From the Banks of River Nyando with the Magical Bamboo; The Story of Wendy Omanga

By ELF-Africa Newsroom

It was Carroll Bryant who once noted that, some people make things happen, some watch as things happen, and then there are those who wonder, ‘what the hell just happened?

We are in a time when mother nature has laid bare her wrath through the effects of climate change. Natural disasters, floods, extended famine, and record-breaking drought continue to make it to the headlines day in day out across all continents. Governments, private corporations, non-profit organizations, philanthropists and a handful individuals are racing against time in attempts to reverse the adverse effects of climate change in our time.

In times of such crises different people respond differently. Some standby and watch what is happening and how it will unfold while others remain unaware of what is even happening. Either by sheer ignorance or little care at all. But it must have been people like Wendy Omanga that Carroll Bryant had in mind when she gave us the opening quote above. Because like other trailblazers, the ELF-Africa alumnus refused the easy path of watching or wondering. She decided to do something about what she was seeing.

The ravaging floods of June 2005 left many Kenyans with what today sounds like a jingle, with some even using it as ring back tone. But the voice behind the serikali saidia cry did not intend for her cry to ever offer entertainment. For she let out that cry in a difficult time. Her home had been carried away by floods, her children’s school marooned, no access to high places or even health facilities. When asked to tell of her plight, Jane Anyango Adika was lost for words and could only let out one unchoreographed chorus; serikali saidia (government please help).

Wendy is the founder of Moonlight Initiative; a youth lead sustainability and circular economy consultancy based in Kenya. They are specialized in commercial forestry and bamboo consulting. They are now established in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, where they have their offices and advocates for environmental conservation and bamboo planting. They have bamboo nurseries and support the local youth.

Wendy (far right) with other members of the Bamboo Association of Kenya when they paid a courtesy call to the Embassy of Columbia in Kenya

While the whole country including the then president the late Mwai Kibaki hilarious weighed in on her performance in that random media interview, Wendy had a different idea. She thought long and hard and what could be done to see to it that Jane and her kin do not ever let out that cry again. Because in the intervening months and years, serikali did nothing substantive, and the floods went on year-on-year, not just in Nyando, Kisumu County but in many other parts of the country as well.

With a bit of reading here and watching videos there on how to mitigate flooding, she stumbled upon information that would shape her work for years to follow. Wendy learnt just how many lives and property would be saved if many farmers especially those living by the waterways would embrace bamboo farming. This marked the beginning of her bamboo journey.

“I came to learn that one of the ways to address this issue of floods was to plant bamboo along riparian lands,” she says. “I realized that there were many organizations that were advocating for bamboo planting, to generate bamboo value-added products as well. That is how she started off

Bamboo roots, Wendy says, stabilize the soil and catch silt, a process that prevents riverbanks from collapsing. “Bamboo has spreading roots which hold the soil very firmly and can allow water to still pass through while controlling the speed and strength,” the reigning Miss Jungle 2022 Kenya and ELF-Africa Alumnus, says.

Her passion for environmental conservation has since grown. She has spread her tentacles ever since, and she is now a celebrated conservationist collaborating with governments and other international bodies to educate, advocate for and intervene to conserve and protect the environment one bamboo tree at a time.

Wendy has been involved in conservation and environmental protection for a long time now. Her advocacy in climate action and forest restoration has seen her travel to Arusha, Tanzania to represent Kenya in June 2022 where she joined other climate enthusiasts in pushing for behaviour change. The Kenya bamboo ambassador was also present at and participated in the just-concluded Economy of Francesco event that happened in September (September 22-24) in Assisi, Italy.

The economy of Francesco is an international movement of young economists, entrepreneurs, and change-makers engaged in the process of inclusive dialogue and young, vibrant, global change, moving towards a new economy.

This was an international event that brought together a global community of young people who have elected not to sit and watch as climate change happens but have chosen to make environmental conservation and restoration happen.

The bamboo supplied and planted by Moonlight Initiative is used on nature trails that are mostly tourist oriented. Moonlight Initiative works with hotels and lodges as the primary stakeholders, to partner in their restoration projects. This Wendy says is because many hotels and lodges are built along Kenya’s rivers and wetlands. Besides, in their search for a sustainable solution to housebuilding, Moonlight Initiative has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Housing and are jointly working with the ministry to bring a new housing technology using bamboo that can be used in Kenya to create sustainable housing.

Wendy (2md from right) with other UNDP Youth Champions at the WWF National Landscape Alliance stakeholders meeting

As the world looks to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt for solutions during the upcoming COP27 Global Climate Summit, Wendy hopes that more governments and private corporations especially of the developed world will indeed put their money where their mouths are in terms of climate financing, reduction of carbon emissions, and putting an end to coal energy among other unclean energy.  

She challenges every citizen of Africa to take it upon themselves to reduce the effects of global warming for quality life today and sustainable generations tomorrow.

As a parting shot, Wendy invites more partners to join and work with her as she targets to grow at least 50 million bamboo and other trees by 2030 to address climate change effects in Kenya as well as build the capacity of farmers living in riparian areas, on commercial forestry value addition while creating platforms to market and sell the value-added products and carbon offset.

During this month of global climate conversations, ELF-Africa celebrates Wendy and other young women and men folding their sleeves to combat climate change and bequeath future generations a healthy and sustainable environment.  

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