We vote for our pockets, not our health: Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah on life as an environmental campaigner

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. Pic: Ben Gurr

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah arrives at the Good Hope Café in Hither Green on a scooter. She has a look of determination in her eyes as she proudly wears a t-shirt representing the Green Party. Since her daughter Ella died in 2013 from a fatal asthma attack, she has dedicated her time to ending all deaths related to air pollution.

“I have dedicated my life into this work, but not everybody understands the way air pollution affects our health,” she says. “You can ask me since my daughter died, what’s different? Sadly, I don’t see any changes.”

That said, she has hope. Her preferred method of transportation highlights her status as a role model – she is passionate about getting people out of their cars.

“A lot of people might think that cycling and walking a short distance makes no difference, but it really does,” she says.

The climate change activist goes on: “For example, we’ve looked at places where school runs take place, you’d be surprised, but the pollution there goes up by 50-60 per cent, and that’s a lot.”

Although she admits that some people are sceptical, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is still hoping that we, as members of our community, will start prioritising the issue by taking “baby steps that would make a difference in the long run”.

“It needs to be taken seriously. I think the problem is that people can’t physically see how polluted the air is, so they can’t see what they’re breathing in,” she explains.

Her determination has paid off. A month ago, a new inquest into her daughter’s premature death was granted. Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is now looking to prove that the high levels of air pollution around their home directly cost her the life of her child, Ella Roberta Kissi-Debrah. She believes that by spreading awareness on the dangers of air pollution, she can inspire governments to act and prevent the tragedy from repeating itself.

Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was a local teacher in Lewisham before tragedy struck her family with the death of her nine-year-old daughter six years ago. The little girl had been continuously suffering from asthma-related seizures for three years before the last one took her life in 2013.

Following the loss of her daughter, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah set up a family foundation in her name in Catford.

“When I started, I initially just wanted to find out why my daughter died. I thought it might be genetic. I wasn’t expecting air pollution, but as more evidence came to light, I couldn’t ignore it,” she said.

She has since then been dedicating her life to actively informing people of the severe health effects that come from polluted air.

Aside from taking part in every given opportunity to spread her message in London, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah never forgets Lewisham, the borough where she gave birth to Ella and raised all of her children.

A year ago, the Green Party listed her as a candidate running in the Lewisham East by-election. In her campaign, she said that she wants “to see real change, and a stronger, healthier Lewisham”.

Now that the High Court has finally granted a new inquest into Ella’s death, she strives to work even harder not only for her daughter but for the future of our community.

Rosamund at the Good Hope café. Pic: Deniza Primbet

As the clean air activist takes a sip of her coffee while overlooking the traffic outside the nearby window, she says: “You see, there’s an assumption that everybody already knows about air pollution and its impact on our health – it’s not true.

“Take idling, for example. A lot has been said again and again to make people switch off their engine, but it’s like people don’t care enough,” she says, outraged.

As her then shining eyes start to fill with worry, she underlines that the issue could potentially worsen to the point where “the situation will be too critical”.

The campaigner believes that the government isn’t doing enough, so she calls for change: “I will truly believe we’ve achieved something when everybody talks about air pollution as much as they talk about Brexit now.

“The government needs radical change and they lack the political will to do it. Brexit is a smokescreen, because whilst you’re filling everyone’s head with Brexit, all of this is going on behind the scenes.”

Adoo-Kissi-Debrah says that the reason for the lack of urgency behind climate change policies is because the government doesn’t believe that they would lose votes because of their inactions: “If people gave any indication that they’re voting because of climate change, watch how quickly the government would change their policies. That’s how you get through to them.”

She expresses her determination to see the government introduce bans on diesel vehicles and wood burning: “55 per cent of air pollution in London is from diesel cars, 15 per cent is from wood burning. So if you ban them, you remove 70 per cent of the pollution in the city.”

“Now, I’m not expecting it to happen overnight. To help replace the diesel vehicles, the government should have more schemes that will make electric vehicles more affordable, especially for essential workers,” she goes on.

“We can study this, we can march, but in the end, it’s up to the government,” she emphasizes.

As a faint smile appears on her face, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah is excited to share with EastLondonLines readers that she is currently working on a new project: “We’ve just set up a new group called ‘Mums for Clean Air’. We want to specifically target the BAME communities because I believe they’re being left out.”

She underlines that air pollution tends to disproportionately affect ethnic minorities.

“Now, if you look at the climate change movement, it’s really not that diverse,” she says.

With her overflowing schedule, the clean air campaigner has now just returned from the World Health Organisation Climate Summit that took place in Austria on May 28-29.

“There’s no face to the statistics of reappearing deaths, but with my daughter, you’ve got a face and I think when I bring out the human side to these events, it becomes real,” she explains.

When asked about her motivation towards speaking out on the issue, she sighs heavily and says: “Sadly, children continue to die. If the children stop dying, I can relax. But they still are, so I will speak out even on the days when I don’t want to get up. Every child’s life is worth it.”

“It’s hard not to. It’s got to be the fact that I just don’t want any other family to go through what we went through. It was horrific,” she concludes.

A simple desire to make this world a better place for future generations – that’s what drives Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.

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