Strawbags - Money from old plastic

Helping People, Helping the Planet

"At least I have my health” – a joke said for hard times in the US and Europe. In Uganda health is not so much a personal description of well-being but a day to day concern that requires nutrition, the time to visit the over-crowded and under-resourced government facility, or money to visit a non-government clinic. For women living in the Kinawataka village in Kampala, Benedicta Nabingi saw her retirement from over 20 years of public sector work as the start of her challenges.

Benedicta and other retirees have looked at their households and watched the large houses being built around them, the city’s roads getting busier and new shopping centres built; covered with adverts for designer clothes, mobile phone companies and new types of soda drink. Around the village the green hills of Kampala are testimony to the rains that allow the countryside to feed a rapidly growing population – but in the urban areas the ‘shambas’ for growing food are being taken for roads and kiosks to sell phones, beer and soft drinks. The waste from these kiosks include plastic drinking straws and disposable ‘kavera’ or bags. These bags are so thin and weak that they are used once, become the night-soil and then fill the waterways. The abundant rains then come, the waterways are blocked, the paths fill up and the basic households with marginal nutrition are at risk from all the diseases of poor sanitation. Worse still, the urban setting means the government health unit is far away and over-crowded.

Kinawataka Women’s Initiatives (www.kwiuganda.org/showroom) took all these features of urban life and developed a solution to discarded plastic bags, reducing the landfill needs of waste plastic drinking straws, allowing women to develop a skill, earning an income and supporting not only their own children and household but the orphans from HIV and internal displacement….Weave the drinking straws into bags.

One of the new members, we shall call her Jane, says: “I can sit here for the day with my baby next to me. I flatten the straws which we washed yesterday. I then weave a long strip of straws and I can choose to make the strip into a bag tomorrow or sell the strip to the Kinawataka group today and I receive enough money to buy eight meals”. And how does this compare to growing vegetables in the shamba and selling them to neighbours? “If I grow something to sell, I can lose that thing when it goes soft or if there are other people selling the same thing – I lose my stock and all my effort. With the straws, there a hundreds of them, they don’t go bad and my work has value today or next week. I will learn how to join the strips into a whole bag and can sell it for enough to buy 25 meals. My friends make three bags a day”. Kinawataka is working with Hope Clinic Lukuli to train more women so that they have the money for food and healthcare

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