How African mythology is changing the environmental movement with Atwooki

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Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth podcast. I'm your host, Marion Atieno Osieyo. Black Earth is an interview podcast celebrating nature and the incredible Black women leaders in the environmental movement. In today's episode, I'm joined by Atwooki . Atwooki is a mother and inspirational creator of Yuniya, named after her grandmother.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Yuniya is a storytelling platform using African mythology to educate children, parents and caregivers about climate change and earth care. Join us in this amazing conversation as we explore how African mythology and storytelling is crucial to making climate change and joyful activism more relatable, empowering, and culturally relevant.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Through reclaiming African histories and knowledge, [00:01:00] and building relationships across generations, Yuniya brings conversations on climate change out from the policy spaces and street protests into homes and communities where they belong.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Atwooki! Thank you so much for joining us today at Black Earth Podcast. Um, could you please introduce yourself to our listener community?

Atwooki: Hi everyone. Um, my name is Atwooki. I'm a mother to a 14 year old called Malachi. I co founded Yuniya, an online educational platform and community dedicated to making the environmental space and the environmental conversation more accessible, diverse, and inclusive.

Atwooki: And we bring this vision to life by facilitating [00:02:00] learning through alternative education, transformative experiences that sit at the intersection of the environment, culture, and well being. And our mission is really to create a welcoming space where parents, children, caregivers can ask questions, a place for them to explore as a collective or as individuals, also a place for them to nurture their imagination, a place for them to go on exciting journeys of exploration.

Atwooki: And a place where we inspire each and everybody, individuals or them as a collective to connect with nature.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Thank you so much, Atwooki. I'm very excited to explore, uh, like your vision and your work at Yuniya in our conversation. Um. Atwooki, how would you describe your relationship with nature?

Atwooki: I love, love, love [00:03:00] this question. Um, nature to me is home. Um, and, uh, when I think about it, nature is like an old wise friend, that friend who is so full of wisdom, so full of ancient knowledge. Much like the wise old Rafiki in the Lion King, I think about nature as a teacher, you know, I learn from nature's resilience, and I also learn from nature's unspoken wisdom, and sometimes spoken wisdom, and, um, nature can be a friend.

Atwooki: Or is a friend and um, I think sometimes in friendships you don't need words so yeah, it's, it's that not needing words and It's my ultimate place of healing. It's a place I go to in moments of despair. And the more I think about the [00:04:00] question, I'm now thinking about in a relationship, in everything I've said, it's more about me taking from nature and not about what I do for nature.

Atwooki: So I'm now thinking, what do I do for nature? It's, yeah, it's making me think. So I'm going to think a little bit more about that. Yeah. Thank you for that question. It's made me think.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: It's all good. It's all good. Um, I think it's, uh, there's so much that we receive from nature that it feels quite natural for that to be the starting point when we think about our relationship with nature.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but it goes deeper than that. Like we are, we are nature. Um, that's the tea, that's the secret sauce. Um, you know, I love that you're, when you're describing your relationship with nature, you're actually thinking about nature from a place of relationship. which is something [00:05:00] that is so important for us to cultivate in our lifetime.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, yeah, thank you for sharing that. And also for being vulnerable in kind of reflecting on what you're saying. Um, so yeah, that's amazing. Um, so I am so excited to speak to you about, uh, Yuniya.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so I'm going to give an explanation to our audience. So Atwooki and I met through an amazing initiative in London called, um, the Climate, Community and Health Fund. Um, so it's a fund of 450, 000 pounds that was set up by Impact on Urban Health and Do It Now Now, and I was on the grant panel, uh, to, to help select some of the initiatives, and Atwooki was one of the amazing recipients of this [00:06:00] fund, and Yuniya just stands out as like a world changing initiative. Like, I feel like if this was in everyone's home around the world, things would be really different in this planet.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, uh, Atwooki, please could you tell us more about Yuniya, like how did you come to create Yuniya?

Atwooki: Yes, uh, thank you again for that question. Um, this is going to be a long one. In 2020, um, I don't know if you remember it, uh, East Africa had one of the worst floodings and many people lost their lives. Other people lost their livelihood.

Atwooki: People lost their homes, you know, their heritage, their culture, and, uh, many had to leave their communities. So, during this time, my mum and dad, who live in Uganda, also had to leave their home, [00:07:00] and right up to this day, they have never been able to move back and, um, I remember showing my son Malachi pictures of the floods and what happened to his grandparents home and, uh, he asked me what happened.

