The Maasai Changemaker: Rebecca's Changemaker Journey

Addressing climate change and environmental degradation in Kenya through student-led education and advocacy.
Rebecca photo from her children's book
Source: Worldreader and Ashoka

A generation of young Kenyans is stepping up to create positive change to address everyday challenges that are enflamed by the climate crisis. Rebecca's story describes the courage and ambition of young people who are translating knowledge into action for a better world. 

Read Rebecca, The Maasai Changemaker, a children's book based on Rebecca's true story.

“My defining moment was seeing my mother crying as our goats and sheep died during another drought – two years in a row 2016 and 2017. She screamed, “How will we live – what will we eat?”  There have been many droughts and consequent famine not only in my area but also in most of our country Kenya. Talking with the elders they say traditionally drought comes every 7 years but in my short lifetime it seems to come every 2 or 3 years.”

Rebecca Naisimoi, a student in Form 3 (11th grade), is teaching others environmental consciousness to combat hunger and poverty across Kenya. She discovered in high school that both a barrier and a solution to addressing the climate crisis is knowledge. By identifying a need in public school education to study the environment, today she is educating others on both individual and societal-level solutions, such as solar energy, planting trees, organic farming, composting, and wildlife protection.

Growing up in a rural Maasai community in Kenya, Rebecca experienced the devastating effects of climate change on livestock and farming in her community. Hunger and possible starvation are a real consequence when crop yields are poor and animals struggle for survival as the Maasai community’s wealth depends on livestock and agriculture. Without animals or crops, families are not able to pay for educational expenses for their children, even with the help of donors. “I care because our poverty limits my educational opportunities even though my tuition, room, and board are covered by my sponsor’s donation,” Rebecca shares. “There are many other expenses to attend high school.”

“If we could fix climate change my family and community would be prosperous again.” Motivated by the possibility of a better world where people care for the planet, Rebecca tirelessly activates her peers to educate others about environmental issues. She translates academic knowledge to public discourse by enabling her peers to teach their friends, families, and communities about the urgency of protecting the environment along with practical steps to take action.

Rebecca also believes education sparks advocacy as she encourages young women to sign and present petitions to their members of Parliament to vocalize student concerns about the environment to the national government. She is also expanding this advocacy work beyond local schools by preparing church and community members to sign and share their own petitions. Today, her team consists of other female classmates, teachers, church members, and her family.

“I am at the stage of creating awareness in these groups. My word to them is that we are in this globe together, and if we allow some of us to sink it- then we’ll all go together!”

Rebecca’s journey to changemaking has not been easy as her family has struggled to meet their basic needs over the years. She remembers one traumatic experience when a strong wind almost swept away their home and everything in it. Her family feels grateful to have survived and continues to resiliently persevere by supporting Rebecca’s journey as a changemaker.

Not everyone was initially receptive to Rebecca’s idea since the Kenyan curriculum does not emphasize environmental studies. Her classmates found it hard at times to add another subject to their studies and many were hesitant to sign petitions for local or national government. When looking for support, Rebecca went to her teachers and the director at Tembea Girls’ Academy; “They’ve helped me develop my project and have always encouraged me to act like a leader and be courageous to succeed.”

Meet Rebecca, a changemaker from Kenya | PC: Tembea Girls' Academy

Rebecca looks up to Cynthia Moss, the founder of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, admiring her compassion and attention for every single elephant in Amboseli National Park. “I was amazed when she selected me to sponsor and pay my school fees from primary school to date.” Finding strength and courage to lead from aspirational environmental leaders, Rebecca’s initiative gained momentum with the support of adults who believed in her. “Especially once when the men in my community lent me their ears,” Rebecca says, reflecting on how she grew her initiative, “It is not usual for such to happen to young girls like me.”

Embracing her inner power to create change, Rebecca and her team are relentlessly striving for a better world, a world where everyone takes care of the environment and can thrive. “If I do succeed in my venture, the world will be beautiful.  The cattle will be fat, the children well-nourished, there will be many more trees, the markets will be full of farmers’ produce and the wild animals will be many.”

Read more about Rebecca and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants here.

Learn more about Rebecca's school here.