Disposing of garbage and waste is a problem in many parts of Kenya. In the western Kenyan city of Kisumu, the Zingira Nyanza group is hoping to reduce the amount of garbage by making objects of beauty out of plastic bags, tin cans, and other discarded materials. Cathy Majtenyi visited the group and filed this report for VOA.
Lucy Okudo braids strips from old plastic bags into a rope. She collected the plastic bags from streets and garbage dumps in her neighborhood in Kisumu.
She winds the rope around a wooden frame to make a basket. Okudo has been creating baskets out of plastic bags for almost eight years.
She says it's a win-win situation. "I saw the need of cleaning up the environment and picking up polythene bags. I wanted to pick up the polythene bags and earn a living from it. That is why I came up with the (basket) product, to be able to feed my family and at the same time clean the environment," Okudo said.
Across town, Richard Omolo makes objects from metal sheets. He smoothes the rough edges. By using scrap metal, Omolo says he is saving more than just the environment.
"If the metal sheets are thrown away, they can cut children who are playing within the dumping area,” Omolo said. “That is why it was ideal to approach the companies and get the metal sheets from them to make good products."
Omolo and Okudo are members of Zingira Nyanza, it's a 25-member group creating objects of beauty out of trash.
Young men, hired by the group, gather plastic bags and other discarded objects from a nearby dump.
The group also purchases metal sheets from soft drink and beer companies looking to get rid of defective bottle cap designs.
With the materials, members make a wide range of products like necklaces made out of magazines, toys, mobiles, and jewelry boxes.
Furniture and lampshades are fashioned from water hyacinth fibers.
Water hyacinth is considered a danger to Lake Victoria. It cuts off oxygen and sunlight to the lake's plants and fish.
The group has put the maligned plant to good use.
Evance Odhiambo, a former gardener, founded Zingira Nyanza eight years ago.
"I wanted to create job opportunities for the youth, staying within this community, and I saw the need of cleaning up the environment, and I wanted to do that in a creative way by having people earning a living from cleaning the environment," Odhiambo said.
He started off by recycling paper, and then used the paper to make greeting cards.
He then recruited and trained young people to make the cards, and eventually other products.
Zingira Nyanza now employs more than 40 artisans.
Odhiambo says he encourages them to create their own designs. "We realize that many of the youths around are so creative and their minds are just lying fallow. No one is giving them a chance to come up with their designs," Odhiambo said.
Odhiambo has big dreams. He hopes to sell the group's jewelry, toys and other objects in Europe, North America, and beyond.