Rifumo Mathebula wins CIWEM's 2022 Young Environmentalist of the Year award

The Young Environmentalist of the Year (YEOTY) competition recognises passionate individuals at the start of their career who are making a positive impact in water, sustainability or the environment.

In partnership with Jacobs, this award provides the platform and tools to reward the next generation of environmentalists, allowing them to grow the awareness and reach of their ambitious ideas. The 2022 prize included £1,000 cash, a three-year CIWEM Membership bursary, a £500 CIWEM gift card, and a 2023 Flood and Coast conference full-access ticket.

Now in its 8th year, the Young Environmentalist of the Year 2022 title has been awarded to South African environmentalist Rifumo Mathebula.

Rifumo is Programme Director at Wild Shots Outreach (WSO), based in Acornhoek, South Africa – close to the Kruger National Park. He is a passionate and motivated environmental educator, photojournalist and filmmaker who works to inspire and encourage young South Africans to connect with nature.

At WSO, Rifumo organises photography and environmental education courses for high schools and unemployed youth in rural, impoverished communities. Despite living on the borders of Kruger National Park, none of these young people have ever had the opportunity to see their country’s wildlife. Each course is followed by a game drive on a local game reserve– for the students to capture their memories and stories on camera upon seeing wildlife for the first time.

As well as running the photography workshops, Rifumo mentors and manages four teaching assistants: all former WSO students who were previously unemployed. Additionally, he identifies and coaches young people to join WSO’s Bursary Programme. There are currently 21 students in training, further education, or employment – including Neville Ngomane, who won CIWEM’s Young Environmental Photographer of the Year title in 2019. Separately, Rifumo was invited to and documented the World Youth Wildlife Summit.  

This year’s judges were:

  • Richard Ashby-Crane, Senior Director and Head of Environmental and Sustainability Services for Jacobs Europe – co-sponsor of the competition
  • Megan Barnes, Graduate Social Outcomes Consultant at Mott MacDonald, winner of YEOTY 2021 and Chair of CIWEM’s Early Careers Network steering group
  • Emily Clarke, consultant at Binnies and sits as an Early Career Professional on CIWEM’s Trustee Board
  • Jo Coles, Senior Team Leader in the Evidence and Risk department at the Environment Agency

Rifumo impressed the judges with hisachievements and the dedication he has demonstrated both towards conservation and inspiring and educating young people, shares Emily.

Rifumo responded: “I’m really grateful for this amazing opportunity to be awarded 2022 Young Environmentalist of The Year. It is such a privilege to for me to win this award, and I’m sure many young people like me, my team and even our Wild Shot Outreach’s students will be really inspired by this. I hope this will inspire other young Africans that we can make a difference and reach for our dreams.

CIWEM was delighted to receive many inspiring applications, choosing just one winner was challenging. Two runner-up awards have been offered to Annabel Moore, Permitting Officer (Water Resources) at the Environment Agency and Emma Sherburn, Graduate Asset Management Consultant (Water/Carbon) at Mott MacDonald, for their incredible achievements and passion for the environment.

Annabel responded: "Winning this award, even as a runner up, has been a huge privilege. I am donating 50 per cent of the prize money to Suffolk Wildlife Trust and will use the other 50 per cent to invest in more equipment to increase my captive breeding capabilities. Thank you again!"

On being recognised as a runner-up Emma said: "I am delighted to receive the runner-up prize in the Young Environmentalist of the Year 2022 competition for the volunteer work I do with Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire Wildlife Trusts supporting youth engagement with nature. To have this work recognised is an honour and I hope this highlights the positive impact that can be made by investing time in the local community, especially with young people."

In recognition of the fantastic standard brought by the applicants, the judges also want to highly commend two finalists: Alexandra Ismay, Sustainability Consultant at Jacobs and Ally Zlatar, lecturer at the University of Glasgow with a BFA in Visual Art & Art History and an MLitt Curatorial Practice.

Entries for the 2023 award will be announced in summer 2023. Stay tuned for updates at www.ciwem.org/awards

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