Atwooki: So I told him it was the effects of climate change. You know, the extreme weather conditions, sometimes it was very hot and sometimes there was too much rain. So, um, Malachi looked at me and made a, he made a comment, he said, and this is verbatim, 'How did the ice melt all the way from the polar bear's home and flow all the way to Uganda?'

Atwooki: This is East Africa, Uganda, Kampala. And I knew then, in that moment, to do something about that statement. It made me realize he didn't quite know a lot about climate change, the effects of climate change, and how the global south is affected [00:08:00] by it right now, not in the future, and it was happening to his grandparents. He lives in London, his grandparents live in Uganda, and it's a relationship bound by love, and it was happening to them right now, not in the future.

Atwooki: So I put together some content for Malachi to read and hopefully understand climate change. Um, but climate change is quite complex and, um, It didn't go as planned. Nothing I put together was working at all. Everything was grim, sad to read and I know it's the reality, it's what's happening to people and I wanted him to know what was happening.

Atwooki: But it was a lot, it was a lot for a child to deal with because all he knew was recycling and upcycling. He didn't know exactly what was [00:09:00] happening to his grandparents, to his family, um, right now. So it was quite difficult. It was overwhelming. And for him, it didn't work. It didn't work at all. So a few weeks went by and one, one day Melly came to me, just, just, you know, just chill.

Atwooki: And he said, well, mom, I know about climate change. So I asked him, how did you learn? And then he said, the Ninki Nanka. And I know you might be wondering who is the Ninki Nanka. I'll tell you, so the Ninki Nanka is an African mythological creature and the Ninki Nanka is a dragon that lives by the Gambia River, so the Gambia is a country in Africa, um, and the Ninki Nanka calls it's home.

Atwooki: Sorry, the Ninki Nanka's home is by the Gambia River. And so you might be wondering again, how does the dragon teach a [00:10:00] child about climate change and its effects? So I'll take you back to where it all started. I've always wanted to say this in the beginning, I'll take you back to the beginning. Um, so Malachi absolutely loves to read.

Atwooki: He reads in the bathroom, he reads in the toilet, he reads at the dentist, he reads anywhere and everywhere, um, so in 2020 we're in lockdown. If you remember we were in lockdown, um, he, he's got books, but he'd read all of them and so he was getting bored.

Atwooki: And, um, for me, unfortunately, I wasn't able to get him any more books, so I asked him if he could, uh, read about African mythology online. So he tried, uh, but... The content online was so overwhelming, there was a lot of information overload, and it wasn't really [00:11:00] interesting, I mean, now there's a lot of interesting stuff out there, but before there wasn't really much for kids, and the great thing is, in that experiment, I call it an experiment, he was able to find his niche. He was really interested in African mythology, specifically African mythological creatures. So together with Malachi, we went on a journey to rediscover these creatures, to reimagine and retell their stories in a fun, engaging way, in a fun, engaging way, but in bite size formats, easy for children to digest, easy for parents, for anybody to digest, like the ABCs of a creature, like meet the creature.

Atwooki: And the Ninki Nanka story was one of the stories that we reimagined. So, again, you're probably wondering how Malachi was able to [00:12:00] figure out climate change from the creature. So I'll explain, um the Ninki Nanka is a dragon. So, by the Gambia Riverside, past animals Big and Small, there's a forest, wide and tall, where the Ninki Nanka live, 20 in all.

Atwooki: The Ninki Nanka have a body of a crocodile and horse like heads with three sharp horns. The Ninki Nanka stand big and bold, and the scales on their neck, to the pointy tip of their tails, glisten like gold. At night, the Ninki Nanka love to swim, so they go to the Gambia River and dive right in. They eat fish for their breakfast, and snakes for their lunch, but naughty little boys and girls are their best thing of all. Their favourite munch. [00:13:00] So when naughty children wander into the swamps at night. The Ninki Nanka lie in wait, the children vanish, never to see the light. But there's one thing all children learn, to lose the Ninki Nanka at every turn. Would you like to know the secret too? They show love, that's all they do.

Atwooki: So repeat these phrases when you see the Ninki Nanka will surely flee. I am loved. I will be kind. I will be respectful. I have all I need. So that's the story of the Ninki Nanka, and it lives by the Gambia River. So on the surface, it's the story of a dragon that lives by the Gambia River. However, because Malachi thoroughly enjoyed this story, he was motivated to learn more.

Atwooki: And in wanting to learn more, he was able to explore multiple things, like the Ninki [00:14:00] Nanka's home that has mangrove trees growing by the riverside. And these mangrove trees are incredible for absorbing CO2. The animals that live by the Gambia River, there's nearly 600 species of birds. There's all sorts of animals, birds that migrate from the Gambia to the UK and migrate back to the Gambia in winter.

