist from Sweden. I felt an ache wash over me, that it would be a long time before I saw any of these amazing people again, and I promised myself I would stay in touch by any means possible (not too hard thankfully in this day and age!) I had a brilliant evening with some excellent conversations, and tearful goodbyes. We wrote messages to each other, collected in an envelope with our name on, to take home after the trip. I had to leave the party at about 11pm to go and pack up my room, ready for the early bus in the morning, and decided to leave a fair amount of things behind for ease of travel. It had been an incredible last day in Durban, and one that I am unlikely to forget.

Saturday 10th & Sunday 11th: Bussing, Cape Town & Church

Thea kindly drove me to the bus station for my 7am departure to Cape Town. It was a 24 hour journey round the coast via East London and Port Elizabeth, but the missed hours of sleep from the previous month descended on me like a lead weight, and I managed to sleep for most of the journey, which was a real blessing. I arrived in Cape Town on Sunday morning, surprisingly refreshed, and eager to find a church to sit and reflect on the trip, before catching the ‘plane home on Monday. I was directed to the Central Methodist Mission, where it turned out a service had just begun, so I wandered in. I left my bags with a very kind man near the door, and went to sit in between two homeless people who had come for the service and a lunch that was especially put on for them every week. It was a true community church, taking care of people’s needs – and the sermon was excellent – about identity. Spiritually refreshed, I went in search of one of the hostels on Long Street, and eventually found and checked in to Two Oceans, for R100 (~£10). I had a nap for a few hours and then spent the late afternoon exploring parts of Cape Town, which was absolutely beautiful, under the gaze of Table Mountain and with the wide ocean over the other side of town. I found a German restaurant on the seafront, which had a very good live band, so I sat down, bought a drink and enjoyed that for a while. I also bumped into Anna from Tck Tck Tck, which was a pleasant surprise, after the number of times I had seen her in Durban, at every different campaigning and activism event and meeting! I had a quiet evening in the hostel, cooked some food, and prepared myself for leaving Africa the following morning.

This trip has been truly eye-opening for me, and shed light on the real-life issues and injustices in the world. It reminded me how easy it is to get caught up in the minor day-to-day concerns of our own lives, without having the wider perspectives of other global struggles. I would recommend traveling to Africa to anyone, but particularly traveling with a purpose and a cause, to help people and to come alongside others in their strife to say “we’re fighting with you and for you – we’re on your side”. For me, the climate struggle is one of the most critical and urgent problems that we must address as a global community, and brings with it some of the most stark social injustices that the world has ever seen, between people and polluters. I know now that I will never stop speaking out on these issues, and participating in the processes that will bring change, whether those be UN conventions or grassroots actions and projects.

The final outcomes of the UNFCCC COP17 were less than desirable, lacking ambition and seriously endangering our future on Earth. Here is a reflection on the last 48 hours from one of our very own UK activists, Tom Youngman (UKYCC et. al.):

Climate Change has become a controversial issue that many people in my country know about but not many people are prepared to talk about. This must be changed. We cannot ignore the dangerous over-stretching of all the planet’s resources, and degrading of the natural ecosystems that support us. I am so glad to be involved with people, working with organisations such as Youth for Eco-Justice and the We Have Faith campaign, with UKYCC, Earth Charter, A Rocha, WAGGGS, with GCCA, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and all these brilliant and motivated people who are going to be the ones who bring about a sustainable future for life on Earth. I am proud of you all. Keep the vision; keep the faith. Together, we will succeed.

So it begins… Rally, news coverage, COP17 accreditation, visits & Occupy!

This is going to be a monster post, so please find your favourite beverage and take a comfortable seat for the excitement that follows!:

Interfaith Rally

We had all been really looking forward to the culmination of our petitioning efforts, and the chance to present our success to the Archbishop, and hear him speak at our final concert in Durban, at the gigantic Kings Park Stadium.

We attended the COY on Saturday morning, where I set up the photo petition, and got people excited about our campaign.

The caravan team also sang at the end of the main morning session!

