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Kenyan filmmaker tells pollution story through documentary

Moved by the effects of littering on the sea, Alan Oyugi has created a documentary on the effects of plastic waste on beachfront and marine life

Faith Gachobe @wangechigachobe

Not many people understand conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men. This is a truism Alan Oyugi, born and raised in Nairobi, discovered early in life.

The last born in a family of five came from a highly artistic family background and so art was encouraged in their home, unlike in the typical Kenyan family in the 70s and 80s. Having grown up in such an environment, the single dad to two teenage boys, went ahead and studied to become a graphic designer. However, Alan never pursued that line.

Instead, he concentrated on fine art, which he still does to date. Meanwhile, his love for nature and the environment always compelled him to engage in conservation activities. Alan particularly loved the ocean and its white sandy beaches, which are perhaps some of the best in the world. Sadly, Alan realised that they are highly threatened by human activities.

The one biggest threat that he observed is ocean litter in the form of plastics. This was his biggest inspiration to making a documentary called Plastics are Forever. Alan thought it would be important to bring this issue to the attention of Kenyans and the world at large. When the chance came in the form of a grant from Aga Khan University and Sitka Foundation, Alan did not hesitate.

Last month, Environmental experts and stakeholders in government and private sector convened at The Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC) and together, spoke in one voice to call for the recycling of plastic wastes and the need to free marine life.

They also looked at solutions that could possibly be adopted as part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations – which also target the prevention and ultimate reduction of marine pollution.

During the panel discussions, which also addressed the current state of plastic pollution in Kenya; the effect of the plastic bag ban on the environment and the future plans to recycle other plastic waste by government, industry and civil society, GSMC premiered the documentary that was produced by Alan themed Plastics are Forever.

The documentary examines how flip flops, plastic bottles and nets clutter Kenya’s white sand beaches. It also features local efforts to recycle plastic waste and free ensnared marine life. The documentary, which also opened the second season for the university’s documentary series Giving Nature a Voice, was scheduled to begin broadcast last Sunday.

One of the biggest challenges that Alan faced while filming was visiting the dumping sites and witnessing the desperation of those living in the area. Some had diseases caused by the unsanitary conditions, to hazards like methane flares that cause severe burns. Some people would even consume food that was long discarded. “This left a deep cut in my spirit.

Yet despite all this, these so called scavengers welcomed us and we had lively conversations and interactions,” recalls Alan. The documentary backs the recent ban by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources initiative on the ban of plastic bags.

This, as Alan hopes will contribute greatly to the efforts to protect our rivers and ocean while helping prevent flooding caused by clogged drainages in towns in the Kenya.

Andrew Tkach, the Director, Environmental Reporting Programme at GMSC and the Executive Producer of Giving Nature a Voice worked closely with Alan in his cause to help preserve this delicate future that is ultimately humanity and during the screening of plastics are forever.

In the near future, Alan hopes to do more environmental stories as he believes we are the custodians of the earth for our children’s sake. For Alan to be able to cover as many social and environmental issues as possible, he is well aware that high quality film production comes at a high premium.

Alan looks forward to the day film makers will get as much support as possible from both the public and the private sources to be able to make such documentaries a reality. Alan has always been positive that as far as the skills are concerned, Kenyan film makers are just as good as any others around the world.

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