Atwooki: So he made that connection, the interconnectedness of all living things. So this particular story allowed him to explore the complex concepts like history and the environment, and ultimately allowed him and I to sit down and create a framework for understanding the complex concept of climate change.

Atwooki: And now we're sharing it with everybody and we hope we can inspire more children [00:15:00] to learn.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. I would, I would love to find out, because Yuniya has now evolved from, um, the storytelling element of your work to now creating spaces for parents and caregivers and communities to come together to learn about history, African mythology, African geography, uh, about climate change and earth care.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so could you tell us more about where Yuniya is [00:16:00] now? And, um, I guess the aims of your platform and the types of principles that inform what you do now as a platform?

Atwooki: Yes, um, thank you for that question. So, I'm at Yuniya, we believe that connections between humans and our ecosystems are vital, not just for a healthy planet, but for personal and collective growth.

Atwooki: And we believe that to truly, truly fight for the environment, to be kinder to it, we must connect with it and we see this connection as a representative and we see this connection as an opportunity for individuals and communities to undergo transformative journeys and not just altering how they think, but how they interact with the world and how they as a [00:17:00] collective or as individuals take action, take climate action.

Atwooki: And so we think that, or we believe and have seen that this transformation paves the way for people to live life, to live lives in harmony and in coexistence with the natural world. So based off of that, we focused on four main things, and the first is building community, um, because we know that creating an informed and empowered community with shared responsibility, In shaping a better world makes things easy to get done.

Atwooki: So we're in tension about this, this community being intergenerational and being space where people can learn from each other, learn from their unique viewpoints and experiences and values. So an intergenerational space that's empowered. And the second thing that we do is empowering action, as I [00:18:00] mentioned earlier, we in our sessions have creative writing and, uh, this is off based off the fact that we believe everybody needs to have a voice to speak to, to talk about the things that they care about.

Atwooki: And to make sure as individuals, they realize their full potential and their power. And I say that as an introvert, um, who absolutely hates standing out there and speaking, but being able to be creative in my thoughts, in my thought process and having the power to do it and having people actually believe in what I'm saying and being passionate about something has helped me be vocal about that.

Atwooki: Things I care about. However, I know that I had to start from somewhere and it was about being creative and thinking about how I say things. What's more impactful and we believe creative writing is, is really empowering and we've seen it [00:19:00] happen. Um, so the third thing is improving wellbeing. Um, we create opportunities for children, parents, and caregivers to engage with the natural world, with the environment.

Atwooki: Just be out there in nature. Nature is healing. And I love what you said about nature being we are nature. So be out there and just take it in and just nurture that relationship. Nature nurtures. Um, the other thing is, uh, we just want to inspire joyful activism. Just back to what I said about Malachi, about the news being still grim.

Atwooki: Things just so sad. Um, we want children to do it and do it happy, to promote joyful activism and just encourage parents and children to be excited about making a difference and not just seeing it as a chore, because if it's a chore, it's just, oh yeah, I'll get it done and I'm out the way. No, it's actually in a way that can [00:20:00] transform into sense passion or purpose.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you. Thank you so much, Atuki. I'm so inspired. Um, so I'm curious to, to hear from you what some of the kind of examples of the difference that Yuniya has made in, in children, as well as parents and caregivers. Could you share with us some examples of the difference that, um, your work and your platform is making in people's

Atwooki: I have quite a few, but I'm just going to pick a few that come to mind. So, um, from the storytelling, what has happened is, the storytelling has set the stage for an intergenerational climate approaches, which are creative. Some are so crazy. They're out there. [00:21:00] They're unbelievable, but they're believable.

Atwooki: I mean, they're creating worlds out there that bring them joy, bring them purpose. So setting that stage where different generations can collaborate at the different stages of their lives has been incredible to witness and I, I am really honored to be in that space and just witness what different generations are doing and collaborating with each other.

Atwooki: And what's happened organically is because parents have started to care about the environment. Um, they share their childhood stories, their experiences, their ancient wisdom, their customs, their traditions, their connection to nature. And I think what has happened is these stories of growing up have created a sense of familiarity for the kids, a different way of learning about the environment.

Atwooki: It's also created [00:22:00] some safety. And a lot of curiosity for the younger generation and in that way, we've just been able to build connections between the two generation off the back of storytelling. So I absolutely love that.

Atwooki: And, um, another example is exploring work. within the environmental sector. So we have a particular story about the Aziza, who are fairies from the Dahomey Kingdom of West Africa, and they are quite fun.