The caravan crew then took a packed lunch and drove over to KP for rehearsal of our parts in the concert. We had a lot of time sitting around and waiting, as could be expected for an event of this scale, as various logistics were mapped out on the ground.

The stage and the stands were very impressive, but I was somewhat anxious about the size of crowd we would actually draw to this event. Unfortunately my suggestions of “rallying for the rally” in town were dismissed, and we were left hoping and praying at the end of the day that this enormous arena wouldn’t be looking too bare on Sunday!

In the evening, I had my first night at Glenmore, and it was a real blessing to sleep in a bed! I met with many of the other Youth for Eco-Justice participants, and the organisers for a hot meal in the dining room, and had the evening to orientate, get to know people, and sort out my washing (which was plentiful, after the long weeks on the road with minimal facilities and time).

Sunday came, and we began the day with prayer groups, an interactive and reflective ice-breaker, and a worship song, all of which I volunteered to prepare for day 1, as the person originally on the list had not yet arrived. We broke off into discussion groups to explore the model community presented in Acts 2:42-47 by the early Apostles which I found to be very inspirational:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the break and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together at the temple, they broke break at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The morning programme progressed, as we got to know each other and the place we would be staying for the next 2 weeks, but at coffee break I was itching to get back to the University, where I had left my campaigning materials at the COY. So Thea, one of the Durbanites, kindly drove me round the block to collect those things, allowing the following events to pan out:

1) Super-speedy banner painting!

2) Walking across the main arena in front of the stage at the concert

3) Being covered by the news as “Desmond’s Durban Deal-makers!”

Coverage by South Africa’s national SABC News

The “Second Ark of Noah” was carried out onto the rugby pitch, and opened to reveal the ~200,000 petitions we had collected, and lifting out the oversized poster-petition to present to Desmond Tutu on stage!

There was much celebration and dancing along to local and national artists as the afternoon continued. People were signing each other’s T-shirts, and gathering for many small group photos.  

Eventually it began to rain, the Archbishop left, and people began to trickle away.

 At the end of the conference, I joined the truck going to Durban International Conference Centre (ICC), the venue of COP17, where I miraculously collected a badge to enter the conference, since WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) had a free accredited space at the last minute!
 
The next morning began with talks and presentations on Climate Change and water, and microgeneration, which was v interesting.

The Norwegians left for the mall and the airport early in the morning, and I said goodbye to Anders and Kristian, presenting the final diploma for excellent campaigning and petitioning skills to Kristian:

More presentations, indicating the successes of solar lamps and microhydro projects in India, very relevant to my work with Renewable World.

The group broke in two for exposure visits to experience and learn about local community projects. This group was clearing some land for a vegetable garden, and the area had a really moving story about the environmental impact of pollutants coming down the river from the local plastics factory, which I will try to report  in more detail later…

Bottles, card and cans were being collected to take to recycling, to earn a small amount of money to contribute to the project, and also to clear up the rubbish in their area, that was being thrown on the land.

Unfortunately, gardening had to take place behind barbed wire, otherwise the vegetables would have been stolen and the area trashed and damaged:

I was excited to see solar water heating installed on some of the houses in the community.

The local kindergarten/creche sang some traditional songs for us, including “He’s got the whole world in his hands”, which was beautiful.

In the afternoon, I went along to OccupyCOP17, which I’ll tell more about later. This was really inspiring, to see activists assembling outside the ICC.

Some commited members of the caravan sang the “We Have Faith” song, that had gone down so well at the COY!

Our final message to the world is “Keep the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole”.

Arrival in Durban!

Arrival to Durban in photos…

The Climate Train team, and presentation of trees to the Gauteng regional politicians.

Exhibitor of renewable technology coming into Africa – solar phone/torch/radio systems and a fan-stove assisted by solar power!

Police escort leading us through Johannesburg and onwards!

Kristian bought a clockwork train with some sweets at the rest stop, which caused quite a lot of amusement!

We arrived into Durban late at night and the Norwegian team split off from the main group at the campsite to go to their accommodation.

