We recently had the privilege of meeting Ugochi Anyaka, an award-winning environmental journalist from Nigeria. Ugochi was in Washington, D.C., visiting the U.S. Department of State, where she spoke with us about why she’s passionate about the planet and fighting pollution. She also shared a message for young people.
How did you get into environmental journalism?
“I’ve always been passionate about the environment and pollution. I remember, as a child, I would always ask my mom, ‘What happens when we burn waste?’ Because, at the time, it was popular to burn your waste. And she said, ‘It just goes up.’ And I was like, ‘Where?’ and she said, ‘It just goes up and stays there.’
“When I grew up, I realized she didn’t tell me the truth — or maybe she didn’t know what happens with what we burn and the waste that we produce, so that got me interested in finding out what happens.
“Also as a child, I always puked when I got into a vehicle with lots of smoke in it. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I would just throw up in the vehicle. As I grew older, I realized what it was: I just didn’t like pollution.”
You recently won an environmental journalism award. Can you tell us more about it?
“I won the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Young Environmental Journalist Award. The award seeks to appreciate young journalists who work on environmental issues in Africa.
“I did a story on how a young man in the Papi community in Abuja is converting waste paper into briquettes to produce energy for cooking. I told the story about what he does, and how he is saving energy instead of cutting more firewood and isn’t wasting paper by turning it into briquettes.
“Amazingly, it won the award and I was proud to be called. It was a special day for me. I was excited, but I didn’t believe it until I got the email.”
How did you get your start?
“After university in Nigeria, you have to go for a one-year service to the nation and I had my compulsory National Youth Service with Aso Radio Abuja. During my radio days, I started talking about environmental issues and climate change, and then I started a show called ‘Green Angle.’
“From there on, I won a fellowship for the Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP) and had the opportunity to cover the COP16 (United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Cancun, Mexico through the support of the CCMP. That’s how I learned to tell better stories.
“I also won the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) African Radio Contest in 2011, that took me to Durbin, and that is how I started.”
What message would you like to share with today’s youth?
“I would love young people to study the environment and talking about the changes that they want to make. There’s an adage that goes, ‘We do not inherit the planet from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children.’
“The young people are the owners of the planet now. So it’s up to every young person to pick up your cameras, your phones, whatever you have and talk about the environment. Let’s protect our planet.”
During her visit to the U.S., Ugochi also shared her green experiences and encounters on the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award blog at: http://goo.gl/B8lcF.
In addition to her radio shows, Ugochi also has her own blog, Eco Nigeria, where she writes on environmental issues, climate change and sustainable living.