Atwooki: I mean, I love the Aziza story. They have hair in every style, short hair, long hair, locks, you know, twists and curls. Well, it is incredible. I love the Aziz's story and it's had really significant impact in introducing children to the notion of environmental protectors, and ultimately, them asking if they can get work within the environmental space and we talk to them about [00:23:00] people like Zandile Ndhlovu, a South African, uh, free diver. She's the first black female free diving instructor in South Africa. So, you know, you've got kids thinking, Oh, I want to do that. So the environmental sector, I think you've spoken about it, about this being the second least diverse ethnically diverse sector in the UK.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yeah, in the UK it's ghetto. It's the worst, but we continue.

Atwooki: Absolutely. And, uh, yeah, back to what we're saying, it's Inspired, um, children to take action, um, and an example of that, which I absolutely love. And I think a lot more people should do is where we've inspired this boy is, I just love his, his energy, um, through a focus group that we have at work, uh, you know, we grouped together and [00:24:00] we're working on a project that we'll tell a lot more about it.

Atwooki: Um, So he's been inspired to start a campaign at his school to recreate the map, the world map representing Africa's true size. Because what happens in the sessions is, because we're talking about African mythological creatures, we're really intentional about teaching the kids about Africa's basic geography, just the foundation.

Atwooki: This is its true size. It's the second largest continent in the world. It might look small, however, it is the second largest continent with over its multiple countries. We teach them about basic geography because I think what happens is a lot of people tend to think of Africa as a single unit. So, We always are intentional about kids knowing it's not a single unit.

Atwooki: This is its actual size. So we taught him [00:25:00] about, uh, the Mercator projection and how, uh, because of Gerardus Mercator, the map of Africa is much smaller than it is. You know, the Mercator projection, that's a different story.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Could you give a bit more background to that? Because not all of us know

Atwooki: Yes. Um, and the African continent is large. However, the map in no way shows Africa as the second largest continent. And there's a reason why. So in, uh, 1569, so Gerardus Mercator, a cartographer, a cartographer is somebody who makes maps, he created what is known as the Mercator map and the Mercator map was used for navigating the seas, and it was essentially for sailors, as it provided a simple way for them to navigate across the seas.

Atwooki: So the land masses on the map are not necessarily [00:26:00] proportional to the actual size at the higher latitudes and, sorry, at the higher latitudes, um, the land masses appear larger than their actual size. And I wish I could show you the map of Mercator, um, it is the, uh, the globe.

Atwooki: So Africa is not really bang in the middle. It's obviously on the equator, so on the light, the la the, the higher side, the, the, the higher up you go. The um, the land masses are bigger 'cause it was stretched out and it was stretched out because of the Mercator projection.

Atwooki: So, although, Mercator made globes, he later transferred the maps from a three dimensional curved surface to a flat sheet of paper in a process called the Mercator projection. And as a result of that, the map of Africa was completely distorted. And it's really problematic for many reasons. [00:27:00] Because Africa is sitting on the equator.

Atwooki: It's, it's not really distorted. However, it looks a lot smaller than it should. So yeah, from the globe to paper caused the distortion and therefore, um, Africa appears much smaller than it is. It is, it is, there's a much simpler explanation, but I hope that helps.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And so this, this young amazing young teenager is, started a campaign in their school

Atwooki: Yes. Uh, what we realized is with these distortions, the Mercator map is still being used in classrooms, classrooms. It's being used by Google. And when he realized, he's like, uh uh, I'm going to change that. And so he started a campaign to get it back to where it should be to a world. He's seen the world as it is and the world as it should be with Africa's standing [00:28:00] tall, reflecting its true size.

Atwooki: Um, yeah

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I also think about, uh, black liberation movements throughout history, especially modern history. Um, creating learning spaces outside the school system was one of the kind of core tenants of the way they organized. So, I mean, I'm thinking about like the Black Panther movement, for example. Um, but I'm also thinking about, um, just [00:29:00] now in the environmental movement and environmental spaces.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: For example, in the UK, the diversity of the environmental sector profession is very low in terms of ethnic diversity, but when you go outside these definitions of what a sector is, there's so many like community groups, community learning spaces where people are learning about, you know, how to grow, they're learning about history, they're learning about like life skills, you know, in terms of how to, uh, live in nature, they're learning about all these amazing things, but it's outside kind of formal learning spaces.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I think that's really something for us to learn in terms of, um, how, you know, re imagining the environmental movement, how can we create spaces for people to truly learn in a way that, um, is liberating, you know, is [00:30:00] liberating for themselves and liberating for the community in which they, they belong to.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I just think it's so dope that you're using African mythology as the gateway, um, because that is also a remembering of ourselves. Um, as, as African people, but also, you know, just grounding this work in helping us remember that we do have so much knowledge and information and wisdom to tap into as we move forward in this work.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So. Yeah, I just wanted to thank you for that.