In the morning, the African alliance, South Africa YMCA and I went to the main branch of Durban YMCA, where we prepared for the arrival of the other 3 trucks and prepared for the lunchtime workshop on Climate Change that we would be running for our group and the local greater Durban YMCA groups – a productive interactive session, but cut short due to the late arrival of the trucks.

In the afternoon, Tensing went to soundcheck, and Rufus from the SAYMCA team led the Y-zone for children aged 8-10. Alpha (from the organising committee) and I decided to head over the UKZN (University of KwaZulu-Natal) to track down Winnie and the team preparing for the Conference of Youth (COY7) running this weekend. Sadly, we missed most of them, but we did bump into the SABC news team, who seemed fascinated by our story! We’re hoping that will be followed up, but they eventually decided not to give us the 3 minute TV slot they had spare for Sunday night, which was a great shame.

We then headed back on a local minibus transport, which was a bit of a disaster! – The van dropped us in the region of one of the other YMCA branches (Beatrice Street) and we had quite a walk to get there, only to find that it wasn’t the main branch! We thankfully had phone credit to call Sipo from central Durban YMCA, and he was able to send someone to collect us and take us on to the evening YMCA concert…

Tensing do an AMAZING set at the SA-YMCA-led concert at Fortress of Hope Church! There was some fantastic dancers, singers and speakers. We had an evening of joy, celebration and a great Climate Justice focus! – a very successful event.

The concert was called Sounds of the Earth :)

In the morning, we headed straight to the 7th Conference of Youth at UKZN. We were still trying to negotiate better accommodation, since there is more rain expected. It has been difficult staying at the campsite 20 minutes out of Durban, leaving early and arriving late, when we know that others of our group and most other youth organisations have some hostel accommodation in the city. But it looks like everything is going to fall through, due to the complications with pre-booking through the tour company. We will persevere for now! I am very grateful to be mocing to join the Youth for Eco-Justice programme today, after the second day of COY, and I will be staying in the lovely Glenmore Pastoral Centre with a few of the Norwegians tonight, before they leave tomorrow. I hope it will be a good last evening for them…

We spotted some local wildlife at the University when we arrived in the morning for the COY.

“The wealth of South Africa will be measured by its ideals, its institutions, its faith, its justice, its standards of public and private life and its development of literature, art and science.”

The 7th Conference of Youth!! (COY7) :D

I met the UKYCC delegation, many other young people from around the world, we heard some very inspiring and informative speakers and participated in workshops together during the afternoon.

Caravan participants took the opportunity to update their blogs and social media, and check emails about the national youth strategies and negotiating positions, in preparation for the COP. Within the youth, there is a strong consolidated position overall, but even between some countries, we see that people are pushing for slightly different demands.

In our policy group in the evening, we discussed how the caravan group would be an excellent platform for bringing together global youth, since we have a very strong position with many voices already behind it, from our campaign and petitioning through Africa. I think that if we can lead a very strong message, then others will plug into the actions and demonstrations that we organise, very easily.

I can’t wait for the COP to begin on Monday! But equally, the second day of COY today, and the Interfaith Rally tomorrow will be just as exciting, with Desmond Tutu, the SA Foreign Minister (chair of the COP) and bands such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo!

Today, I hope to link with more youth and find out more about people’s plans for action around the UN negotiations. There is a small chance I may still be able to acquire accreditation to enter the main conference hall on week two (the “high content” week) from 5th December, under WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts – which would be actually extremely appropriate for me, since I was a Rainbow, Brownie, Guide, Ranger, Young Leader and unit helper in GirlGuiding UK!

I am also really looking forward to meeting the Y4EJ (Youth for Eco-Justice) participants this evening – 30 other inspired young Christian Environmentalists from around the world. I hope that I’ll be able to find time to compromise between my commitments to Y4EJ, We Have Faith, UKYCC and WAGGGS, as soon as everything kicks off on Monday! All I can say is that I’m going to keep myself busy to make the youth position as influential as possible, through whatever means I can during the programme I am undertaking with the World Council of Churches over the next 2 weeks of the COP.

I hope that I will still have enough time to blog, even if it has to be on a taxi between Glenmore/UKZN and the ICC, the main conference centre where the UN meeting will be held. I hope to hear from you soon, if you have any comments or questions about the COP.

