This teenager in Kenya is hoping to catch FIFA’s attention – but not for his football skills

CNN  — 

An 18-year-old Kenyan amateur footballer wants Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar to put down the ball for a moment and pick up a shovel to combat deforestation.

When Lesein Mutunkei scores a goal, he plants 11 trees – one to represent each player on his team. He’s tackling the nation’s daily loss of an estimated 50 football pitches worth of forest area.

“Football is a universal game and climate change is a universal problem,” Mutunkei said. “[It] has the power to connect, engage, educate and inspire my generation to create a safer and greener future.”

Deforestation refers to the clearing of forests and trees for agriculture, or to harvest resources like timber. It contributes to global warming and damages wildlife habitats. In 2018, Kenya’s forest cover stood at just 6%, according to the Kenya Forest Service.

That same year, Mutunkei started Trees4Goals to mobilize young athletes in his region to take up his pledge of planting trees every time they score. Now, he wants FIFA to use its audience of billions to take his impact global.

In a recent email to CNN regarding Mutunkei, a FIFA representative commented, “This and other similar projects led by young people and climate defenders around the world are not only commendable, but also necessary.”

Mutunkei and his team play a football match at a school.

Mutunkei said he has sent emails and social media messages to FIFA, and while he hasn’t directly received a response yet, some big names in the football world have already acknowledged his efforts. After learning about him in an environmental docu-series, Arsenal Football Club sent him an autographed jersey.

These acknowledgments bring Mutunkei one step closer to his dream world where football teams compare their success by the size of the forests th