Atwooki: You're welcome. No, I totally agree. No, I agree with what you said about there's really incredible people out there doing a lot. I mean, just look at the, you look at the people who we met. The groups of people doing incredible things and they're out there and I get, I get asked this question a lot, [00:31:00] actually, and people keep saying, well, I didn't know about you and we, we are asking ourselves about how do we go out there and let people know about the work that we do, because we do get that question quite a bit, yeah, I didn't know about you.

Atwooki: How come I don't know about the work that you do? So we probably need to do better at letting people know, um, that we exist.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I would say yes, definitely. Definitely. There's an element of needing to share the work that you know, you do, we do so that people who need and want what we're creating, they, they're able to find it.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So there's this, that's a continuous process. Um, I also think there's something about, um, in, in kind of social change and social innovation, um, us [00:32:00] redefining what scale and growth looks like. So, um, there's a, I can't remember the name, but there's a social innovation map. I'll put it in the show notes, but they, the creator of this map redefines what scale looks like in social innovation.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So there's, um, scaling up, which is about trying to influence like laws and policies and, you know, trying to change basically the rules of the game so that, you know, things can get better. Um, there's scaling out, which is about sharing knowledge or information to as many people as possible so that they're able to, I guess, take on that information and make different choices.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and then there's scaling deep, which is about changing the, the mindset and, uh, the value systems and the frameworks that frame our society. So it's [00:33:00] really about the mental models that shape the way we think about reality and going deep to change that. So scale looks different, you know, it may be that you can influence one community and that's not, you know, billions of people, but the change that you do in that one community can be so transformational um, in a way that's different from a hundred million people reading about your work.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so I guess I just want to affirm that yes, there is um, a responsibility to to share the good work that you're doing so that people who need and want it can receive it. And that's, you know, organic and intentional at the same time. And then there's also the element of redefining for yourself, what impact looks like and how growth manifests from that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So you're not chasing numbers when really you should be chasing mindsets,

Atwooki: I love it. [00:34:00] I just love what you said. I'm going to read a little bit more about that. Thank you. Thank you for sharing.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you. Yeah. I will send it to you after and I'll put it in the show notes. I'm sorry. I can't remember the person, but it's, it's a called scaling basically scaling and social innovation.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I, I love what you're, you're doing in terms of, um, engaging with children. Um, Firstly, from your experience with with Malachi, um, but also now through your platform. Um, and I'm curious to understand, uh, what lessons you can share with us, um, about how to engage, um, children on, you know, climate change, joyful activism, uh, earth care, you know, how to engage them in a way that is empowering for them.

Atwooki: Yeah. I, I love the question because what we [00:35:00] do at Yuniya is we want everything that we're doing to be authentic. We want it to be things that people can relate to, things that they recognize, things that they can look at and say, Oh, I see myself in that.

Atwooki: Because you can share as much as you want, but as long as people don't connect with it, it's not going to take them anywhere. And what we found is... By incorporating African mythology and storytelling, what we've done is made the topic of climate change more relatable and culturally relevant. So children, parents can relate to their stories, you know, they see fairies that have black skin, that have curly hair, cool coils that curl. You know locks and everything. So they identify, I mean, you should see the faces of the girls when we bring up what in the part of the Aziza story. [00:36:00] Um, you know, the Aziza fairies have hair in every style. They have short hair, long hair, locks, cool coils that curl and they absolutely love it. So they relate to the Aziza.

Atwooki: They see themselves in the Aziza and they go out in the parks, in nature to meet the Aziza. So they're relating to it, and because of that, they're able to take action, um, do the things that they love, but with things that they actually can see, and they see themselves. So from that point of view, I think we've been able to have great, um, I don't want to say success.

Atwooki: We've been able to connect with people. And when you think about storytelling, specifically myths, myths are like timeless stories that connect with people. Or all ages. Everybody loves mythology, and it's not just about the physical adventures. It's about the [00:37:00] journeys within our hearts, within our minds, and myths have a way of inspiring us to just face the challenges and just conquer difficulties.

Atwooki: We're like, Yeah, I'm on my way. I'm going to be this person who's going to go out there like a hero's journey. Um, so we've We've got a framework that we have, I think we've not perfected it, but we learn every day and we add things to it, but we've made it fun. We've made the format such that the stories are quite short.

Atwooki: Bite sized content, engaging, but also we've made, we've made sure that within the storytelling, the kids are learning multiple things like life lessons, like how they can build connections. And the stories obviously are really helpful in, in helping the kids explain nature, explain the things that happen in the world.