Please link in to our other sites and information:

  1. http://www.facebook.com/We.Have.Faith
  2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wehavefaithcaravan/sets/72157627966683387/
  3. http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-703586
  4. http://www.undp-aap.org/resources/news/aap-sponsors-african-journalists-attend-and-report-cop17
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXY7Bd6LhkQ&feature=player_embedded
  6. http://idonthavemuchtosaybut.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/road-to-durban/
  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmqoltsY5yU&feature=related
  8. http://www.wehavefaithactnow.org/images/very_latest_newsletter.pdf

Church, mall & S.A. border!

Hi, just a quick post for now – we’re in Pretoria and heading on to Durban very bright and early tomorrow.

After Gaberone evening concert, we had an early start and headed to the local church on Sunday, where there was a really animated and passionate service on Climate Justice. Africans sure know how to sing and praise the Lord! I have never heard such a deep-reaching, heart-wrenching sermon, or met people so friendly and welcoming as that congregation – really overwhelmed by the experience.

I had another chance to say my bit about the UK perspective, as all the countries introduced themselves. I really enjoyed the spontaneity and inclusiveness of the service – it was truly inspirational.

In the afternoon, we did a short petition drive at the (relatively quiet) local mall, got some more photo petitions, and had a chance to pick up some supplies from the shops (always more pens required, it seems!)

Yesterday, we had a long drive day, crossing the border to South Africa, which was problematic, as expected, for Prince from DR Congo, but thankfully he eventually secured his visa, by a stroke of genius from our Norwegian friends, and all the Africans made it into the hardest country to access on the continent, for which we are all very grateful!

It really feels like we are closing in on the COP now. Excitement is really rising in the camp. Today, we *almost* had the change to meet the incoming president of the UNFCCC (the S.A. Minister for Environment), but after spending the morning thoroughly preparing, she was unfortunately called away due to pressing family issues, so we missed this fantastic opportunity. Nevertheless, it had been a really good bonding session for the policy group, and really excellent preparation for all of us before the UN summit. We are becoming more and more familiar with the terms of the negotiations, and confident in our own position, message and voice that we want to send clearly on behalf of the youth of Africa to our world leaders. We also met with the South African “Climate Train” today and had some more speeches to listen to and presentations to regional officials in Gauteng province.

The evening has been busy, with many meetings, as the group will break in two again. I have managed to secure one of 3 spare places on the early YMCA trucks to Durban tomorrow morning, meaning a 5am start and a real need for sleep now! I can’t wait to finally arrive in the city of COP17 – it’s such a fantastic experience, and each stage brings me deeper into an understanding of these complex global issues, and what I can do together with networks of youth, to influence the changes that our generation needs to see.

I am off to bed now, with a full stomach after an impressive demonstration of cooking chipati over an open fire in the middle of a thunderstorm! It’s going to be a short night, but a very welcomed sleep!

The Longest Day!

Yesterday was a 3am start, and an evening concert finishing at 10pm in Gaberone, Botswana. Having slept badly, and with a heat wave crossing Botswana, heat exhaustion was a really big problem for most people on the trucks. The journey was slow, long and painful, as the sun beat down on the flat, dry landscape. All the rivers we passed were dry – 5 or 6 large ones, marked with ironic blue water/wave signs at each bridge.

We were received at the Three Dikgosi Monument (the 3 who pushed for Botswana independence). We welcomed by a large crowd of enthusiastic young people, whose energy levels we couldn’t have matched!

I stayed in the bus during speeches, totally exhausted by the heat and long drive. We took a quick lunch and then headed on to the campsite, which was much more basic than previous ones. The Botswana cycling team (who had escorted us around Gaberone) enjoyed a spot of frivolity in the dilapidated playground at the camp… There was one swing, and one broken one, a half-finished toilet block, and some shower tents, freestanding canvas cubicles with buckets for hot water, hanging above.

We returned into Gaberone for the evening concert, which went on til 10, but was a great evening for the carvan team to relax and have bit of a dance and chat with the locals, in the now-traditional way.

