Hilda Flavia Nakabuye planting

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye poses with newly planted trees in Kampala, Uganda on Earth Day, 2021

“Children have a lot of their future ahead of them. They have to know about climate change so they can stand up, speak up and fight for their future.”

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye

Hilda Flavia NakabuyeClimate activist Hilda Flavia Nakabuye first experienced the impacts of climate change before she even knew what the term meant.

When she was growing up in Uganda, Nakabuye’s family owned a small plantation in a village called Masaka not far from the wide expanse of Lake Victoria. They grew bananas, cassava, Irish potatoes and other crops. Then, in the 2000s, long periods of drought interrupted by fierce storms destroyed most of her family’s chief source of food and income.

“Crops were withered, and heavy rains stripped away most of the plants,” Nakabuye said.

Her parents moved the family to the capital city of Kampala to find work. It wasn’t until 2017 when Nakabuye enrolled as a student at Kampala University that she learned what had caused the devastation to her family farm: rapidly rising temperatures driven by humanity’s out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions.

Now 25, Nakabuye has dedicated the years since to mobilizing young people across Uganda and beyond to combat what she calls “the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced.”

By 2050, more than 200 million people may be forced to move within their own nation’s borders because of climate change, according to a 2021 report from the World Bank. In parts of East Africa, that mass migration has already begun. In the Horn of Africa, huge numbers of people are moving to escape a record-setting drought. The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are in urgent need of treatment for malnutrition because of the drought.

“The countries of the Global South are the least prepared to cope with the effects of climate change,” Nabakuye said. “They are also the countries that have contributed the least to causing climate change.”

Yet Nakabuye believes that young people, and especially young women, in nations like Uganda are in the best position to help the world solve its climate crisis.

She founded Fridays for Future Uganda, which organizes regular “climate strikes” to raise awareness of climate change in the nation. More recently, she participated in a campaign to protest the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a planned project that would carry oil across Uganda and through Tanzania to the Indian Ocean.

Nakabuye has also led efforts to clean up the shores of Lake Victoria. Once a point of pride for Uganda and neighboring countries, the lake has become overrun with pollution and invasive plants and fish.

One of the most important solutions to climate change is education, she said. Nakabuye hopes that children in Uganda will have opportunities she did not have to learn about climate change and the forces shaping the environments around them from a young age.

“Children have a lot of their future ahead of them,” Nakabuye said. “They have to know about climate change so they can stand up, speak up and fight for their future.”

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye protesting

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, center, joins a protest.