Headshot of Temilade Salami.

Championing change

In 2017, climate educator and activist Temilade Salami (Environment, Development and Policy 2021) founded EcoChampions, a Nigerian NGO focused on environmental education and leadership. It provided the catalyst for her journey to Sussex, in turn influencing her objectives with EcoChampions. Here, Temilade reflects on the work of her NGO and her hopes for the future.

You founded EcoChampions in 2017. What was the motivator?
I was studying for a BSc in Marine Biology at the University of Lagos, which borders the popular Lagos Lagoon. Lagos is a waterlogged state, and we used to collect water samples to test for turbidity, etc. On one field trip, I saw a neighbouring coastal community and it was just so dirty. I remember asking my lecturer if that was normal, and he explained the community’s water levels weren’t going down due to the drainage being blocked by plastic waste and stuff. It made me feel very uncomfortable. I’m the kind of person who likes to take initiative if I see something wrong. I want to fix it. So, I told my classmates, “We need to do something, let's clean up a community.” That first weekend, over 100 young people took part in a clean-up. It was amazing! After that, we began environmental awareness within the community, so that we didn’t have to keep returning. That was my epiphany. I knew environmental education was what I wanted to do in life.

I’m the kind of person who likes to take initiative if I see something wrong. I want to fix it.”

You then gained a Chevening Scholarship to study at Sussex?
I wanted to increase my professional development and go for my Masters. My then partner, now husband, Gideon Seun Olanrewaju, urged me to go to Sussex. He graduated from Sussex with an MA in International Education and Development in 2018. My course was really good and has helped me with my career. I got to talk about real-life issues that Nigeria was facing. It wasn’t just theory, we had round tables where we assumed the roles of the village chief and the policymaker, and we negotiated. There were lots of role-play simulations. Now that I’m in the field, I can see the connection: environmental issues are also development issues. I found Sussex to be very student focused, paying attention to what also happens outside of the classroom, which really helped. I just love the community in Sussex.

And how has your time at Sussex helped with EcoChampions?
EcoChampions runs two programmes: the Climate Education Leaders Fellowship and Teach for the Planet, which is a school programme in Nigeria. The typical thing you see with climate education in Nigeria is they gather students on the assembly ground and speak about climate change for 10 minutes, and then they’re onto the next school. Our approach differs in that we adopt a school for a while, so we focus less on the numbers and more on the impact and intensity. At Sussex, I realised that impact was more important than numbers. When we started the programme I couldn't find any resources, so I wrote my own books. We now have two books that we use to teach in the schools.

Headshot of Temilade Salami
"When we started the programme I couldn’t find any resources, so I wrote my own books."

The Climate Education Fellowship came from my attending COP26 in Glasgow. I saw a lot of passionate young Africans who were climate-change actors but there was a huge gap in knowledge. They were so passionate, but they weren’t in the rooms where the decisions and negotiations were taking place. I decided to create a fellowship where we could incubate young Africans focused on Africa, and train young people on every issue of climate change with a focus on how to tell your story. So many stories that come out of Africa are about victims, yet these young people were doing amazing stuff in their own communities. At Sussex I won a COP Climate Leader Prize of £3,000 for my idea, which I used to fund the Fellowship. On the launch day, we received around 1,500 applicants and we recruited 70 young people from 26 African countries. I recently met one of the Fellows at COP28 from Zimbabwe. She told me that she was inspired by me writing my book, and that the Fellowship helped her achieve so many things. 

What are your hopes for the future?
I’d like to be making policies. I'm doing the best I can with EcoChampions, but that's only a fraction compared to having a seat with influence. I'm hopeful because my generation is active. We have climate activists who are protesting. Yet at the core of it, we are building a community where everybody loves each other. Everybody wants to help one another. That gives me a lot of hope.

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