In the U.S., most communities have trash and recycling services that help us deal with waste. But what if there were no such services? Imagine the piles of trash that would accumulate. This is exactly the situation in Gambia, Africa. But Isatou Ceesay sees solutions where others see only problems.
- Isatou was born in 1972 in a small village in Gambia.
- As a child and teenager, she used woven baskets to carry goods to and from the market. When her basket broke, she picked up a plastic bag and began to use it. She liked how strong and light it was.
- Other people in Gambia saw the same benefits in plastic bags. Soon, people began using the bags by the thousands. The problem was that they didn’t reuse the bags. They simply threw them on the ground. In Africa, women throw the family’s trash behind their homes so plastic bags often went there too.
- Soon the bags began to cause problems. During rainy weather, the bags filled with water, attracting mosquitoes which spread disease. Goats and other livestock ate the bags and died. The plastic bags were a hazard to small children and they made the landscape unsightly. When families burned the plastic bags for warmth and cooking, they breathed in the toxic fumes released by the burning plastic.
- Isatou had an idea. What if the plastic bags could be used to weave useful products, such as purses, balls, or wallets? She figured out a way to cut the plastic bags into one long strip that could be woven.
- At that time, women in Gambia were not allowed to work. They were expected to take care of the home and family. At first, Isatou worked in secret. Slowly, she began sharing her work with other women who joined her.
- The women’s efforts benefitted their families in several ways. They were able to sell their products, bringing much-needed money home, and they reduced the plastic waste.
- Isatou started the organization, the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group. More than 100 women participate in the organization. They gather waste and bring it to a central location to be used by everyone.
Questions and Answers
Question: How can I help?
Answer: Isatou says that when we abuse the environment, we are really abusing ourselves. You can help by learning about recycling and trying to reduce the waste your family creates.
Watch a video about Isatou. You can also read a book about her.
Junk Yard Symphony