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Cathreen Kareaikwa is what you may call a typical African entrepreneur driven by both a passion to serve her community and the desire to turn up a profit. She is the outgoing coordinator of the Tharaka Nithi Environmental Change Network (TECNet), a conservation advocacy network whose existence has been facilitated by ICE as part of its strategy to build and strengthen local institutions to champion the conservation cause in Tharaka Nithi County going forward.

TECNet, like MaYaMa in Machakos is the vehicle farmers are using to articulate their concerns regarding the conservation of their environment, water and agriculture. The network draws its membership from over 22 community groups working in the county.

Besides being a TECNet coordinator, Cathreen is a farmer with a passion for value addition. “I do dried vegetables, make handicrafts like baskets, bracelets, necklaces and so on,” she adds. Cathreen also does leather tanning whose end product she uses to make works of leather. Last year Kareaikwa’s tree nursery had over 7,000 seedlings.

“I came to learn about ICE through the RIDEP when I was invited to a seminar on advocacy and the environment,” she explains. In Tharaka Nithi county ICE is working through the Rural Initiatives Development Programme (RIDEP Kenya), a local partner, to implement similar activities to those it is directly undertaking in Machakos. “RIDEP is our implementing partner in Tharaka Nithi County. But above all, we are both like-minded change agents advocating for safeguarding Tharaka’s fragile ecosystem and so working together is a strategic decision we have made to create more synergy in our efforts,” elaborates Martin Muriuki, Programme Officer of ICE.

Since making this connection with ICE, Cathleen has been involved in a number of advocacy activities through TECNet including organising and leading a major tree planting campaign on Mashujaa Day that saw over 2,000 trees planted in different places in the locality including in churches, schools and government offices.

“Through the advocacy skills we have acquired from ICE’s training, we are now able to engage our county leaders including our local Member of County Assembly (MCA) on environmental issues such as the uncontrolled cutting down of trees. We are able to dialogue with them for the enactment or enforcement of existing laws to curb the same,” Cathleen adds.

Some of the training Cathleen has received that she is already putting to use includes the organising and execution of public activities such as mobilising the community to participate in mass tree planting. She has also honed her skills in negotiation.

“As a result of our collective voice as TECNet, the farmers are receiving recognition as a strong voice that needs to be heard,” she brags. TECNet is in fact in the process of acquiring custody of Gikingo Hill from the county government. Gikingo Hill is an important source of the region’s rich biodiversity which is now threatened by extinction as a result of years of overuse by the community. The hill is also a major tourist attraction in the area. “Our main work, once the transfer process is concluded, will be to reforest the hill and thereafter manage access,” she says. This will be similar to what the Akamba Customs Group in Kivaa is doing reinstating the sacred Kivaa hill to its former glory.

Still in its formative stage, TECNet is already showing great promise as a voice for pro-conservation in the region. “We just need to work hard to strengthen TECNet so it can continuously become an effective vehicle for advocacy in environmental conservation,” Cathleen recommends.