We left at 10pm, and were in bed by about 11pm, constituting a 20 hour day, since 3am! Shattered, we were more than ready for a a good night’s sleep, only for the familiar caravan routine to recommence in the morning…

400km to Gaberone

OK, hi from Botswana! :) I’ll pick up where I left off at the Victoria falls, with a few photos from there…

As we approached the entrance desk, we heard rumours that there was an exceptionally small amount of water going over the falls, and that it might not be worthwhile to pay our $20US entry fee to get in. Locals were saying that even at this time of year, the falls used to be full with water, but in recent years, they’ve almost entirely dried up at some times of year, which is very concerning.

Kristian did the crazy bungee jump!

Rising temperatures here in Africa are drying up rivers and agricultural land everywhere, and the impacts are evident in the communities we pass through – stark barren fields, where crops used to grow; scorched frames of trees and shrivelled shrubs, barely clinging to the deeply cracked soil. Some areas ofZambia were greener, since the rains are finally arriving, but it is difficult to imagine the struggle through the driest times in these regions.

Bottled water is only available in the big cities, and we have had our work cut out to stay stocked up on this, and stay hydrated. The truck gets oven-hot during the day, and often opening the windows only brings in hotter air from outside.

After the Falls, we had a short drive to our last campsite in Zambia, just outside Livingstone. We rejoined the concert team, and were delighted to hear the success of the event! Faith leaders and ministers had attended, and the programme was very well-received by a large crowd. The campsites are beginning to blur into one, as we arrive late and pass on early in the morning to the next place. Some are more basic and some have extra facilities or leisure features, which offers the difficult choice of whether to take time to use them, or get the early night we all need!

Reception in Livingstone:

Dipping our feet in the pool at Elephant Sands after a long day:

In the morning, leaving at 6am, we headed for the Botswana border. The crossing was quite an adventure, as we had to take our 6 trucks over the great Zambezi River, on what was little more than a small metal floating platform, with two make-shift hydro turbines on either side, shaking and chugging out black fumes, as they fought to stir and churn enough water to get the “ferry” moving. Just to add to the tense uncertainty, we spotted another ferry just off the far shore (about 150m away) with a large articulated lorry hanging off the back into the water. Burly men tried to organise the loading of 2 of our trucks and some smaller vehicles, and a rowdy shouting match broke out in the local dialect, about whether another small lorry could be let on. While this was being drawn out, the white lorry had already spun and heaved its wheels onto the rickety boarding platform and was edging onward. Thankfully, it was eventually required to reverse off (a wise decision for the already overloaded vessel!) but managed to get its wheels stuck in the rut where the landing ramp didn’t meet very convincingly with the shore… After some more minutes, most of our group boarded as foot passengers, and we nervously made the crossing, trying to avert our gaze from the half-sunken lorry/ferry wreckage near the far shore. I spent the short crossing casting my mind pleasantly back to the Corran Ferry near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, where I had worked last year. I visualised the crisp white paint and gentle chug of the boat, gliding in an arc towards the majestic Ardgour lighthouse. Sadly, the thought of crocodiles was still all too close to the front of my mind to be comfortable! As we reached the far shore, I spotted a small dugout canoe being skilfully steered through the shallows, and I considered the contrast between the natural impression given by the native paddler and the stark unnatural reality of the fuming scrap-metal engineering disaster, parting the oil-slicked waters we had just travelled. And we wonder at how humans have such a propensity for environmental destruction!

