“I will plant trees in the barren desert cedar and the acacia, myrtle, olive cypress, fir and pine”
Isiah 41:19 (Living Translation)
It was a day like any normal day in December. I was on my way to work in the morning driving through one of the beautiful areas in Nairobi. The landscapes, the houses and the manicured lawns could have been on the cover of “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine. As I admired the scenery the cars began to back up. Traffic jams are normal in Nairobi, but at this time of the morning it was unusual for cars to be backed up this much. What is that I see? Cows? The road, the sidewalk, the lawns everywhere you looked there were cows. Some grazing on the manicured lawns while others blocked the road while two young herdsmen with a stick trying to get the cows off of the road. This was a usual scene in the middle of the suburbs of Nairobi. I knew that this was a sign of things to come. When the Maasai (ethnic group in Kenya) herders walk their cattle for miles from the Ngong hills to the suburbs of Nairobi this can only mean that the country side was in a serious crises of lack of water. No rains meant they had to find grass to feed their cows, and where better to find grass? At the “Homes and Garden” manicured lawns in the suburbs of Nairobi.
The cows have come. The extreme heat and the lack of rain during the short rainy season force the herders to bring their animals to the city. This was a clear indication that we are experiencing a serious drought, even before the metrological department announced that Kenya as well as the whole of East Africa would face extreme drought. The drought has also affected Southern African with equally devastating effects. The lack of rain does not discriminate; it affects everyone in the country but for those that are already living on the margins, the lack of rains is devastating.
The devastating effects are seen as children are drinking from the only water source that is in the community. Because of the lack of rain this water source has become multi-purpose: the animals drink from it, the community uses it to bathe, wash clothes, and for cooking and drinking (unpurified).
The cows have come, and the price of the staple food like maze flour (one of the staple foods) has risen above the reach of most Kenyans. The price of vegetable has risen because most of the crops across the country has dried up. The taps in homes are dry. All we can do across the country is wait and pray that the long rains that are due in April will come and they will be adequate enough to fill the reservoirs across the country. If by chance, we don’t get the expected rainfall this can be devastating for the country and East Africa as a whole. The Catholic Church has requested the government declare the drought a national disaster.
How do we respond to this crisis? The short term response is getting emergency food/water to the harder hit areas in the country. As well as making sure cattle and other animals have feed. One of the long term responses the OAIC would like to address is the problem of deforestation across Africa. The OAIC will partner with one of the Embassies in Kenya and the Kenya Forestry department in a massive indigenous tree planting exercise during the rainy season. The OAIC is calling it “Tree for Life.” In the many different African cultures, trees are sacred and essential for the wellbeing of society. Trees provide medicine, food, shade, and for some it is a natural place to worship under the trees expansive canopy. Everyone understands the relationship between trees and the benefits they provide to the whole community: oxygen, rain, purification of the air equals life for all of God’s creation.
The OAIC “Tree for Life” program seeks to address the extreme weather patterns i.e. the pendulum that swings from drought to devastating floods across Africa. Trees are essential because they control climate change by increasing moisture in the atmosphere, reduce poverty and hunger, and it prevents soil erosion to name a few.
The Tree for Life program will be rolled out in April during the long rainy season. We are inviting churches across Africa as well as our friends to join hands in prayer and action. Our action is sponsoring the planting of trees across Africa.
Rev. Phyllis Byrd serves with the Organization of African Instituted Churches as the Director for the Just Communities Program. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.