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Top honours for garbage collector

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Early this month, Isaac Mutisya Muasa, popularly known as Kaka unmistakable voice reverberated across the conference hall at the United Nations offices. He was accepting a UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour award, for his contribution in solid waste management.

 The Scroll of Honour Award is one of the world’s most prestigious awards presented to those working on urbanisation. It focuses on initiatives of outstanding contributions in the field of developing and improving urban lives, provision of housing and highlighting the plight of the poor or displaced, ensuring no one is left behind.

  Kaka was awarded for harnessing the potential of disadvantaged youth and inspiring community-wide involvement in solid waste management.

 Born and raised in Mathare, one of Kenya’s largest slums, Kaka, 34, alongside some of his friends from his football team, formed one of the earliest community-based youth groups – Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG) and began collecting rubbish door-to-door for a fee and clearing piles of waste.

 “The group started as a self-help group with around 26 members. What motivated us was the high-level of unemployment and also lack of clear way of waste disposal. The two contributed to high-levels of crime in the area and we were worried,” he says.

President Uhuru Kenyatta presented Muasa with the award. He was lauded for bringing together disadvantaged youth and inspiring them to do something to change their community. Photo/Milliam Murigi

Though he accepts that before he never used to care how the family was disposing of their waste, he once passed near a dumpsite  and this opened his eyes to the damage people were doing to the environment.

The place on which he used to play football when he was young had been turned into a dumpsite. He vowed to do something to reclaim the space.

 “We used to throw our garbage anywhere. Not even public spaces were spared and that is how we ended up with a dumpsite. My encounter with that dumpsite made me realise that something needed to be done to correct the trend before it runs out of control. This was back in 1997,” he says.

 So one day when they went for their normal football exercises, he shared his idea with the rest of the team and after the game they had a normal meeting, but that day they discussed about how they could reclaim the land. Since the field they were using was a bit far, the idea was easy to sell.

They  reclaimed the land and turned it into a football pitch to discourage people from dumping garbage there. However, they realised that reclaiming the space without involving the community would take a lot of time because community members didn’t know any other way of disposing of their waste. Because of this, they decided to start collecting the waste for Sh10 per week.

“We realised that if we reclaim the land without giving a clear waste disposal process, we will be doing nothing because people will not have somewhere to take their garbage and they will be forced to dispose of the waste inappropriate,” he says.

He reveals that to sell the idea of collecting waste at a fee was not easy and in every 10 houses they visited two households resisted.

At first, around 500 houses accepted to be disposing their waste and the money they paid was used to buy trash bags, pay employees and cater for transportation cost since they were hiring a vehicle to transport the waste to the main dumpsite in Dandora.

And to ensure that no more garbage landed into the dumpsite, the group used to guard the place day and night and this scared those who had resisted and were forced to comply. They also partnered with the area chief, city council, tenants and landlords to ensure that all residents complied.

He reveals that it took them around five years for the programme to succeed before other groups started venturing into this sector. Apart from solid waste management this Community Based Organisation has also managed to clear  the dumpsite and put up a football pitch dubbed “Slum Soccer” as well as construct a One Stop Youth Centre with the help of UN-Habitat‘s Youth and Livelihoods Programme.

The facilities serve young people in the slum as a recreational and ICT Innovation centre which has 12 computers.

“Apart from that. the CBO, which has 61 employees, has been working with a geospatial mapping organisation to create the first comprehensive map of Mathare,”says the father of two.

Currently, the group is collecting waste from more than 2,000 households and they have harmonised their charges to Sh150 a month.

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