Zawadi Nabunigaba lives in Kabale in Southern Uganda. She is blind but has dedicated the last 4 years of her life to collecting plastic, helping to clean up Uganda's widespread plastic pollution.
On top of the environmental impact, this work has allowed her to earn a livelihood as she receives payment in exchange for the plastic.
Uganda's Plastic Problem
Plastic pollution is a major issue in Uganda as there is a lack of waste management systems, which results in people burning, burying or dumping plastic to dispose of it. This poses a danger to people and the environment.
Alongside the lack of infrastructure, there is also a lack of awareness amongst communities. For example, people are unaware that burning plastic releases dangerous fumes, which is a threat to people's health. Whilst people who have received a good education are aware of this, the mass population has never been taught this.
Furthermore, many people are not aware of the process of recycling and how plastic waste can be given value by turning it into new products.
To help raise awareness about this problem, Eco Brixs recently presented at an exhibition in Kabale, where we highlighted the growing threat of plastic pollution to communities.
At this event, we met Zawadi, an inspirational lady who is working to tackle plastic pollution, despite being blind.
During our stroll to the stadium where the event was held, we met 42-year-old Zawadi Nabunigaba, who was being assisted by a 25-year-old youth, Agaba. Despite being completely blind, Zawadi has four years of experience collecting waste, which has allowed her to pay her rent, food and clothing bills. As Zawadi spoke to us and explained this, she told us how despite her disability, she doesn't want to depend on others. She declared: "Because I am disabled, I never feed on people's mercy."
To earn a livelihood, Zawadi sells the plastic she gathers to a collection site in the local area, which then sells the plastic to a recycling business in Kampala (Uganda's capital). However, she never knew what happened to this plastic or why others would buy it from her. She felt "happy" and "like she belonged" after we talked to her and Agaba about the possibilities of turning plastic waste into new items (Eco-Products) and the environmental benefits of recycling.
During the conversation, we showed her some of our Eco-Products, including a lumber sheet and our Eco-Square bowls.
Alongside collecting plastic, Zawadi also counsels other people with disabilities (PWDs) in her community. She advises them not to go door-to-door begging for money as it's considered bad manners and it can be undignified. Instead, she tells people there are inclusive jobs available (like plastic collection) and these can help support them. Furthermore, she recommends teamwork:
"I am not related to any of these youths who are helping me find my way through the streets, but we work together to make ends meet. They gather the bottles, and I take them and arrange them [so they can be sold for the best price]".
She feels some PWDs downplay the waste collection industry as low-status work, but she feels it is empowering and vital work (especially now she knows about recycling!).
We were honoured to talk with Zawadi who shows what is truly possible with determination and hard work, and thank her for sharing her story with us! This is a wonderful example of one of the many marginalised people in Uganda doing important work to protect the environment and tackle the country's overwhelming plastic problem.