Atwooki: And the stories have been great, inspiring [00:38:00] action as well. So with that. The one thing I think that has been quite impactful is, with each and every story, each individual goes on their own personal journey of learning, they're able to, um, be accountable to not other people but themselves. So, Each person's got a learning guide and they can start from anywhere.

Atwooki: Obviously we start from um, Africa's basic geography, but the journey that you take is an individual's journey. And if you wanna take it as a family, then you can do it. If you wanna take it as an individual, you can do it. You start where you are. There's milestones, these learning guides, these accountability, and we always ask that they celebrate that there's short objectives.

Atwooki: And if they get to the point where they've ticked a box, they celebrate it with us. So, yeah, I think having that [00:39:00] accountability and just making sure it's all relatable. I've said a lot to say it's all relatable. So that, that is the point at which we approach it. Yeah, from which we approach it.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I remember when I was growing up, there was a lot of things in the mix that just meant that as a family, we just couldn't go out like, and, you know, be in nature, if that [00:40:00] makes sense. Um, firstly, like my parents were working all the time, you know, typical immigrant story, like they were just on the grind 24 seven.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So there was just like, there was no time for us to be able to do stuff like that. Um, and then there was just things also like access, like we lived, in inner city, London, and as amazing as London is in terms of like parks and green spaces, London is actually really good, but, um, that was not accessible to us.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Uh, and I don't know why, but it wasn't accessible to us. So there was just a lot of things in the mix. Um, and I know an important element of the work that we're doing is, yes, really creating spaces to engage, um, young children in an empowering way to learn about nature, to learn about themselves and their histories.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:41:00] But it's also to do with, um, supporting, um, parents and caregivers to feel empowered to be able to, to do this work. Um, and so I'm curious to understand, you know, through your platform, what are some of the challenges that, you know, you've seen, um, black parents or uh, caregivers of black children, um, face in terms of being able to, um, engage in earth care, being able to support their children through um, you know, being environmental, joyful environmental activists, as I heard you say.

Atwooki: Yes. Um, oh gosh, this question, I'm a little bit triggered. Not in that way.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Girl, I'm sorry.

Atwooki: It's just the thought of what parents are actually having to deal with, um, and being in the thick of it and navigate [00:42:00] in that world has been really challenging.

Atwooki: Um, because just as an example, we do have parents who struggle, absolutely struggle, and, uh, to access green spaces. There are a lot of barriers, social inequity, access to green spaces. Um, you know, and the barriers are practical, financial, cultural. And, and sometimes it's a combination of just poor quality and quantity of green spaces near to their homes.

Atwooki: And there are opportunities to visit green spaces. So, yeah, we've, we've had quite an experience with access to green spaces. And at the moment, we've got a focus group. Actually, we just recently created where we're learning about the barriers to green [00:43:00] spaces for parents and we are getting down to the ABCs and thinking about what we can do to talk to the leadership, people in leadership positions about the experiences of the black community in green spaces, the lack of access, like we've got a group of people, well I say a mum, not a group, a mum who's got a child who's autistic and there's a park where they live. However, there's just swings and all that. And her child, when a child goes out there, a lot of the time she does not feel comfortable in that space. So they never go out. Not that they don't want to go out, but there's just different layers to it. It's just too difficult.

Atwooki: And we've got another parent who also has a child that's autistic, and they do go to the park in Peckham.[00:44:00]

Atwooki: However, these dogs around, and with a child with, who's got, who's an autistic child, the behavior of a dog is very unpredictable. So now they haven't been out for six months. because of that one particular experience. So, like you said, there's so many layers, um, to accessing green spaces and we really, really want to approach this from a point of changing policy and that's why we created the focus group just to sit down and break it down, but we're also going to do it in a fun, engaging way for them through storytelling.

Atwooki: So, um, the stories are going to be specific to, um, Particular topics like accessing green space, kindness to the environment, barriers to the environment, and things that the parents are going through and the kids as well. So hopefully at the end of the year, not the end of the year, the end of I think [00:45:00] it's February, we'll have a lot more to work with and have some tangible evidence to walk up to, you know, people in power and just say to them, listen, this is what the people are actually going through because right now what we're finding is, yes, people say there's diversity. However, who's making, who's making the changes?

Atwooki: Who were they for? You know, how are you buffering on the other end? Where am I in the decision making, we need to centre people's voices in decision making, their lived experiences, the things that they go through, and we cannot use a blanket way of doing things and think it works for everybody.

