Feature: Kenyan volunteers find joy in sprucing up environment during COVID-19 era


  • World
  • Tuesday, 15 Sep 2020

NAIROBI, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Bent at the waist and with the morning breeze stroking her face, Roselyn Ochieng went about sweeping her serene neighborhood, a volunteer work she has enjoyed performing for more than a year.

At 70 years old, Ochieng could be relaxing at home enjoying her retirement benefits, but the senior citizen has devoted ample time to maintaining a clean environment in her middle-income suburb located on the eastern parts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"While on my way to the office many years ago, I would pick haphazardly disposed plastic bottles outside my gate, after retiring and with relatively more time on my hands, I made a decisive decision to maintain a clean environment," Ochieng told Xinhua.

The challenge of waste management is huge in Kenyan urban centers with environmental experts calling for enactment of robust policies to boost the circular economy.

Efforts geared towards maintaining cleanliness in the cities and towns have been faulted for being short term.

Volunteers such as Ochieng have complemented efforts by the government and community-based organizations to promote solid waste management in Nairobi and its environs.

"If I fail to clean for just a day, the neighborhood becomes horrendous," said Ochieng.

Miriam Okunda, a food vendor said that Ochieng's noble work has helped her and other business owners to operate in a hygienic environment.

"The presence of weathered leaves, disposed carrier bags and cigarette butts would be an indication that Ochieng did not clean our court. It is very easy to tell. Since she started cleaning she has never asked us for money. She does this out of the goodness of her heart," said Okunda.

At her advanced age, Ochieng knows she will not do this work for long and continues to mobilize her neighbors to take up the mantle.

Purity Wanjohi, founder and executive director of Mazingira Safi Initiative, a community-based organization, said that what contributes to the accumulation of litter in Nairobi's suburbs is public negligence and inadequate communication on the importance of preserving the environment.

"People don't care about their environment because they deem it as the work of the government. I should also add a lack of awareness and value of keeping the environment clean has not been communicated effectively," said Wanjohi.

As part of her organization's mission, she organizes cleanup drives and sensitizes the public on eco-friendly habits.

Wanjohi is convinced that waste management solutions should be tailored to meet the needs of different geographical zones.

"The last cleanup was at Nairobi's Kilimani suburb and prior to the cleanup, we spent a week talking to the community around the area seeking their opinion on why the place is dirty and what can be done about it," said Wanjohi.

"It's always a good way to learn because you don't come up with solutions the community does not need," she added.

The government this year rolled out a hygiene program dubbed Kazi Mtaani which has since metamorphosed to accommodate infrastructure programs.

The initiative which was aimed at shielding the youth from the economic shocks of COVID-19 by providing employment is viewed by stakeholders as a practical solution to the waste menace in cities.

"The change is significant in informal areas; the youth have managed to unclog the drainage system and collected roadside litter. Residential homes and companies releasing effluent waste into rivers should treat their waste if the country is to attain its lost glory," said a Kazi Mtaani coordinating official.

A report by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry indicates that Kenya generates an estimated 22,000 tons of waste daily while Nairobi generates 2,400 tons of waste followed by the coastal city of Mombasa with 2,000.

A group of young men in Nairobi's Kiambiu slums which is plagued by heaps of solid waste, have taken up the responsibility of handling garbage in their surroundings using their meager income.

"Badilisha mtaa youth group is made up of 40 members who take part in tree planting, garbage collection and sensitization programs all geared at improving our environmental conditions," said Richmond Mwangi, the group's chairperson.

He said the youth group that aims to provide income-generating opportunities to members will not give up in the quest to eradicate environmental pollution.

"This is our environment and if we do not take care of it, we should not expect an outsider to come and intervene," said Mwangi.

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