Karen Blixen Museum Community Engagement on Climate Change

Written by Rodah Lange, Curator, Karen Blixen Museum, National Museums of Kenya (Kenya, ITP 2023)

My name is Rodah Lange, a Curator from the National Museums of Kenya in Africa, Karen Blixen Museum. I participated in the International Programme in 2023 where I learnt about museum practices including community engagement. Coming back to my museum I thought on how I can engage the Karen Blixen Museum neighborhood in an exciting museum project to appreciate and develop a sense of ownership of the Karen Blixen Museum.

The idea of combating the devastating effects of climate change came to my mind and I developed an interest in creating an activity based on the theme of climate change because it is currently a concern all over the world. The Kenyan government has not been left behind on this and has been actively participating on debates, conferences and meetings on how to fight climate change. The Kenyan government has also issued a directive to all Kenyans to plant 15 billion trees by 2032 to ‘green’ the country and reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. In support of this directive, the Mother Institution – the National Museums of Kenya – had also set a target for each staff member to plant and grow a minimum of 30 trees.

The Karen Blixen Museum is located at the Karen suburbs surrounded by public and private institutions and individual residents who occupy small compounds. Again, I felt that most of the Karen Blixen staff living in the Nairobi City estates and our neighbors may want to plant trees in support of the directive, but due to limited space in their residences or institutions they could not achieve the targets. I felt that this was an opportunity for the Karen Blixen Museum to bring the staff and neighboring community on board and use its nature trail for a tree planting exercise.

The museum has around 12.2 acres of land, out of which around 9 acres is forest land. I invited a botanist from the National Museums of Kenya to advise on the exercise and the tree species suitable for the area. After this, the date for the event was set and community mobilization started targeting the National Museums of Kenya staff, government officials, and the Karen Blixen Museum neighborhood (Karen Blixen Nyumba Kumi Initiative) which consists of public and private institutions, residence associations, schools and individuals.

The majority of the neighborhood do not visit the museum, so this was also a strategy to create awareness of the different activities and programs the museum offers. Different partners and stakeholders were contacted to support the event in kind or with donations with a target to plant over 5000 trees. A partner Equity Group Foundation appreciated the initiative and came on board by donating 5000 Indigenous and fruit trees. Fruit trees were considered ideal as are source of food to people, birds and animals

Finally, the event, dubbed Race to 15 Billion Trees, took place on 30 April 2024 with over 400 people attending. Museum staff, government officials, local primary schools, hotels, and local institutions including the Kenya Medical Training college – Karen Campus (KMTC), The Centre for Mathematics Science and Technology (CEMASTEA), The Kenya Institute of Primate Research (KIPRE), Opportunity Factory and Sisters of Dimesse Convent all participated.

The timing of the event was good since there had been a lot of rain in the country and there was assurance that the trees would grow easily. There had also been a lot of publicity through the media about the effects of climate change and many people had seen first hand the effects of the heavy rains in the country. During the event the invited guests lauded the Karen Blixen Museum in its effort to conserve the environment, work with the community and its initiative to address the issues of climate change. A total of 5000 trees were planted on the day, out of which 1500 trees were planted at the Karen Blixen Museum, and the rest planted at the nearby institution Kenya Medical Training College, Karen Campus, who also have around 8 acres of bare land.

The event was such a success that after the event several stakeholders have been reaching to the Karen Blixen Museum to partner in doing more community events.

Congratulations Rodah on your hard work! The ITP team.