The late Prof. Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Greenbelt Movement dedicated to planting trees across Kenya and alleviating poverty, was an environmentalist best known for doing what was right, whether alone or with a group. One of her most famous quotes is, “I will be a hummingbird; I will do the best I can” -Prof. Wangari Maathai.

She inspired environmental action, urging residents never to tire of playing their part, however small, in environmental activities within their communities. Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her brave contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace in Kenya.

By the same token, we recognize the modern-day environmental champions who paint a small stroke in the big picture, making our world more habitable for us and future generations. We call it the #HummingbirdChallenge, and the contributors are our social role models as we continue to build our community of good practices.

The Mtopanga River Conservation Community Based Organization (C.B.O) is today’s social role model for its initiative to clean its main river, River Motopanga, which stretches along its community settlement. The river has been in a poor state because of human activities that lead to poor waste management, encroachment, and release of effluent wastes from the industrial sector.

Picture of River Mtopanga in 2019: Courtesy of Mtopanga River Conservation (C.B.O) website

Located in the hilly section of Kisauni and stretching to Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach, AKA’ Pirates,’ River Mtopanga is the main river in Mombasa County’s mainland North. The river stretches over about 8 km and could be a long-lasting solution to the ongoing shortage of water in Mombasa if properly cleaned and rehabilitated.

Therefore, the youth living in settlements along the river took it upon themselves to clean the river and repurpose the plastic waste they collect around it. Peter Mchombo and four other Mtopanga residents started the CBO in 2019 to repurpose the plastic waste they collect in and along the river.

The youth group makes functional items requiring little to no energy or machinery but creativity and hand-crafting skills. One ingenious way they reuse plastic is by making and selling usable boats that they say can seat four people.

One of Mtopanga River Conservation CBO’s boats made entirely out of plastic bottles

These boats are mostly used by fishermen and other community members for casual use and by tourists looking for a fun experience with a touch of innovation. Of course, because they lack advanced safety features, they cannot be used in the deeper parts of the ocean.

These boats not only help to keep plastics away from the river but also serve multiple environmental conservation functions. “These boats also help prevent the cutting down of trees to make fishing boats,” says Peter. Alternative materials to help solve Kenya’s ongoing problematic plastic menace are a welcomed solution. The youth group also makes dustbins and coconut husks to replace plastic seedling bags and other household items that help keep plastic waste off the river.

Kenya hopes to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030. This goal seeks to ensure that everyone has access to clean, safe water and sanitation as it is a human right. Between 2015 to 2022, we have had an increase from 69% to 73% of people who now have access to clean water. According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ roadmap, one of the ways to move closer to achieving this goal is by restoring water-related eco systems.

However small their effort, the Mtopanga River CBO is doing its part in eco-system restoration, repurposing plastic waste, and creating alternative packaging material. They can be an excellent social role model for other community groups.

These simple activities are the tiny strokes that paint the big picture, that is, the circular economy. The seemingly minimal efforts we make every day towards preserving our environment can ultimately contribute to more significant outcomes; call that the #HummingbirdChallenge.

Watch Peter Mchombo talk about their innovative environmental initiative.

By Absalom Mulama; Communications Assistant, SIB-K

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