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Young Voices

A future worth fighting for: interview with Evelyn Acham, Ugandan climate activist

Reading time: 6 minutes

Climate change is one of the most imminent threats to Uganda. Changing seasons, long draughts, hurricanes, heat waves, they all threaten the lives of millions. Uganda is one of many nations negatively affected by climate change that take very little part in producing it. Still, its residents are increasingly worried about the effects on their homes. 

Evelyn Acham is a climate activist from Uganda. Growing up, she came to realize that many of the harsh environmental conditions her home country was experiencing were not normal, and decided to get informed about the climate change movement. Now she is part of the rise up movement and of Arctic Angels, a youth-led action network supporting young voices that want to get involved in the climate change movement. She regularly attends strikes and speaks about the problems her country is facing. Generously, she agreed to speak with us and talk about her experience. 

How did you first become involved in the climate change movement? 

I started by going on a strike with Vanessa Nakate, and I came to understand that she had started a movement. I quickly realized that we needed to work collectively, so I started my activism path by posting strikes on social media trying to raise awareness, and it did. As I started to get attention I began to get invitations to join teams and events, I started to get involved in different ways. And that was just the beginning of my journey.  

What are some of the ways that maybe you’ve seen your activism cause change in your community? 

Many people in my community don’t actually know much about the climate crisis. But I have been able to impact some people in my circle, and gotten them to join the fight for climate justice. Talking to people about the climate crisis is important; it is those conversations that can get people involved, and it can be encouraging for them. You don’t have to protest to be an activist, you can be an activist just by cleaning, by planting a tree, by talking to different people about our environment, and learning how to conserve and protect our planet. 

At least in my community, I have been able to raise awareness by having these conversations. It has made people become aware of this crisis, climate change, and made them realize how truly urgent the problem is. Keeping people informed is part of being an activist. I have had local media and schools contact me, to help me amplify my voice, so I believe that my message is getting out there. 

Do you think there are unique challenges with how activism is in your community as opposed to other parts of the world? 

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The challenges are quite many in my country. It’s really scary being an activist here; there is the fear of getting arrested by the police. We cannot really speak freely in public, you can be mistaken for someone who’s threatening the government. 

I got arrested this year, for protesting in front of the parliament. I was standing with two other activists, and we were having a peaceful protest, but we got detained in the parliament and received threats telling us that they could make us disappear. 

They told us to never stand in public and organize strikes like these without seeking permission, but getting this permission is close to impossible. So activism can be really scary in my country, because so many activists are being arrested, so many are receiving threats and being killed. So yeah, it can be scary. That’s the challenge we get as activists. We will organize events and hold conferences, and they’ll tell us to not say anything against the government, yet the only way we can find solutions is by speaking the truth. And the truth is that the biggest polluters, those truly destroying the environment, are the leaders. So if we don’t talk about them, how are we going to get justice? 

In what ways can people internationally help you or other activists in the same situation? 

The international community can help a lot. By amplifying voices and using their platforms to amplify our work, to give us that assurance that we are not alone. This crisis needs collective action globally. Especially in hard times, when someone gets arrested, we would love to see support from people out there.  

We also need to be more inclusive. In those international events, we would like to see the voices of people who are part of the most affected communities, the voices of those who are marginalized. Those voices need, whether in summits, or conferences, to be in the decision-making rooms.  

The international community could help us amplify the problems that we are facing. Africa is among the least emitters of carbon, yet we are experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change. If leaders globally could understand the consequences of their actions, I believe they would act faster. I believe they would really listen to us. And this would contribute to achieving climate justice. 

Are there specific things that you wish more people understood about your work? Such as common misconceptions that exist. 

That it isn’t the same here, activism and protesting is not the same as in other countries. It is hard to explain, but it has to do with the challenges that I have previously explained. The fear of getting arrested, of being mistaken for speaking against the government, the intimidation, the threats, the feeling that you cannot speak freely, it is there. In other places it is rare to see activists arrested, but in my country the moment you stand in a group that is protesting, you’ll be met with tear gas. Activism here is not an easy thing to do. 

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Many people think that there is a new generation of youth that is much more serious about the climate change movement. Would you agree? And why do you think that is? 

We care more about these issues because they are happening to us, they are our reality. Maybe ten or twenty years back, the issue was not as bad nor as obvious. But right now, it is impossible to ignore. We are seeing it happen right in front of us, and we have so much more information about it. There are so many people getting informed, and willing to learn and fight against this crisis. We cannot sit back and simply watch older generations and our leaders destroy our future. We must do something about it. Because we are one of the first generations that will experience the impact of climate change, and one of the last generations that can do something about it. According to the IPCC by 2030, the impacts of climate change will become irreversible, so we really don’t have time. We need to fight now. 

What has been your favorite part about being part of this movement? 

I have really enjoyed meeting different people around the world. There are so many incredible activists everywhere, and learning about their work and seeing what they do has been a beautiful experience. And every day is like this, there is always something or someone new. 

Do you have any advice for those who want to get involved? 

You can start now. You don’t need to wait for next year. You don’t need to wait for tomorrow. You don’t need to wait for next month. Instead, start now by informing yourself. You cannot do anything if you are not informed. Inform yourself about what climate change really is, read about it. And after reading about it, see what you can do. Anyone can become an activist. And activism is not standing on the streets of your local community. If you can do that, that is perfect, but there is so much more you can do. 

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You can set up a trash cleanup in your community. You can talk to the people around you about how to live sustainably. You can talk to different people and explain to them what exactly this crisis is and how it affects everything, every part of life, and you can encourage them and explain to them how they can get involved. 

And when it comes to girls, talk to them about how they can get involved. Climate change specifically affects our community, girls drop out of school. In my community, women are affected in many ways. Their food is destroyed, they have to walk long distances to provide for themselves and their family. We need to come up with solutions that can help them mitigate these impacts and help them adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

A small act multiplied by millions of people can transform the world. If we have millions of people planting a tree, if we have millions of people consuming less, this can transform the world. We can reduce what the fossil fuel industry is doing to us. 

So there’s so much that we can all do. And for those that have, for those that are already doing activism, I would like to encourage you to continue doing what you do. Find a group that you can walk with because you cannot walk alone. Activism is not a one person thing. You need people to walk with, new people to encourage you, people to learn from. Find the nearest Fridays that you can join. You can join the rise up movement right now. And you can do all of this today, right now.  

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