It is impossible not to feel inspired when speaking with Violet Matiru. The dedication that Violet brings to her work connecting youth to the natural world shines through in her words and demeanor. “I’m very passionate about young people. I care about young people connecting with nature through the environment.”
Having personally experienced the positive impact of time in nature growing up, Violet became committed to making nature more accessible and important for the youth in her community. “I grew up on a farm at the outskirts of Nairobi city. Nature was my companion. When I felt sad or stressed, I’d take a walk and sit by the river – listening to the sound of the water, watching the water beetles dancing over its surface, the birds taking water baths – and it would calm me down. I want more people to have that.”
Through the community-based organization she co-founded with some colleagues, she works with young people and women to connect communities to nature. This can mean anything from creating ecotourism opportunities, to hosting community meetings about water access, to supporting youth who are training to become forest scouts. Most of her work takes place around the Thogoto Forest or Athi River, and her proximity to Nairobi allows her to reach youth who have grown up in the city, separated from the natural environment. Violet’s hope is that “the youth and the communities living around these resources take ownership and look after them,” which will allow them to be protected and sustained for the future.
When asked about her inspiration for her work, Violet spoke of her treasured friend and colleague, Arafa Salim Baya. Arafa was one of the founding members of the Athi River Community Network, an organization that links communities living upstream and downstream of the Athi River. Violet met Arafa in 2004 and watched her inspire a group of young people to restore a degraded mangrove forest and empower them through income-generating activities that had a positive impact on the environment. Violet saw that it was possible to make a difference through hands-on community work and thought, “Why not try it in my community?” Sadly, Arafa passed away in 2021, but Violet cherishes all that her friend taught her and continues to carry on Arafa’s legacy in her work and her heart.
Violet’s next project was borne of her participation in The Pollination Project’s Greenhouse Cohort, a capacity building training for TPP grantees. “I really enjoyed Greenhouse because people were talking about so many different things. The program was really rich and helpful to become more introspective and learn about other people’s projects.” After hearing about another participant’s work addressing trauma for women in her South African community, Violet was inspired to design a project focused on mental healthcare in her community. She aims to use the forest as a positive health tool for those struggling with mental health issues and their caretakers.
Reflecting on her success so far, Violet’s devotion to her community is clear. “When you work with your community, quitting is not an option. It’s like when you’re raising a child,” she said with a smile. Her efforts have not only changed the lives of those in her community, they have also brought clarity to Violet herself. “My life now makes sense, the work I do as a consultant and the work I do in my community, it has all gelled with my own personal work. Now when I wake up, I’m not just doing an evaluation, I’m finding out as much information as I can for my community. It has all come together, and that has given me meaning.”