If she can do it at 92, then what can you do?

Cork County Council has published a collection of Climate Change stories, poems and photographs submitted by older people of the county. Here, Katey and Jennifer Sleeman allow us to publish their extract from the book
If she can do it at 92, then what can you do?

Katey and Jennifer Sleeman. Source: Katey Sleeman

MY name is Katey Sleeman (61 years old) and my story about Climate Change comes from growing up with my mum Jennifer Sleeman (92 years old), who has been a climate change activist for at least 50 years.

In my twenties (1980s), my mum would put a meal in front of her family (6 kids) with the announcement that it came from only a mile from our home. I can remember being a facetitious child, saying “what about the salt?” but I did understand and remember what the message was that she wanted us to hear.

From her childhood as a daughter of a fruit farmer in South Africa to being a dairy farmer in North Cork, my mother’s happy place has always been with her hands in the earth. No gloves for her!

Her passion and dedication for Fairtrade in Ireland came from her youngest daughter Patricia’s experience of working on a Fairtrade farm in Nicaragua in 2001. Patricia saw at first-hand the devastating effect climate change had had on the El Nino, creating floods with livelihoods and lives lost forever.

On hearing this, my mum asked: “How can we help?” Hence the Fairtrade campaign started in Clonakilty by my mum, with an amazing committee of local people both from religious and political backgrounds. Clonakilty is very proud to have become the first Fairtrade Town in Ireland in 2003.

After that, and for many years, my mum used her free travel, as she was a pensioner at this stage, to travel all over Ireland encouraging towns, villages and cities around Ireland to achieve the Fairtrade symbol as she saw that this was one way she could do something positive in supporting those and many other Farmers all over the Developing World. And it is so no coincidence that it is these countries that are being the worst affected by Climate Change!

More locally, she successfully campaigned to stop an 18-hole golf course from being built on an important piece of marshland outside Clonakilty. She gained huge support from people in Clonakilty and the Irish Society Protection for Bird which really stopped the development. It is now wonderfully diverse habitat for many many migratory and indigenous birds and all the other flora and fauna for future generations. So, Climate Change has been part of my family life for decades.

On speaking to her about this project she has found it difficult to write herself, so I asked her questions for the future generations and here are her answers

THINK: What she wants us to do is to THINK! Think about taking things back to their source to slow down Climate Change as we cannot stop it now.

THINK when you are electing your political representatives…have they got a concrete policy on Climate Change and if they haven’t, ask “Why haven’t they?”

THINK FOOD MILES: about what you eat and how many miles our food has to travel to get to us and really do we need that product? Are our expectations of what we should have compared to what is actually grown locally sustainable and realistic? One of her favourites is “Strawberries from Egypt in October!” So, eat local and seasonal and grow your own. NOTE: FOOD MILES

THINK about travel…do we need a car or can we take the bus or cycle

THINK where does our water come from? Other than the tap?

THINK about the energy you use in your home... can you turn off that unnecessary light, insulate your home, turn down the central heating, small changes always have an impact. If everyone did something it could slow down Climate Change but we will all suffer without positive action. We need to take note of the rising Earth temperature.

Many years ago, Mum was told that when the glaciers in the Himalayas start to melt that the Earth is in big trouble…she informed me today that has happened and the subsequent flooding has destroyed many lives and livelihoods for ever.

My mother is now bed bound after a nasty fall however she had announced that she is now going meat free for May, not because she is sentimental about animals but that the energy that goes into food production from meat is so much more than from plants. So if she can do at 92 then what can you do?

Time is short, we must make radical changes in how we live and treat the Earth so that there is an Earth that is habitable for future generations. I am very proud of my Mum and I think she is an example of the following statement. She proved that we can all make positive changes in our own locality and also internationally. Thank you for reading this.

“We all have the power, we may feel it is slight but we do have the power, everyone can do something”


‘Voices of Experience’ is now available in Cork County Library branches throughout the county and digitally on the Borrowbox app. It is also available for download on the Council’s website www.corkcoco.ie where a podcast featuring a selection of the stories can also be enjoyed.

See www.corkcoco.ie/sites/default/files/2022-03/voices-of-experience-pdf.pdf

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