By Watuwa Timbiti
A DRIVE on Katende Road, heading to Busoga Kingdom offices in Bugembe, offers a serene experience of fresh air from several trees dotting its sides.
The greenery dripping from the trees is not an accidental reality, but partly a product of Johnson Mutalya, a teacher at St. John Wakitaka Senior Secondary School in Jinja. It is from his irrefutable passion for environmental promotion.
The drive-way to his home is another environmental grandeur to behold, manifested through a nursery bed garden comprising a train of different tree species-a demonstration of his landscaping skills.
Rolling out skills
Jolted by a restless desire to environmentally transform society, Mutalya is training young people; equipping them with nursery gardening, compound cleaning and maintenance and landscaping skills.
In seemingly satisfaction-loaded tone, he says some of the boys he trained have attained graduate and post graduate degrees in environmental studies, with others using his nursery gardens as research and internship sites.
Mutalya has presented several talks on the challenges of environment impact assessment and the best approach for integrating environmental education in the secondary schools of Uganda.
“There is need to emphasise continued environmental education because most of the students leave and we get others, meaning there is a continued need. We need, therefore, to look at education for sustainable development,” he argues.
This conviction is best illuminated in the activities he has carried out at St. John SSS Wakitaka, where he is the head of the school’s environmental club.
“We found the school compound in bad shape. But, it has improved - we have an active and vibrant environmental club headed by Mutalya,” the headteacher, Faith Nakabago says.
“His input has environmentally transformed the school. Sometimes the students discourage him, when they start jumping over planted hedges and walking over grass,” she adds.
Similarly, driven by the passion to leave an indelible footprint, Mutalya is the brain behind the lush leafy compound at Parvatiben Madhvani (PMM) Girls’ School in Jinja town, where he taught for years before moving to St. John. PMM Girls is one of the few schools in Uganda with well-planned landscaped compounds.
Environmental education, Mutalya notes, should be trained in three phases - hands-on encounter, integrating it in the curriculum, and or handling it as a discipline of its own.
The grandeur exuded, according to Mutalya, by the PMM Girls compound is a product of a whole-school approach anchored in a hands-on encounter he undertook as the school environment coordinator.
He established nursery gardens at school and took students to see the River Nile. It involved creating a students’ environment committee headed by a student and a teachers’ student committee; inclusive of the non-teaching staff.
“The teachers’ committee reported to the staff and the administration. Every class had a representative to the students’ committee. The representative monitored the other students and the environmental health of her class,” explains the father of four children.
Upon becoming the chairperson of the Jinja District Wild life Association, Mutalya, who is married to Sarah Etyang, a teacher at PMM Girls, donated trees to other schools such as Holy Cross Lake View SSS and Wanyange Girls.To create an environment awareness synergy between schools and the communities, Mutalya initiated community nursery beds.
“I started the Buyala-Butagaya Women group in Jinja - the women targeted fruits and vegetables to supplement the diet needs of their homes and some income. At the start they were about 60, but about 20 have continued with environmental awareness manifested through the shed and fruit trees in their homes,” he notes.
He started others in Kitengesa in Kagoma County in Jinja and in Magamaga, Mayuge district.
On the other hand, JADWA in conjunction with Source of the Nile Rotary Club spearheaded the afforestation of Bugembe Christ’s Cathedral hill - pine, greveria, plus shed and ornamental trees for the church compound we planted.
In the same breath, he planted about 200 trees for St. Andrews’ church in Jinja town in addition to planting a five-hectare woodlot at the Mwiri Hill Forest reserve overlooking the Napoleon Gulf.
Environmental education, although urgent, has obstructing challenges that can only be surmounted by the power of self-drive.
“Most students look at engaging in nursery gardening and related activities as an inferior experience, thus no enthusiasm,” Mutalya says.
He adds that sometimes there is no funding from school administrations for nursery gardening activities. So, success of most of these activities is fuelled by self-drive.
Notably, Mutalya’s self-drive is attested to by Beatrice Adimola, the director of the department for district support co-ordination and public education at the National Environment Management Authority.
“Mutalya has commitment and passion about what he does. For instance, we train people and when you contact them about progress of implementation of projects, all they say is they failed because they lacked funds,” she notes, observing: “Mutalya thinks of solutions and gets things done. I call him for ideas because he is knowledgeable despite being a historian - he understands ecology better than some scientists.”
Additionally, Mutalya’s self-drive and passion for promotion of the environment, Adimola observes, is conspicuous in his visionary plans.
“He has often talked about training and equipping boda boda operators, who are largely youthful, with self-sustenance skills relevant at a time when they no longer have the energy to ride the motorcycles,” she recalls, adding: “He has also talked about researching and documenting the wild fruits of Uganda.”
David Musingo, the acting manager of education and information at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre and the chairman of the governing council of the wildlife clubs of Uganda, says consistence is the most important attribute to learn from Mutalya.
“What people should learn from Mutalya is passion and consistence. When you start something small, build on it into something bigger - this is what has been guiding him and people should learn it,” he counsels, observing: “Jumping from one activity to another may not give you a foundation - building and focusing on environmental education and promotion has given him a foundation and that is why his work is perfect.”