I thought my trip to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference took a long time before I met some of the journalists who traveled with the We Have Faith Caravan.
That’s a band of musicians, artists and youth activists for 15 days, covering thousands of miles and driving through five countries before arriving in Durban. Starting in Kenya, 160 members traveled in a caravan of six trucks through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana before pulling into Durban late last week. A group of intrepid journalists accompanied them, courtesy of the UNDP Africa Adaptation Programme.
I caught up with three of the five journalists during lunch of our orientation day sponsored by the Climate Change Media Partnership.
Audrey Wabwire, Tina Ogbonna, and Simegnish Yekoye hail from Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. They bubbled with enthusiasm as they talked about the journey, even as they spoke longingly about sleeping in their own beds after having camped for three consecutive weeks.
They did not lack for adventure.
There was the time in Botswana when a herd of elephants walked by their tents at night. The enormous animals walked surprising quietly, they said, but their shape, even in the dark, was unmistakable.
Then there were the snakes that inhabited each of the camping sites where they stayed.
After they arrived here in Durban, floods that claimed 10 lives soaked them and moved their tents.
This direct confrontation with what arguably could be considered climate change effects did not only happen in the conference’s host city. In Botswana, for instance, they had to shower in a bucket filled with soapy water because of the nation’s shortage that requires vigilance and stringent conservation measures.
Although the travel took its toll, leading to stiff backs, broken fingernails and blemished skin, Yekoye, who works in Tanzania, said the cause was worth the physical inconvenience.
“It was challenging, but I met the challenge, and that made me proud of myself,” she said.
The journalists have not just been riding along with the caravan, but rather have been filing stories along the way.
On the rare occasions, about once a week, when they’ve had Internet access, they’ve filed stories that they say demonstrate climate change’s impact.
Wabwire did a radio story about a woman in Malawi who braved community disapproval when she started using contraception. The woman’s action was not motivated by religion, she explained.
Instead she acted based on her assessment that the drought had led food to become so expensive that she determined that she and her husband could not afford to feed any child they might have.
Jacqueline Frank, project coordinator for the organization that sponsored the journalists’ participation, said the program’s major goal was to encourage the journalists to report and write about climate change.
The work is sorely needed.
African nations, including some of the ones the caravan traveled through, are routinely identified in scientific reports as being among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change’s consequences like extreme heat.
The trip has had the desired effect on Ogbonna, who wrote about the plight of the Masai people in Kenya. Drought has forced them to move to Tanzania and to experience many attendant disruptions, and even a loss of culture, she said.
Motivated by she has she seen during her journey, she said she plans to continue the work after her return to Nigeria.
“The experience of seeing vast lands with no plants and all thorns shocked me, and it makes me want to report more,” Ogbonna said.