The Earth Prize – A Global Sustainability Competition for Youths
Lesein Mutunkei had a simple idea that turned into a nation-wide movement. Now he wants other young people to join the fight for the environment as part of The Earth Prize; a global sustainability competition for 13- to 19-year-olds with $200,000 in prize money.
Lesein’s activism story started in 2017 after he heard Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai’s Story of the Hummingbird; a tale of how even a small creature can create change. Concerned about the impact of severe deforestation in Kenya, Lesein made a commitment to himself; for each goal he scored for his school’s football team, he would plant a tree.
He soon found that he was scoring more goals than usual, and his teammates noticed too. He told them what he was doing and, inspired, they joined in. A short time later, the Trees4Goals initiative had spread nationwide, and over 1000 trees had been planted by Lesein and over 5000 other young people across Kenya.
“I thought to myself, we will have to solve this problem. It’s my generation and the children younger than me that will see the worst effects of climate change, and we need to take action. The Hummingbird was small, but Professor Wangari Maathai’s story shows that even a small bird can make a difference. Young people don’t need to wait until they leave school or become scientists. We can do something right now. Even if it feels like we’re too small to make a difference, or if we feel we aren’t smart enough. We don’t need to wait until we finish school, or until we’re 20, or 30. We should use our ideas and our voices right now.”
In 2020, Lesein was named a Young Eco-Hero by global environmental charity, Action for Nature, and he has ambitions to encourage FIFA to support the Trees4Goals initiative to help it spread worldwide.
Lesein’s story is one of the inspiring tales of young activists and entrepreneurs being highlighted by The Earth Prize, which aims to provide a global eco-system of support for young change-makers. The competition invites great ideas from young people and connects them with a network of university student mentors, celebrity ambassadors, experts, academics and entrepreneurs to help young people turn their ideas into real-world solutions. Educational content created with leading filmmakers and sustainability experts is being provided to help schools turn the passion that young people feel for environmental action into something that has long-term impact, for their students and for the planet.
“For young people, being able to take action, create something and have the potential for financial as well as emotional reward is a powerful combination,” said Philip Clegg, head of sixth form at Bradfield College in the United Kingdom. “The Earth Prize has come at exactly the right time. It’s an opportunity for different schools and different people from across the world to work together and bring about real change.”
For founder Peter McGarry, the need to give young people’s good ideas more than just airtime was a strong motivation. “The world needs fresh, unpolluted ideas, and young people’s capacity for creativity is a huge, untapped asset. We want to help bridge the gap by supporting and inspiring them to imagine real-world solutions, then connecting them to mentors and experts to accelerate positive change.”
The competition is open for pre-registration and will run until March 2022, when the adjudication panel will select the final winner and three runners-up. The $200,000 prize money will be divided between students and schools for further education and sustainability projects.
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