Fontoh Desmond Abinwi did not grow up in a home or country that had great material wealth, yet he knew that the rich biodiversity in his native Cameroon was something much more valuable. Cameroon is home to plants and animals seen nowhere else in the world; the black rhino, Cross River gorilla, and African elephant are just a few of the rare species that still roam its savannahs, rainforests, deserts and coastlines.
When Fontoh received a scholarship to go to college, he studied climate change. His friends may have laughed at him as “the guy that plants trees for no reason,” but Fontoh was inspired by the raw beauty of his homeland and the example of Mahatma Gandhi; in particular, the purity of heart and emphasis on harmony that Gandhi embodied in quotes like “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.”
After graduate school, he founded an organization called Crusaders for Environmental Protection and Ozone Watch, which received early support from The Pollination Project for environmental education initiatives in the school systems and communities of Cameroon.
“I believe in having a to-do list, not a wish list,” Fontoh says. “Starting small, and focusing on service matters. Connections with others who share my passion have been just as important as money.”
Today, Fontoh has eco-clubs in five schools, a track record of training over 200 children in forest conservation, and is publishing three kid-friendly environmental texts. What’s more, he was one of four young African leaders to be inducted into the 2020 class of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s “30 Under 30” changemakers.
“Awards are nice to achieve, but ultimately I want to just increase consciousness around me. If we could all clearly connect our actions to the kind of world we want to live in, what a beautiful world that would be,” says Fontoh.
“Together, let us protect Mother Nature in all fairness and equity.”