Kisumu Youth Group Turning Trash to Cash
Trash is cash. If you find that hard to believe, just ask the 40 registered groups that work with the Bamato Environmental and Sanitation Project in Kisumu. The groups, which are mostly comprised of urban dwellers, have found ingenious ways of making a living while cleaning up their neighborhoods through waste management strategies.
Bamato is an acronym derived from three Swahili words: ‘baba’ (father), ‘mama’ (mother), and ‘toto’ (child), capturing the need for an inclusive approach in tackling social and environmental issues in the lake region.
With the support of the Kisumu Municipal Council, Bamato has organized the groups to collect waste from specific collection points across the city. Each group operates within a designated location and collects a monthly fee from each household. On average, a group of 10-15 members catering to a specific location makes over 60,000 a month by collecting garbage alone.
Ms. Josephine Dulo, an environmentalist and manager of the project, is excited about this transformation that is making many youth self-reliant. “Before some of them got involved in the project they were unemployed and used to ask me for small tips for their upkeep. Today when I meet many of them they are willing to buy me lunch,” she laughed.
But the waste collection aspect is just one side of the story. One of the biggest challenges the community faced was that of solid waste disposal. Despite clean-up efforts, most of the inorganic waste collected from homes ended up in unsightly garbage dumps.
In 2009, with the help of USAID/Kenya through the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), Bamato took on plastic waste recycling as an effective way of managing inorganic solid waste. It has engaged community members and empowered them economically through training on the recycling process using locally available materials. Over 200 groups that include men, women, and the youth have received training to collect and sort out hard plastics which are then delivered to the Bamato Project site for recycling. The plastics are sorted by type and color and cleaned before they are cut into small chips by a machine and smelted for molding into various items. According to Ms. Dulo, recycling of plastics is a sustainable way of managing the environment. “The impact of recycling plastic is so big on the global scale. Burning plastics releases chlorofluorocarbons that deplete the ozone layer causing many problems,” she said.
Besides giving training on waste recycling, USAID/Kenya also supported the project by buying a molding machine used to make the various plastic items. It also expanded the rooms where the molding process was being carried out to improve ventilation in the work area.
The production of recycled items has not disappointed. The project churns out beautifully designed buckets, basins, necklaces, earrings, belts, hats and sandals. These products are sold in markets in Kisumu and surrounding towns and are very popular due to their affordable cost. The proceeds go towards improving the living standards of project members and have helped to reduce the rate of unemployment in the area.
Bamato hopes to get more equipment for a wider variety of products, a backup generator, and technicians to operate the machines to optimize their production. Members are optimistic that they will one day achieve all these and operate 24 hours a day. Mr. Valentine Odhiambo, the project’s director, adds “We have shown the youth in this area that they can transform their environment and their living standards using very simple ideas.”
By Clara Kakai