A fully sponsored trip across the world to far-away, pristine Mongolia is any young person’s dream. It was one that a young Nigerian doctor from Benin City was opportune to live out for one week, as a result of his excellent writing skills and his passion for the environment. Dr. Charles Immanuel Akhimien, a 24 year-old graduate of Medicine from the University of Benin stays up all night to share with Bailiff Africa, amidst lots of laughter, about his background, winning UNEP’s World Environment Day blogging competition and the sojourn to Mongolia on behalf of the UNEP.
We congratulate Dr. Charles, as he is fondly called, on his induction into the medical profession. Dr. Charles regards himself as a bonafide Benin-ite, attending Living Springs Primary School and Word of Faith Primary School before starting his secondary education at Word of Faith College and finishing at Immaculate Conception College, all in Benin. He goes on to study medicine at UNIBEN. Being the only child of his mother, Dr. Charles involved himself in several activities throughout his schooling and eventually reaped the reward of his involvement in school activities when he won the UNEP Blogging Competition for World Environment Day, 2013. When asked what his interests are, Dr. Charles tells us:
“My hobbies change over time. I used to be a big novel reader but I haven’t read many books since Harry Potter. Nonetheless, I still read some Greek mythology. My first love remains organizing events. I do plan to eventually open my own events company since I’ve gotten good feedback from people I’ve organized for and love to see the satisfaction on people’s faces. Writing, however, is a hobby I re-discovered in my last year at school, and it was writing that took me to Mongolia to blog for the UNEP.”
Dr. Charles tell us more about the blogging portfolio:
How did you become the official World Environment Day (WED 2013) blogger for UNEP?
“The UNEP announced the annual web-blogging competition, this one being the fourth, for WED2013. Thankfully, my colleague, Kingsley, follows UNEP on Twitter and saw the link. Then, he sent the info to me and I decided to participate. I saw the terms and conditions and was attracted by them. This year’s theme was tagged, Think.Eat.Save. I realized that the winner would represent the UNEP in Mongolia for one week in June and throughout the year, as previous winners had done in Rwanda, India and Brazil.”
You won by a lot of votes. Did you rally round your friends and family to vote for you?
“I won 31,000 out of 70,000 votes, and that is remarkable. The competition was 3 weeks to my final exam and in-between exams, I was informed that I had made it to the top 10. So, I was writing for the environment and preparing for clinical surgery exam (of course, my classmates thought I was crazy). The UNEP announced a big blog-off showdown on April 1st once we made it to the top 10. My younger colleagues rallied round and campaigned for me with fliers, in hostels, everywhere and got votes. Since I was the only African in the finals, I made that point in motivating people. I was able to get an interview in the Nation newspaper and someone mentioned it on radio. It was a big deal, an international competition and I always enter things to win. Social media was really helpful too.”
What made you compete? Are you a foodie or did you have prior environmental interests?
“I had been concerned about the environment as a student. Because of my work in public health, I became accustomed to how food wastes and the impacts on environmental health and human health, especially climate change. In my last two years of medical school, I started blogging and writing, but I couldn’t maintain the blog because of the pressures of medical school. I am a foodie, and absolutely love food. I had always found it ridiculous how people would waste something as fantastic as food.”
So, what do you think is the the most pressing environmental issue?
“Climate Change is our biggest environmental issue. Different areas of the world have different pertinent environmental issues, even though they are all interconnected. For instance, the big thing in Mongolia is mining (Thankfully, Mongolia now mines only 12% of coal reserves as opposed to 46% in the recent past). But, climate change is global because every area of the world is feeling the impact. The environment is becoming less predictable and affecting livelihoods and lives. Developing countries cannot stand aloof because we are suffering like the rest of the world.”
What was the purpose of the trip?
“This year’s theme was Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint. The UNEP discovered the only way to get people to reduce food waste is to induce consciousness about it. WED is one day on June 5th, but every year, there’s a host country and they organize a week-long event, so the winner of the competition goes to the host country and blogs through it all. They decided to get someone who was normal like everyone else to cover the event and carry the message in writing and representation. I was tasked with covering the events daily, with refreshing, informative and inspiring content on how to reduce food waste.”
Tell us about the highlights of each day.
Day 1 - “This was the International Children’s Day celebration (June 1). There were events for children, parades, flash mobs, all educating the new generation on this year’s theme of WED. It was about securing the next generation to imbibe the culture of not wasting food.”
Day 2 – “We had a marathon in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. They brought the marathon world record holder who helped preach the message of clean air, clear skies.”
Day 3 – “This was a fantastic day. I got to meet the president of Mongolia through the National Forum for Green Development hosted by the state palace. Then, there was a media session with the Executive Director of the UNEP. Apart from meeting the president and the minister of environment, Mongolia showed me incredible passion and motivation. The president didn’t use any notes or prompter. He spoke in English, a foreign language, flawlessly and passionately and I was impressed.”
Day 4 / 5 – “We had a press conference on small holder farmers, which make up 33% of the population and hold key to eradicating poverty and hunger. Then in the evening, we visited the Hustai National Park where they have 50,000 hectares of lush vegetation and animals including the The Przewalski horse (Takhi) which is the only true wild horse species. We camped in gers (local tents) for the night under clear skies. Then on the 5th day, we woke up to a press conference and an official launch of WED 2013.”
He describes Mongolia and the overall experience thus:
“It was a mind-blowing experience. Initially, I didn’t know what to expect. I had known that Mongolia was the poster-child for everything green and pro-sustainability but I didn’t realise that every major decision the government makes is with environmental sustainability in mind. In fact, apart from Norway, there really aren’t many countries that think like Mongolia does. From the government to the ordinary people, everyone is very proud about their respect for the environment. Mongolia truly is a pioneer of green economies.”
Dr. Charles Akhimien will represent the UNEP as the official blogger for the rest of the year. He can be contacted on Twitter at @iakhimien and his official UNEP blog Dr. Charles’ Blog