Romario Valentine’s wish-list for his 10th birthday is unlike that of most other children his age: a habitat restoration project for critically endangered African grey parrots in Plettenberg Bay and a reforestation campaign for a Kenyan nonprofit tree conservation organisation.
His mother, Delsh Moodley, started the BackaBuddy campaign for his birthday on 26 July, to restore habitats, safeguard biodiversity and “leave a legacy for other children and generations to come”. They have already raised R15 206 of their R20 000 target.
Just before delivering a keynote address to a United Nations agency this week, Romario, who is in grade 4, told the Mail & Guardian: “It is important to help nature, the environment and the ecosystem.
“I have advice for other children, can I tell you?
“You are never too young to help nature. I would encourage children to plant trees, to not litter, to recycle, reuse and only buy things you need. If you have toys you no longer play with, please donate them to children in need.”
Romario is an “earth shaker”, his mother says. Last year, for his ninth birthday, he raised funds for 900 endangered birds at the uMngeni River Bird Park in Durban, with donations from friends, family and fellow eco-warriors in his Inspire to Conserve campaign.
His environmental activism started four years ago.
“When I was six, I was an orca [killer whale] in a school play. I did research with my mom and we discovered that orcas were endangered. I decided to do something about it by cleaning the beach weekly,” the 10-year-old budding environmentalist says.
Since then, he has completed 164 beach clean-ups.
“I’m actually overwhelmed,” says Moodley. “When I realised that Romario is really interested in the environment was when he kept saying, ‘we have to go to the beach, we have to pick up the pollutants’. I just realised he’s been sticking to it every week, without fail, whether it’s raining or cold, sunny or windy, he’s always there, every week.
“He’s done beach clean-ups with a girls’ school in Durban and some of his friends, including some adults, have joined him along the way, which is incredible. It’s been very uplifting, also for myself.”
Romario, who paints endangered birds and creates eco-art out of waste to raise awareness, is the youngest ambassador for Ocean Sole, an organisation in Kenya that has recycled more than 750 000 flip-flops found on beaches since 2006.
“They turn them into art sculptures of marine and wildlife animals,” he says. “This project allows them to employ people from the community and to protect the ocean, making Ocean Sole an example of a successful circular economy.”
In August last year, Romario started a self-funded tree planting campaign and has sponsored 26 trees on four continents, including 16 in Africa.
“He has accomplished a lot for someone his age,” Moodley says of her son, whose CV runs to four pages. His birthday campaign is to help support the completion of a 30m by 30m aviary for abandoned African grey parrots at the Birds of Eden sanctuary.
“These intelligent birds are critically endangered, almost extinct in the wild due to illegal trade where they are subjected to extremely appalling treatment and abuse,” Moodley says.
“My aim is to stop them from becoming extinct,” Romario adds.
He is also supporting the planting of acacia trees at the Zeitz Foundation in Kenya and has teamed up with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification — the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management — to address land degradation and biodiversity loss caused by climate change and deforestation.
“I believe he is a champion of the Earth and will inspire other children to work towards creating a better sustainable future for generations to come,” Moodley says.