We journeyed on into Botswana which was much flatter than any country yet – it seemed like the one road would stretch round the whole world, as it darted towards the distant hazy horizon. We stopped for some time at a shopping centre to wait for the other trucks which had boarded on a later ferry. Unfortunately, there were some technical problems that had to be repaired before they made it across, so it was well after lunchtime before we left the small town where we had been waiting. I managed to send off a couple of postcards, and change some currency, but everyone was impatient to get back on the road. With this long delay, we had to arrange to stay at a different campsite last night. Coincidentally, instead of going on to the “Rhino Sanctuary” we stopped at a beautiful open site called Elephant Sands, where we saw several huge African Elephants during the evening. There was a chance to charge

electronics, which was welcomed by all. We enjoyed a very nice dinner from our chef, Peter (and our sub-group was helping with food prep today): soup and crusty bread followed by a lovely mince and veg stew. The evening meeting brought the news that today would be a 3am start. It was a struggle dragging ourselves out of bed after only a few hours of light sleep, to strike camp and leave without breakfast, as we try to make up the lost time of yesterday. We should be stopping for breakfast at around 9am, and then heading on all the way to Gaberone for the concert this afternoon…. more on this later! :)

 

Into Zambia…

We left Lilongwe bright and early (4am!) to head towards the Zambian border and Chipata, which would be our first stop in Zambia. A huge reception awaited us at the border, including a full marching band and an excited crowd shouting greetings. The temperatures are still soaring here, so I stayed in the bus to film the passing procession. I will try to upload some of these larger videos soon.

We arrived at Mamarula campsite in Chipata in the early afternoon, which was nice and shady, with lots of trees and grass, to make a pleasant change from the hot brown mud of previous sites. Some of us took a brief nap to re-energise after the early start and long drive. Then some of us including Tensing Norway, headed to te big church in Chipata for the first (smaller) concert in Zambia, and to meet the faith leaders. The concert was totally amazing, the highlight for me being a theatre piece calling for climate action by a 3 very talented Zambian thespians. They were just so animated and had an excellent script which really came to life on the stage. I also enjoyed some traditional Zambian drumming and dancing that was performed for the congregation/audience in the church. It was a beautiful building: modern, but high-ceilinged, with many brightly coloured stained glass windows, and interesting echoey acoustics, which were perfect for the drumming and some of the music! It was a honour to shake hands with the key speaker from the church, and to meet and greet other local people from this faith community, and others who had come just for the concert. Even in tiredness, the dedicated group who made it to this small event were able to have some great conversations on Climate Justice, sign a few petitions and leave our message. We left feeling very moved by such a strong atmosphere and commitment from everyone present. It was a delight to see the passion and efforts of this faith group in Zambia, as they joined our concert performers (Tensing) to communicate the impacts and collective responsibility of Climate Change.

The following day, we drove on to Lusaka, 600km away. Driving is getting to be a familiar exhaustion for us all now! But Durban draws closer and closer and the petitions are stacking higher and higher every mile :) The journey took us on windy roads through the hills and across rivers, over bridges that allowed only one vehicle at a time. When we eventually arrived in Lusaka, we were met by more of the Zambian campaign team at one of the main shopping malls. We were covered live on Zambian national news, some speeches were given, and of course, we did some more petitioning! We headed on to Eureka campsite in the early evening, and thankfully had a few hours for rest and relaxation before bed. I even had time to play my flute for a little while round the fire in the evening, which was a real joy, in the cool of the evening. 

That night, we had our first huge thunderstorm, as the rainy season hits Zambia. Floods will be frequent in the country at this time of year, and good irrigation of land is essential. Unfortunately, not everyone had pitched their tents adequately (or under a tree, like ours!) so there were many wet, soggy campers, mats and sleeping bags in the morning, which put a dampener on our spirits on the concert day, but the team is still smiling and pushing on!

In hindsight, I should have spent the morning on camp with the majority of others, but part of me was raring to go, and there were a few things I wanted to pick up in the mall, like more pens and duct tape – invaluable campaigning tools! So I headed off with the Canadian/American media team soon after breakfast, to the CRWRC office in Lusaka, with their kind representative here. We picked up some more airtime and other essentials at the shops and then attempted to use the internet and get some more files uploaded. Thankfully, Ryan managed to upload two of his brilliant videos, which I will link here as soon as I find out their location on vimeo! This was quite a feat, since we were uploading 100s of MBs over the unpredictable Airtel modem connection. We got my unlocked modem working for Ruth as well, who stayed at the office during the afternoon, while the rest of us headed on to the big Lusaka concert… 

