When it was announced that an actress from China was going to be part of those people who would visit and have a chat with caravanites, we didn’t know what to make of it. We had not heard her name before. So we waited. I waited. Eagerly. Seeing that l have done some acting back in Kenya. I wanted to meet her. And so she visited with us. Hai Qing is an Oxfam ambassador and travels the world creating awareness on various development issues.
That afternoon, outside the Howard dome at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, we shared our experiences from across Africa. Hai heard about women in Zambia through Milus a woman farmer who was part of the caravan. She told of how the rural woman suffers because of lack of access of modern facilities. She urged Hai, ‘to send the message to the right people in China that they needed to cut emissions.’ A woman from Lesotho who l will call Mama Anna had a request. She requested Hai to let the leaders at the COP 17 know, ‘that the group knew they were talking on their behalf but could they ask us directly what we think since we can talk for ourselves.’
Grand Pa Paul, who is the ‘youngest’ caravanite at age 66 and also officially known as Paul Okong’o gave a word on behalf of the fisherfolk. He said that farmers had a calendar which told them clearly of the seasons. But that is no longer the case seeing that rain fed agriculture is not working. ‘We need other approaches to deal with climate change,’ Grand Pa Paul said. He gave an example of Lake Victoria, which is the second largest fresh water lake. He shared that it had been invaded by hyacinth, which caused a disruption in fishing activities which in turn affected the economic status of the community. Grand Pa Paul urged Hai, ‘to go out there and share our experiences.’ Adding that, ‘we need collective responsibility that could easily lead to a strategy of mitigation when it comes to dealing with climate change.’
Nicolas from Zimbabwe who represented the youth went on to share how sad it was that their parents actually went to school through finances that were gotten from agriculture. Now though, that is a different story.
All this while Hai Qing listened attentively to the caravanites as her interpreter made it easy for her to break the language barrier.
When she spoke it was interesting to watch and listen. She didn’t raise her voice like she was talking to a lot of people; instead she spoke like you would speak to someone whom you are having tea with. I found out later that it was cultural not to raise her voice so loud. She came off so gentle and l remembered seeing her movie line ups and thinking, ‘she must really be an actress. How does she cross between doing a daughter in law role in quite a number of her movies and to being this soft spoken?’ Anyway, back to the bench outside Howard dome at University of Kwa Zulu Natal where we had gathered.
After listening to all of us ever so patiently, Hai promised to raise awareness of issues she had learned about promising, ‘ I will highlight these issues to decision makers and newspapers wherever l get a chance.’ Hai’s involvement in climate change is very personal. As a mother of a four year old, Hai says that she is concerned about the future of her son. Further committing, ‘If no one will do something, l will.’
I heard her commitment but l wondered about her busy schedule and how she keeps it balanced. With mastered ease she says ever so calmly, ‘I do my best. My schedule is full but l do my best.’ We nod knowingly. Hai tells us that she will continue to use her celebrity status to air people’s concerns to those that can make a change.
On COP17 she notes, ‘ l hope countries will get an agreement and that the Kyoto Protocol shall not be killed.’ She further notes that the climate fund shall be implemented practically. When we were done with the interviews, l remember some of my friends and l were awed at the fact a woman this famous and a leading actress in China possessed this kind of down to earthiness as she dealt with development issues.
By Maria Wanza
By Maria Wanza