By Olivia Freeman, International Programs & Korey Morgan, Office of Communication, USDA Forest Service
Forest Service Climate Fellow Rene Siwe smiles broadly as he introduces himself in French and welcomes students to the virtual session. He goes on to explain that today they will begin learning the ins-and-outs of carbon fluxes and their influence on climate change. The faces of more than 100 young women appear on the screen. They are dialing in from countries throughout Central Africa.
This cohort makes up the very first class of a groundbreaking professional development program dedicated to advancing the careers of women in Gabon, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They will spend a year of intense study on a range of topics, including greenhouse gas accounting, the social and economic impacts of the climate crisis, climate finance, and national and international climate policy.
Siwe proposed the program in 2019 to address what he saw as a serious problem in climate-related fields in Central Africa.
“The countries in Central African have an obligation to inform the international community about their efforts to combat climate change, and there are several important efforts to do so,” said Siwe. “Women have an important role to play, but we continue to see very low participation of women in these activities.”
With the support of the Forest Service’s International Programs and the U.S. Department of State, Siwe and colleagues established the Central Africa Women’s Initiative for Climate Action. The program provides young women with training and professional experience to establish and advance their careers in fields related to climate change, like carbon emissions accounting and tropical forest management.
In January of 2021, 103 women were selected to participate in the program through a rigorous selection process. Siwe and his network of local, national and international experts kicked off workshops in Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Libreville and Yaoundé. Women from across the region with a broad range of professional and academic backgrounds came together virtually and in person for the training, their interest in environmental issues connects them.
Joidie Bilonda Mukendi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is participating in the program. As a biologist, she understands the important connection between climate change and living organisms.
“Climate change affects every living being on the planet earth, so I believe that this workshop is an informative framework for me to understand climate issues and participate in decision-making at the national, regional and international levels,” said Mukendi.
Following the program, Mukendi is planning to use what she has learned to catapult her career in new fields.
“I would like to work as a consultant in the forestry and carbon footprint sectors […] capable of raising awareness and proposing solutions, as well as making decisions about environmental issues” said Mukendi.
Berenice Kyliane Sonwa Momo from Cameroon is also participating in the program. She is eager to work on environmental issues and sees the program as a way to gain concrete skills to further efforts to combat climate change in her country.
“I am aware of the constant changes around me regarding the climate; as a young woman I believe that every individual action can contribute to making things better,” said Momo. “Applying for this program was a no-brainer as it aims to empower young women like me in the process of reporting greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
Five women from each country will participate in a special intensive diploma program on Greenhouse Gas Measurement, Reporting, and Verification, from the renowned Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. The program will provide in-depth training on commonly used carbon accounting methods. It will then pair these women with national and international institutions to complete competitive internship programs and gain on-the-job training.
Both Mukendi and Momo have been selected for the diploma program and are continuing their training with the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute.
As for Siwe, he is encouraged by the initial results, and he is looking to the future.
“My hope is that we will have the required impact on the climate change sphere in Central Africa so that we can continue this program over the longer term. Let’s see how this works in Central Africa to place women in the field who will reinvigorate our efforts, then maybe we can even roll it out to other regions in the world.”