I became aware of this project a couple of weeks ago – I had seen recycling bins dotted around town for plastic carrier bags – this is remarkable mainly because other than glass drink bottles (i.e. Coca-cola/Pepsi/Fanta/the local Mosi beer) NOTHING can be recycled here. The bins caught my attention. Then I visited a retailer who was selling handbags bags made from these recycled plastic bags. What a clever idea!
It turns out that the recycled bag project is one of many undertaken by the Chikumbuso Widows and Orphans Project in the Ng’ombe compound in Lusaka. They have a Primary school with 350 pupils, and they arrange sponsors for older children to continue their education after 6th grade. They find sponsors for orphans ($250 per year makes a world of difference) and grandmothers who have been raising their orphaned grandchildren. And it goes on. I met a couple of the widows today, along with one of the wonderful volunteers, and I bought this bag.
I have some minor reservations – they are not really objections and I can’t really stand by them as I am as guilty as the next customer. You see, the bags were originally made ENTIRELY from recycled carrier bags. The market for the eco-friendly, ‘uglier’ bags is somewhat limited, so they use a greater amount of purchased plastic now, to accommodate customers’ needs. My bag contains some recycled supermarket bags, but more of the material was crocheted from purchased plastic. It is a moral dilemma; I wanted to help by buying a bag, but I wanted one that I would be likely to use regularly and not just leave it sitting in the wardrobe. However the reason I liked the project so much from word go, is that they were recycling. As I mentioned, there is no real infrastructure here to deal with the extent of household waste, recycling and the sheer quantity of plastic and glass that the recent development of Lusaka has clearly created. Many people burn their rubbish: of course glass and tins do not burn away, and plastic burns but smells awful and releases goodness knows what quantity of toxins into the air.
So – by now buying their plastic instead of recycling used bags, are the widows of Chikumbuso becoming part of the problem, instead of going some way to relieve it? Having said all of that, theirs was not, I don’t think, ever an environmental issue - it was a survival issue. These women and children were destitute: there was no money for food or school; the grandmothers could not work and were struggling to support family members they could not afford. Chikumbuso provides training, work, skills, school, food and love to hundreds of children, widows and grandmothers. Furthermore, the products are really special, individually hand-crafted pieces of art.
Did I mention you can volunteer? Volunteer now
The website mentions their need for teachers. Right now I can’t think of a worthier cause.
I can’t wait to find out more.
See website www.chikumbuso.com for more information.