How WasteAid's Widening the Net campaign is helping invest in recycling methods in Cameroon

Written by: Zoë Lenkiewicz | Published:

WasteAid has launched its first major public fundraising campaign, Widening the Net.

Benefitting from UK aid match, the appeal is raising money to invest in recycling livelihoods in the Cameroonian city of Douala.

Cameroon, on the Gulf of Guinea, is a central African country of diverse ecology and wildlife. Its biggest city is the seaport of Douala, with many of its 2.5 million population living under the poverty line (USD $1.90 per day). It lies on the vast estuary of the Wouri river with mangrove forests that act as a buffer zone to the worst storms, an economically vital fishery, and a variety of wildlife including the African manatee (sea cow) making it a historic ecotourism hotspot. Its tropical monsoon climate means riverbeds can be dry for half the year followed by deluges of rainwater flooding out to sea in the summer months.

With no formal waste management in the city, people have little option other than to burn or dump their rubbish. Since dry riverbeds effectively serve as common land in the crowded city, they also act as informal dumpsites until the monsoon arrives, washing mostly plastic waste straight out in to the Wouri estuary and the Atlantic Ocean.

For a number of years, WasteAid has benefitted from the plastics recycling expertise of Pierre Kamsouloum, a Cameroonian who knows first-hand the damage that unmanaged waste can do.

Kamsouloum was not born into a life of good fortune. When he was young, he lived on a rubbish dump scavenging for recyclable materials to survive. He had just one set of clothes that he would wash at night, and no prospects of a brighter future. Like most boys across the world, Pierre was a football fanatic and national heroes like Roger Milla offered some light and hope in the darkest days. Of course Kamsouloum had no money for a football, but being pragmatic he would fashion his own by melting plastic bags into a ball.

As a teenager, Kamsouloum experimented further by mixing melted plastic with sand to form a very tough and durable material, not dissimilar to set tarmac. He found that with a simple mould he could make a block that was tough and almost unbreakable, and from here he eventually grew a small business employing his peers and supplying a certified building product to the Cameroonian market.

Kamsouloum has a passion not just for turning waste into wealth, but for helping the most disadvantaged people – particularly unemployed youths, marginalised women and people with disabilities – to take control of their lives and work their way out of poverty.

He joined the WasteAid team in 2016 and since then has delivered training programmes to diverse communities across west Africa.

Kamsouloum’s story resonates with people. He emphasises that if he could transform his life from one of disadvantage, then others can too. This is not an average recycling trainer – this is someone who has grit, determination, and the motivation to keep going despite the odds being firmly stacked against him.

WasteAid’s Widening the Net appeal is seeking to raise £100,000, which when doubled by UK government through its aid match programme will be enough to build a WasteAid plastics recycling training centre in Douala, serving as a base for Kamsouloum.

Once constructed, the centre will be used to train some 300 people in the first two years alone. The economic, social and environmental impacts of this in a city like Douala cannot be underestimated, as a new generation learns that the value in plastic waste can be recovered through simple low-tech processes.

By capturing ocean-bound plastic and turning it into paving tiles and other useful products, people will be empowered to support themselves in the long-term. Trainees will create green jobs, keep the environment healthy and prevent marine plastic pollution.

The WasteAid training programme will enable people living in poverty to become self-sufficient and to create a cleaner living environment for future generations.

  • £10 doubled could provide training for a family to manage their waste in a safe and sustainable way.
  • £55 doubled could pay for all the safety equipment a new apprentice needs to set up a recycling business.
  • £90 doubled could train someone to capture and recycle 2.5 tonnes of ocean-bound plastic per year.

How do we know it works? Kamsouloum and the WasteAid team are currently running a plastics recycling training programme in the coastal village of Gunjur in the Gambia, Africa’s smallest and most westerly country. Within two months of the first class of 30 graduating, they had kept a million plastic bags from being burned or dumped in the ocean. They recently installed paving for their first customer, and the future is looking brighter.

Zoë Lenkiewicz is head of programmes and engagement at WasteAid.

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