Opening Doors to environmental action

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Francis Kahembwe meets Sarah Boyack MSP at the Scottish Parliament for the first of two days observing her work in environmental issues.

Welcome to Francis Kahembwe, the first person to take part in Opening Doors 2008, the Leith Open Space political ‘shadowing’ scheme. As Francis, a forestry expert from Uganda, is particularly interested in the politics of conservation and environmental management we began by introducing him to Sarah Boyack, Labour spokesman on the Environment and Rural Affairs in the Scottish Parliament. As luck had it we arrived the day of the Climate Change debate!

Sarah Boyack, who has gained respect (and awards) for her contribution to environmental policy, had drawn up a busy two days for Francis to give him a broad view of her work in parliament and as constituency MSP for Edinburgh Central. Now we hope to offer Francis opportunities to observe how different voluntary organisations set about influencing government policy.

Francis brings experience of a career in conservation forestry in Africa and the Caribbean where he worked as adviser to the IUCN (the World Conservation Union). Since arriving in Scotland six years ago he has not been able to get work to fit his qualifications but (with two children at school here) he has gained employment as a sessional worker in the mental health project, Men in Mind, and has a long list of voluntary involvements including the Africa Centre, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the Carbon Centre in Dumfries.

As Francis explained when he applied for Opening Doors: “I want to acquire knowledge and awareness on how politics impact on the environment and then learn how to use that knowledge to influence environmental policy.”

This may be the first step in an interesting new direction for Opening Doors which began in 2006-7. We want to increase opportunities for people interested in taking part in local and national politics but, of course, politics extends far beyond parliament and city council chambers. Our mentors are likely to include teachers, trade unionists and environmental activists as well as elected politicians.

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