The streets of Kampala, Uganda, Summer 2020: Someone buys a can of soda, some tomatoes, or a few eggs. They buy it from a street vendor, in a crowded street among countless market stands. Or perhaps in a side street. Is it daytime? Nighttime? Is it brutally hot or raining outside? How much do they pay? We don’t know. But we know one thing for sure: they carry their goods in a single-use plastic bag. And eventually, that bag is thrown away. Just like thousands and millions of other bags like it.
The people who use these bags are not to blame. They produce only a fraction of the waste an average German or US-American produces. But their infrastructure is underdeveloped, so that trash ends up in ditches by the roadside, in landfills, or in rivers. This pollution causes environmental damage and is simply unpleasant to live with. That is, unless you turn the trash into a resource:
Because out there, among the city life of Kampala, Sylvia Nantongo and her team look at the trash and see an opportunity: They are part of the CBO “Suubi Teen MOPS Uganda”: Young mothers from the slums, who trained together to be soap makers and seamstresses, and who want to use their skills to earn a living. They have a truck deliver a literal ton (1000kg!) of plastic to their door. They use their soap to wash the bags, stack them in flat layers, and iron them together to create sheets of “fabric”, which can be used by the sewing women as material. They have 2 business ideas: rain coats, and mattress covers. And guess who is a lucky recipient of a prototype: I am part of the team who supports them from Germany. And I had visited them twice. So, they make me a long rain coat with a hood and velcrow and everything! How exciting!
Bad Schönborn, Germany, December 6th 2020: I come home from school and finally get to see the coat. I like the design. And given they had none of my measurements, it fits pretty well. They say they used the largest person in their group as the model. Sweet! But alas, it is still too small. Especially the arms. And the material is too thick to wear as a coat. They had put together too many sheets of plastic. 75 small bags and another 20 or so large ones, Sylvia says. They are improving on the fabric as they experiment. But that still leaves me with a unusable coat. However, the trash turned coat is not ready to be trash again: I decided to turn it into a travel backpack! With a lining, side pockets, straps, and everything. Maybe one day, I will travel with it back to Uganda, And they will see what their work has become. I started drawing out a pattern on brown paper, and I found a broken camping mattress to act as padding. Will this work? I don’t know. The sewing machine will need adjustments. I might need to sew it by hand. But it’s worth a try!
You can find out more about Suubi by checking out our website: www.teenmopsuganda.com . Life in Uganda is hard, but there is always an adventure going on, an adventure of hope.