Each September, we welcome nearly 100 new students to our campus; these are the lucky few who were singled out of hundreds of applicants across the continent via a rigorous selection process that gives them some indication of the challenges that await.
In this, our first in a series highlighting incoming students, we are delighted to introduce a student who has already received global recognition for her contribution to wildlife conservation in Africa.
Tiassa Samayian Mutunkei is not the first – or only – student to enter the Academy with an impressive CV boasting a long list of achievements, awards and accolades. But she is one of the few who has “no Plan B”.
“I just have plan A because I know I’m going to be successful at it,” reckons the feisty young activist. “I am passionate about wildlife conservation and aim to pursue it…”
A self-confessed “Wildlife Warrior”, Tiassa is not just vocal about wildlife conservation, she’s made huge inroads in ensuring her peers follow suit, by founding Teens4Wildlife, a movement that, she says: “ is a space for Kenyan and African youth as a whole to share their ideas and thoughts, learn, explore and discover the value of our wildlife – then take action to protect it.”
Her goal is to empower and impassion African youth to use and raise their voices. “I believe that we as the young generation should come together and take charge of wildlife and wildlands before it’s too late. We are not waiting for older generations to hand it down to us – we will take it, because the time is now. I can’t tell my kids I’m the reason elephants are extinct. We must all come together to protect our heritage. Animals are Africans too, and we should use our voices to speak up for them,” iterates Tiassa.
A Voice for Change
“My message is: No matter how young you are, you have a voice, It’s your biggest tool, and it will take you places.”
Tiassa has certainly come a long way since her first trip to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a gift for her 14th birthday that set her on her life path. “That is where I found out about poaching, losing elephants, and adopting elephants.” She promptly set about raising money by selling loom bands and soon had the required 3000 Kenyan shillings to adopt her first elephant. But it was the fact that 96 elephants are “lost” in Africa every day that inspired her to start a wildlife club at school. “Then, it was called Teens for Elephants; and aimed at getting teens to know and care about stuff that matters, instead of what Beyonce is wearing – the message was: ‘get your priorities right’, explains Tiassa.
Her priorities were so clear from the get-go, the movement soon grew to become a fully-fledged, functioning organisation – starting with an initiative as simple as a bake sale. “We raised KSh.96 000 for wildlife in less than an hour,” she recalls proudly. The difference, explains Tiassa, was that they did more than sell cakes. “We shared stories of tuskers, and some of the elephants that had passed on. That’s when teen wildlife became big. I realized that all we need to do is raise awareness; when people say African youth are not interested in conservation, it’s not true – they just don’t have the awareness, once the awareness is there, the interest is there, and they drive it,” she says.
Teens4Wildlife is not just active on social media: Tiassa has used the platform to grow the cause, which now has 20 active members, and to mentor others to start their own wildlife clubs. “We’ve helped start three other wildlife clubs: Wildlife Savers was started two years ago by 10-year-olds; Ndovu Afrika by year 1s – a group of 6- and 7-year-olds – and Greenpark Wildlife. We’ve also adopted a school in Kadjado who we first met in 2016 august to celebrate Lions Day and Elephants Day. Along with Wildlife Direct, who has supported me throughout my journey, we’ve taken about 100 students camping and showed them the importance of animals, and their protection…”
Vociferous campaigning for the cause she champions has taken Tiassa to the global stage. She’s given several presentations, including at The Global March for Elephants, Lions and Rhinos in 2016 and 2017, at Earth Hour 2017, and at the local Middle School Model United Nations program. She’s also the first runner up in the 2018 Green Kids Award.
This, naturally, raised her profile in the media, too: she’s been featured on various platforms, from national newspapers and TV, and even features in the film Mabingwa: The Champions, released in March 2018.
With that much going, she’s thrilled at the prospect of attending ALA, and is “excited to join campus in a few weeks”. She’s looking forward to the leadership and entrepreneurial journey to follow, as there’s lots more work to be done in conservation, says Tiassa. “My aim is also to change the laws: that can be a challenge in the beginning, but now my voice is being heard – it’s all about persistence.”
She’d also love to use her voice to highlight the work of the rangers, and raise funds for these “unsung heroes who stay with elephants day and night, sleep with them in the cold; I want to give them the spotlight they deserve.”
Welcome to ALA, Tiassa; we’re certain your tenure here will not only enrich you, but provide you with all the skills and resources you need to grow your inspiring movement!
Watch this space for further spotlights on ALA’s 2018 cohort.