Atwooki: It just doesn't. There's way too many layers. I'm, you know, it's a synchronous space and you know, within families, a mom's working at night, the dad's working in the day, when do you access the green spaces? There's just, [00:46:00] it's a lot, it's quite upsetting sometimes and it's a lot to deal with, but we are, um, we're now looking at, uh, actually coming up with tangible evidence and, you know, sharing it and hoping that we can, in many ways, um, influence policy making and, I think in, in, in everything that you do, if you've got lived experiences and you're able to show this is what we're going through, people will probably listen to you.

Atwooki: Um, yeah, hopefully, and we've got a listening campaign also happening, um, around access to green spaces. We do want to get real evidence of what's happening on ground and present that, um, to those in charge, really those who are making the rules for everybody else.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Atwooki. Um, I really appreciate how, just through your response, [00:47:00] you've been able to show that there's so many different elements to what enables a person to be able to access green spaces. So yes, it's about geography, but it's also about, um, affordability. Um, it's about, um, You know, what's happening in their homes, you know, in terms of their roles and their responsibilities.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: It's, it's about poverty. Um, it's about relationships as well. I think having a network of people around you to be able to support you to, to live a quality of life is really underrated. to.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Yeah, to like a sense of security and well being in the world, so I'm really inspired by that and how that's coming through in your work, because you're working with children and engaging parents and [00:48:00] caregivers and seeing the interconnectedness of it, um, and now, you know, through engaging and and consulting and, um, to your focus groups, really bringing these insights in a way that, um, will hopefully inform, um, evidence and policymaking going forward.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: That is like really, um, inspiring. Um, and I also wanted to share something that I've also learned in this journey of like speaking to you and finding out more about your work. Um, I think in the mainstream environmental sector discourse movement, in the mainstream spaces, it's either individual action, so what an individual can do in terms of recycling or walking instead of driving and all these things, and then there's systemic change, so what's the, [00:49:00] you know, what do governments and businesses and, um, you know, large scale actors, what do they need to do to be able to shift a system towards Um, environmentally friendly and fair and just world.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I feel like that your, um, the work you do with Yuniya, um, challenged me in a good way to, to see that that binary, that binary of individual and systemic action actually misses out, um, other forms of, um, other units of being, which is things like family. Um, and I know in, in the environmental space, we talk a lot about how sometimes individual action is like promoted so much, but that leaves [00:50:00] short the fact that some of the big transformations that need to happen are actually at the systemic level.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: But I also think trying to have that binary of individual and systemic change misses out the fact that actually individuals exist in different units. It could be family, it could be community, it could be neighborhood. Um, and those are also very important spaces to explore in terms of understanding, okay, how do we create spaces where a family is empowered to, um, to be in deeper relationship with earth, to take care of earth. Um, in a way that acknowledges their interdependent relationships in that family.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: What does that look like at the neighborhood level? What does that look like, um, in a school level? So, um, it's just a question that came up for me as I was, [00:51:00] learning more about your work, um, how the space, there's a gap between individual and systemic change. I think we're missing something here. Um, and to explore that deeper in my own work as well.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, thank you so much, basically.

Atwooki: Yeah, well, yeah. I'm, I think I remember once, I'm not sure it was, I think it was Emmanuel, um, a little while ago having a chat and he just said to me, he was thinking about and trying to understand that how Change can occur when enough people are united and empowered to take meaningful action and how each and everybody's needed each and everybody's voice is important to create a future for all to create a now [00:52:00] for all and just what does that look like, you know, for me, it's just looking at the world as it is and as at the world as it should be and just trying to navigate it, um, from that point.

Atwooki: Yeah.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much. Um, I, I have two more questions for you. One is, one is to do with, um, just from the focus groups that you're, you're hosting at the moment or from your experience, um, as a founder of Yuniya, are there some Um, solutions like policy solutions emerging that you would recommend to kind of policy makers who are listening into our conversation today.

Atwooki: I think it's really important that we centre the voices of different communities because right now what's happening is things are [00:53:00] being created, rules are being created by people, by a particular group of people who haven't got the lived experiences. Within each community, has it own you know, its own difficulties, its challenges, the things that they face are completely different.

Atwooki: No one group is the same. Um, so having that blanket way of doing things does not work anymore. It cannot work. And I think having these examples of this is me, this is my life, and it might not look like your life, however, it's important that you think about my life, and as a community, and the communities that we work with, not one person's the same.

Atwooki: Everybody has different challenges. and we need to centre those voices. We need to [00:54:00] listen to them. And I think a lot of things start from community engagement, community education. Um, and when people are empowered and they know their power, they know the impact their power can make. I think we will start to see some radical change. But first we need to make sure people understand that they need to centre people's voices who are actually going through it right now.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you, Atwooki. Um, Atwooki how can we support you and, uh, the work that you do?