This, the main event for Zambia, was a complete contrast to the effective and moving Climate Change concert we had had in Chipata only a day before. Unfortunately, the organisers of the programme hadn’t put the principles or message of the Climate Justice campaign at the centre of the event. So it turned into a bit more of a teenage binge party, all a bit too close to resembling the UK’s Carling festival weekend, with the big-name bands drawing in large crowds of youths, wanting to drink and dance. This was a massive disappointment for the caravan team, who had expected Climate Justice to feature as a strong message as at previous events. I hope that this hasn’t damaged the public face of our campaign, with significant national media coverage again, here in Zambia. In spite of this hiccough, we still managed to collect a significant number of written and photo petitions, so our demands for Durban were at least being communicated on the ground in the large crowd the event had drawn in, making up for their absence from the main proceedings on the stage.

Later in the evening, we were invited to the house of the NCA (Norwegian Church Aid) director’s house in Zambia, where a celebratory buffet and drinks had been prepared for us. Spirits were mixed after a mixed day with disputed degrees of success. A few tears of anger were shed by the central caravan team, at an inappropriate act that had been included in the concert programme, but now it’s time to move on, and look forward to Livingstone and beyond.

We’re back on the road again today, striking camp at 5am, and heading towards our next and final (smaller) concert in Zambia, before crossing the border to Botswana tomorrow. We’re going to redouble our efforts today at putting engagement with Climate Change where it should be as the top priority on our agenda. Sadly, some of us are getting significantly tired and fairly unwell, at this stage of the journey. I think that Zambia has been the most ambitious and challenging country yet, with a programme of 3 concerts in 3 days prepared for us. Now the sensible thing to do would be not to attend the optional concert in Livingstone this afternoon, but I am dying to meet Maggie – one of the other (of only 30) participants on the Youth for Eco-Justice programme in Durban! It’s really exciting to me that she has been involved in organising the Livingstone concert, and that we have already been in communication about Youth for Eco-Justice. It’s almost like a friendly face, and a familiar enthusiasm, from someone who I know is on exactly the same page as me when it comes to Faith and Climate Action. So that will be today.

The solar panel is still going strong on the truck, as the sun beats down on the left-hand-side window… Zambia is so huge, but the population is small, and concentrated in a few places, so we’re seeing a lot of wild places, mountains and forests, which is beautiful. It is unfamiliar not to see many villages dotted along the road, as in other countries. It really is true wilderness! I would love to come back to Africa to explore more of these places for a more extended time. I feel like this is a bit of an introduction to the continent as a whole, which may be followed up with returning to my favourite places from the trip. However, if Africa continues to get hotter, I don’t think anyone will be able to live in these beautiful regions… They have recorded an alarming 45 degrees centigrade recently here in Zambia, and even though we’re not close to that now in the rainy season, I’m still fighting a battle to keep enough suncream on to prevent my skin turning to reddened bark! Global warming is a stark reality here, but people cannot move far or in large numbers – there just isn’t the capacity for movement or transportation that we take for granted in the global North. Also, people have no desire to leave their homes, and the changes in temperature are stepping up slowly enough that communities are just trying to adapt. No one sleeps with blankets here any more. There are many water shortages and crop failures, but people are powerless to change the weather that falls on their land and homes, so it’s a case of dealing with it as well as they can. The majority don’t understand the human contribution to global warming, in the form of greenhouse gases, emitted by factories and power stations in distant parts of the world, but can relate to the fumes of kerosene lamps and cookers damaging their respiratory health, a concept that can be scaled up to describe the damage to the Earth.

Update: 9:15pm – Thursday 17th – Another fantastic reception with marching band and flag-wavers in Livingstone and I met the marvelous Maggie! :) The group split into 2 this afternoon – half going to the concert, and half going to Victoria Falls, where some daring people did the huge bungee jump from the bridge over the gorge! More pictures of that tomorrow :)

This continues to be an incredibly enlightening experience for me, and spurs me on to take back ideas, information and strengthened convictions to the UK, to join with campaigners to influence a transition away our careless and harmful policies and practices, when it comes to the future – my future – on the planet. Thanks again for reading, and best wishes and greetings from the We Have Faith caravan!