Published: September 18th, 2019
Summer of avocados, kale, and ugali
A research blog of the Solid Waste Team – 2019
One month ago, we returned from our research project in Kisii, Kenya. Looking back, we can conclude that we have achieved a lot in our month in Kenya and that it has been a great learning experience for the team. It has been a month full of project-related activities, fun, great food, new experiences, and awesome people. Yet, what has the team been up to during their time in Kenya? What was it that we set out to do in the first place? And, how did we experience the project and Kenya? This is what you will find in this post.
On the first of July, the team took a plane from Schiphol to a new adventure. The aim of the project, for which we left our comfortable homes behind, was to find out whether it is possible to start a mobile plastic recycling workspace in Kenya, and if so, what the workshop of such a workspace should look like. This description might still be a bit vague to you but bear with me as it will be clear very soon. The mobile workspace will consist of four machines used for recycling plastic, which will be put in a van for transportability. The mobile workspace will then visit schools to teach children, in a hands-on way, about what plastic is, how plastic can harm them, and how they can recycle plastic even without the recycling machines. The latter could even become a source of income to the youth. With this, the project aims to tackle youth unemployment and pollution due to plastic. To research whether such workspace is even feasible we visited many schools and had meetings with UN-HABITAT and UN Environment. And how exciting have these activities been!
The main activity of our research was visiting schools to perform interviews. The teachers and children were absolutely thrilled to meet us. The teachers loved to talk and take pictures with us. They were so excited that they would get the whole school or a big part of the student body and staff so they could meet us. Sometimes this meant that we had to give a speech to a hundred or more students which we did not prepare for. They would also often invite us for lunch, which mostly consisted of avocado, kale, and ugali (kneading bread). Whenever we met the children, they would enthusiastically call out “mzungu” (white person) whenever they saw us, many of whom wanted to shake our hands and some even wanted to touch our hair. We were told that they were so excited because they had never seen a “mzungu” before or have rarely seen one. In the end, we gathered the data we needed at the schools and even promoted the creation of an environmental club in some schools. Being able to meet the children has been a good experience for us and the children.
Another inspiring activity for the project was to visit the UN to discuss possible collaboration for the project. Firstly, we had a meeting with Brian Michuki from UN Environment. He told us about a project that they launched the previous year called Plastic Tide Turner Challenge. The aim of this project is to sensitize the youth on single-use plastic dangers and marine pollution and to introduce them to ways of environmental conservation. This is why they are interested in collaborating with the mobile workspace if we provide them a concept note. Moreover, Brian promised to support our event (more about this later!). Secondly, we had lunch with Nao Takeuchi from UN-HABITAT. This was a less informal appointment as she has a good friendship with our local partners, Michael and Alicia. She promised to see whether there was some funding which could be used for the current stationary workspace. Visiting the UN has been an inspiration to us all and even resulted in one of the team members doing an internship at the UN headquarters in Nairobi .
Lastly, we organised a clean-up event, including a recycling workshop, to let students, teachers and anyone interested in the project experience what the workshop would be like. In preparation for the event, we bought gloves for all participants, bought plastic package free snacks to be eaten at the workspace and prepared some water for everyone, but we had some complications with the bags. We were counting on one of our guests to bring some huge reusable bags but as circumstances in Kenya are sometimes very unpredictable this guest could not join us. That is why we had to buy them during the clean-up event. On the day of the clean-up event, about twenty people showed up. They were all friends we made during our stay, students from Kisii University and from an environmental agency. Later on, a group of really nice street kids spontaneously joined our efforts to clean up the streets. Even a camera crew of Kenya’s biggest national television channel Kenya Citizen TV showed up, through invitation, to cover the event. The event was a success in which all participants learned something new.
Of course, we cannot write a blog post about our experience in Kenya without telling something about our local partners. Michael and Alicia have been a family away from home for us. Michael is a great artist with a big heart and an adorable young family. Alicia is a smart, attractive young woman with a great business sense. They have been great hosts to us, allowing us to enjoy local foods and experience local life. When some of us were not feeling well they would invite us to their home and make us feel right at home. They were very eager to introduce their families to us and we enjoyed every moment with their families. We are definitely going back to meet these amazing people again.
It is clear that the team had a great experience in Kenya. We have met many amazing people, had a great experience and have learned a lot. We are very grateful to the people we have met in Kenya, to our project partner in the Netherlands In2Africa and to AFD for allowing us to work on this project. Thanks to everyone who helped us during the year. It has been great!
Isaac Elizondo, Saskia Oostdijk,and Plamena Chotova