Atwooki: I'm, I think a lot of the time, you know, when you're working and doing this community work, you forget about, You lose a lot of time, energy, space, um, to do, I say [00:55:00] this from a place of, um, of learning about, you know, sorry, of learning about how to engage with people, being an introvert, of putting myself out there, like now we're running a focus group, and for me, it's very difficult to uh, sort of engage with people in a way that, how can I explain this? Um, I'm trying to get the right words.

Atwooki: As an introvert, you do things differently. Your engagement with people is different. So where, you've got to put yourself out there, you know, talk to people and if it matters, you get there, you get it done.

Atwooki: Uh, but what I find really daunting is approaching people and a lot of gatekeeping within, um, the climate space. There's so much gatekeeping. Um. People don't want to [00:56:00] help out or collaborate and if they collaborate, it's not, it's not authentic. It's always about you. Losing the very essence of what you're doing to accommodate their needs.

Atwooki: So, we've always found that there's been, um, too much pressure to, to do what fits different people's agendas, uh, at the expense of what we're doing and because of that. We've, we've had to, I don't want to say go it alone, but just stick to just doing what we have to do without tapping into the different resources that are out there that would be really beneficial to us.

Atwooki: So, I suppose for me, it's just saying, if you're out there. And this is something that you want to get involved in, just reach out, uh, we're not going to change our agenda, we're not going to say just [00:57:00] storytelling and not African storytelling, that is our purpose. African storytelling, you're not going to believe it, but somebody said to me once, um, can you not just do storytelling?

Atwooki: I said, no, we're doing African storytelling. We're not going to change our agenda to come and speak to you about the things that we do. So it's very difficult, um, where to get things to, from A to Z, you've got to reach out to people, but a lot of people are wanting you to change, wanting you to fit their box.

Atwooki: And I'm a non conformist. I just, I'm a rebel. I'm just, uh, not for me. So I think we've lost a lot of opportunity. It's just, we said no to a lot of things, um, said, no, I'm, and being firm and not, we've not moved. I am not doing [00:58:00] it. So I suppose what to answer your question, it's very difficult for me to put myself out there cause of our experience with people wanting us to change what we're doing, uh, without naming anybody, I'm in a diverse and inclusion group. And, um, I come out there feeling stressed out. It just, it just stresses me out. Their agenda is not it just, it just doesn't align. And I'm planning my exit. And if any of them's listening here, I'm out.

Atwooki: Because it just, I just don't hear.

Atwooki: It's a lot.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: You're freeing yourself. You're freeing yourself. It's long. I hear you. You're freeing yourself. You gotta liberate yourself. Don't worry. It's all good. Say no more. We understand. We, at Black Earth, we understand.[00:59:00]

Atwooki: Yeah. It's a lot. Yeah.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So yeah, what I'm hearing from you is, um, whoever is inspired by your mission, your philosophy, your values, um, specifically centering and celebrating, you know, African mythology, African storytelling in earth care. Um, should connect with you and anyone who isn't aligned to that should find someone else.

Atwooki: In a nutshell. In a nutshell.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Yeah. Yeah. It's so, it's so important to stay true to yourself and, um, yeah. So Atwooki, thank you so much for this amazing conversation. We are so excited that you have joined us for this season of Reimagining the Environmental Movement. I feel that everything that you're doing with Yuniya is kind of [01:00:00] representative of that, you know, um, building new worlds, um, centering joy and belonging and effective action and deep relationship with Earth.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Yeah. And it's just really wonderful. So thank you so much.

Atwooki: Thank you for having me. I've really loved it. And, um, yes, thank you. I appreciate it. And it's been great today. Um, thank you for your words. And thank you for this platform. It's really needed, uh, because people like me who. Have experienced a lot of gatekeeping, are able to speak about the things that we care about, um, in a space where we can be ourselves and not think about the words that we're saying.

Atwooki: So thank you for that. I appreciate it.[01:01:00]

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for joining us in today's conversation, we'd love to connect with and hear your thoughts. We are on Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn at Black Podcast. Don't forget to share this podcast with your friends, your network, your communities, and you can also subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Black Earth is a proudly independent podcast, and we are on a mission to reconnect and heal humanity's relationship with nature. If you'd like to support us, we are on Patreon at Black Earth Podcast. Thank you and see you in the next episode.[01:02:00]

Creators and Guests

Marion Atieno Osieyo
Marion Atieno Osieyo
Creator and Host of Black Earth Podcast
How African mythology is changing the environmental movement with Atwooki
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