Lesein Mutunkei combines his love for football and environment uniquely. Everytime he scores for his team, he plants a tree to toast to his achievement
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
Lesein Mutunkei,14, puts on his Ligi Ndogo neon green Jersey pants and tightens his shoelaces, all psyched up for a match between Jupiter (his team) and Pluto.
Before he walks out of their house he reminds his mother how badly he needs to score on that particular day. And to show how serious he is, he leads the family in prayers. After which he dribbles his ball and runs off.
Lesein has always been active since he was six, experimenting with soccer, tennis, golf and rugby. However, he started playing soccer seriously about two years ago when he was 12 after four years of competitive tennis.
In January this year he came across an article that revealed Kenya loses trees equivalent to 10 football pitches every hour. This was a shock to him and he realised that there was problem.
Then the idea of planting a tree for every goal he scored was borne. It was easy to implement because it acted as a motivation and also made him better in the field where he plays the left wing.
“I decided I will be planting a tree for every goal I score in the school team and in my club (Ligi Ndogo). That means as l become better in football, I will be saving the environment. That is how Trees4Goals project was born,” he says.
When he made the announcement his parents were thrilled because he combined the need to excel in sports and his love for nature.
They kept encouraging and supporting him to ensure a healthy balance between his academics, sports and environmental project.
“My family helps me, especially when it comes to recording the information correctly by finding the names of the trees to plant, number of goals scored, the date they were scored, buying trees seedlings and finding a place to plant them,” he says.
He gets his seedlings from local seedlings sellers /small businesses by the roadside because they tend to sell seedlings that are suitable for that specific area and are knowledgeable about tree- planting.
In some cases he joins ongoing tree-planting activities in schools, neighbourhood and community. “A good number of my trees are planted where I can have periodic access to care for them such as home and school compound, and my grandparents home. For institutions, I identify someone from there and maintain contact with them to get an update on how the trees are doing,” he says.
So far, he has scored 28 goals (from January) and planted 22 trees. He will plant the remaining this week. When planting trees, he ensures he is accompanied by his peers who assist him.
This way he is able to share about his project, the importance of protecting the environment and motivating his peers to take action, however small, to protect the environment. He has also opened Instagram and Twitter accounts to motivate more children to do something for the environment.
He is a member of another initiative called Kijani Gang. This is a group of young boys who have committed to adopting a green mindset in their daily lives.
The initiative has adopted a rural community school in Kajiado with a view to making it a green school. The activities include helping the school start an environment club, painting environmental messages murals on school walls, planting and caring for trees, organising environmental awards, recycling plastics and constructing water-harvesting systems.
“I would like to make this initiative a success so as to inspire young Kenyans to take personal action and plant more trees and protect the environment. My aim is to have big forests across Kenya and Africa,” he says.
His efforts have been recognised and this year he was one of the overall winners during the Green Kids Awards organised by Little Miss Kenya.