Climate Action

School Strike for Climate: A day in the life of Ugandan student striker Leah Namugerwa

Leah speaking at the World Urban Forum (WFU10) about a ban on old cars exported to Africa from Japan | Photo: @NamugerwaLeah on Twitter

Friday used to be ordinary, but now it is the busiest day of the week.” Leah Namugerwa is a 14-year-old climate activist and student striker with Fridays for Future – Uganda who has been striking every Friday for greater action on climate change, plastic pollution, and more since February 2019. 

It was the year 2018 when I first heard about Greta Thunberg from Sweden. I did not first understand what she was doing given the fact that the word strike in Uganda is inseparable with violence. I asked my dad what school strike for climate meant and he told me that Greta was not attending class every Friday to protest against her government inaction. I asked if what she was doing was possible in Uganda and his answer was yes. He went on to tell me that Greta is just one year and a few months older than me meaning I could do what she does.
Swedish climate striker Greta Thunberg | Photo: EDN Staff
I did not take his word seriously until I watched the news on one of the local TV stations, which reported hunger in northern Uganda due to prolonged drought and landslides in Eastern Uganda that claimed many lives. The cause of the landslides was attributed to climate change. I later went on the internet and searched for Greta and was inspired by her amazing work. In February 2019, I joined Twitter and started following her and I immediately started my climate strikes. My first day as a climate striker looked weird to many people including my family. Passersby kept on shaking their heads wondering what had happened to me. Many people were and are still opposed to my strikes. They argue that at my age I should not be missing any day of school. My Friday has greatly changed since I started striking. Friday used to be ordinary, but now it is the busiest day of the week. I wake up, carry my placard and stand on the road side or wherever I deem suitable to communicate my message. I sit when I get tired of standing while encouraging people to read my message. I sometimes get very tired depending on the weather.
Leah joins other Fridays for Future – Uganda strikers | Photo: @NamugerwaLeah on Twitter

There are many environmental issues happening in my country but I barely see them in media or reported by anyone. Media is ever reporting politics and celebrity gossip. The silence on environmental injustice seems to be intentional. Most people do not care what they do to the environment. I noticed adults were not willing to offer leadership and I chose to volunteer myself. Environmental injustice is injustice to me.

Fridays For Future grew from one person to millions, from one country to the whole world. The increasing number of climate strikers and activists are giving me hope that climate action is within our reach.
Bob Matovu striking for climate in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala | Photo: @NamugerwaLeah on Twitter

Uganda government’s response to strikers sometimes gives me fear. Our first main protest was blocked on May 15 and on another occasion my fellow Striker Bob Matovu was chased from striking outside parliament and his placard was confiscated.

Uganda is experiencing changes in weather patterns, its rain seasons are no longer predictable, and mosquitoes are spreading faster than before. Prolonged drought, desertification and loss of biodiversity are all indicators that Uganda’s climate is changing.

I call upon everyone to actively get involved in the fight against the ecological breakdown. Follow Leah on Twitter at @NamugerwaLeah.