Ernest Okeyo

Lead Trainer

My first taste of managerial leadership was as a budding 25 year old Studio Director for Coke Studio Africa. A music show that brought together some of the biggest recording artists in Africa to make live music in front of a studio audience. With a crew of 50+ to steer, leadership fit me like an unseemly crown. I was brimming with talent but lacking the required temperament. I knew where to place the camera but my education did little to teach me where to place my team members needs. Time and time again I fell short when faced with dilemmas about people; How much rest to give the team? How to motivate an underpaid staff? When to let go of an underperforming staff? They don’t teach you things like that in film school. I soon realised that learning how to communicate and cooperate with people was by far the most essential skill I would need to perform at the highest level. It wasn’t long before I begun taking communication classes. A decision that planted the seed for me later becoming a Public Educator.

Safaricom came calling after my growth spat with Coke. This time to direct a youth centric TV show for mentoring and developing young, promising entrepreneurs; BLAZE BYOB. Here I developed a training program for the top 12 entrepreneurs but not before travelling around Kenya to audition and recruit young aspirants from different counties. This is where my relationship with young people truly began. As a preliminary judge and interviewer, I would sometimes interview hundreds of young people over a single weekend. Each one of them wide eyed with ambition but most lacking the communication skills they need to express their ideas. With only 12 national spots available, It was my job to break the hearts of more than 2000 young applicants by the end of the recruiting phase. It opened my eyes to a looming danger in our society: we have a growing population of young people who are ill-quipped to communicate the problems and solutions that their planet is facing. The only way I could live with myself after that, was to aspire to teach young people how to understand and work with the world around them. How to understand the story of humanity and not just the story of their lives.

So then, my days as a filmmaker begun to give way to my days as a public educator. From teaching young scientists at the Mawazo Institute how to communicate data, to teaching writers and filmmakers at Wabisabi how to communicate mental health. If you needed it broken down to the lay man, I was your guy. Soon, I was invited to teach mindfulness and meditation to students at Rarieda Training and Resource Centre in Siaya. Over a 6 month period, I had the privilege of working with some of the most marginalised youth of Kenya. The goal of our training was to help them learn how to be more resilient in the face of their impossibly stressful lives. With meditation you learn what is fast becoming the most crucial skill in a rapidly changing planet; how to calm the mind in the face of adversity.

At RTRC, I saw enough lives change to suggest that building mental resiliency in our young people is no longer a choice. It is a requirement for navigating the 21st Century.

Julie Achieng'

Lead Researcher

I have spent the better part of a decade producing independent documentary films that explore the human experience. I’m especially drawn to making stories that can call communities to action. These, I believe, are the stories humanity needs in order to inspire a change in how we relate with nature. While living in Mombasa, I fundraised for and produced a documentary series about indigenous climate change heroes from Kuruwitu that sparked something inside me. One of the heroes in this series was a fisherman called Katana. He is a self taught marine biologist who is working hard to not only restore coral reefs along his village’s coastline but also to teach the next generation the science behind it all. So that they may learn how to revive their community’s fish supply. Knowing everything about the planet’s predicament, this is the future I see for my country. One where the older generation prepares the next one for the grave realities of our collapsing ecosystems.

Backed by WFP, Gatsby, Pafid and CIP, I have also had the opportunity to work with farming communities in arid and semi arid areas using film as a tool to teach climate-smart agriculture . The films educated farmers on anti evaporation methods like creating shade through planting fruit trees and legume bushes in order to retain moisture. The leaves from these trees and bushes provide foliage for increasing organic matter. As a result, there was an increase in small holder farmers giving their infertile soils a chance to feed their families and create alternative livelihoods. During my travels, I noticed that young people were the most eager to embrace and experiment new farming methods in order to overcome their adversity. Once again, I was challenged by the idea of young people taking their future into their own hands. Their courage inspired me to join their cause.

I couldn’t teach them much about farming or fishing but as an experienced storyteller I could introduce them to a timeless practice that has been scientifically proven to build mental resiliency. A practice that grounded me to the present moment and taught me how to generate happiness in the midst of my darkest days. The practice has worked for many before me and I was sure it would help young people prepare for tough times ahead. I have spent the last 4 years learning about meditation, the (adolescent )brain, mindfulness and stress reduction. During this time I went on plenty of hikes where Ernest and I found ourselves increasingly talking to young people . We learned early on that storytelling was a great way to keep them focused especially when introducing new ideas.This is how we ended up creating a story based mindfulness teaching program.

My mission is to teach the youth to befriend the present moment. From there they can learn to cultivate awareness, resilience and compassion. I have taught mindfulness to multiple groups ranging from families, parents, and individual students. The feedback I always get is basically the same, “Julie, my mindfulness and meditation practice brought me back to life!”

I believe that the present moment is all we have and it's the only way to change the future. If we are here for this moment, the next moment is going to be different because we’ve brought wakefulness and loving kindness to it.