“The work at the dumpsites is very dangerous, and women often have to bring their children”

Simone Edgren works as an international VSO volunteer at the From Waste to Work project in Kenya. The project is funded by IKEA Foundation and it is targeting 3900 youth active in the waste sector, in slum areas in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. 

“The project is supporting youth – ‘green entrepreneurs’, in the waste sector to earn a sustainable income out of the waste, and at the same time they are making a heroic contribution for the environment. 

In short, the project is training the youth in life skills, financial literacy, waste management, and entrepreneurship. We also support them with linkages to the market so that they can sell their waste. It started in May this year and we have already witnessed wonderful achievements in the groups. Both on personal levels for the group members and also positive improvements for the groups. 

“Poor waste management is a huge problem in Kenya” 

Poor waste management and lack of awareness about waste is a huge problem in Kenya. In the slums the waste is often thrown outside the homes or on informal dumpsites and the waste from the cities goes unsorted to the dumpsites. The work at the dumpsites is very dangerous for waste pickers, it’s toxic with chemicals, hazardous objects etc. Women and children are extra vulnerable. Women often have to bring their children, since they can’t afford childcare and school fees. They also have to deal with harassments, and they often get chased away by cartels, who claim that they own the waste and the area. 

It has been wonderful to see what effect these trainings have had so far. Many of the participants have told me that they now know what waste they can sell and also that they have learnt how to save money. Their self-esteem has improved as well. Before the trainings they fell that they were looked down upon by their community. For those who have been part of the project for a while now there has been a great shift. They earn some money, and they feel that they are doing something important for the environment. I also believe that the attention they get from VSO shows their community that these groups are important and valuable and that there is no shame in working with waste – in fact, it’s the opposite. 

It is also lovely to witness how many of the female green entrepreneurs are taking their space in the trainings. They have dreams of starting some small businesses, their goals are realistic, and I believe that these dreams help to motivate them to save some money. But for now it is all about putting food on the table for most of them. 

Some of the women I talked to said that the men in their group had transformed after the “Life skills training” which is much about how to treat each other regardless of gender. They now treat the women as equals, and with more respect. 

I am proud of being a part of this project. It is well planned, effective and well performed, in a challenging environment, and the people working in the project are amazing. 

And I am very impressed by the national volunteers, who conduct most of the trainings. They are very professional and committed. They are skilled in understanding the context and to communicate on a good level. Also, they make everyone feel seen and they encourage the participants to interact in the trainings. They are still young and some of them come from challenging backgrounds, but it’s like they have decades of experience.” 

Read more on the From Waste to Work project.