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I thought of crime, but went into trash business instead

By Mactilda Mbenywe | May 31st 2021
A solid waste collector in Obunga slums in Kisumu [Courtesy]

Unemployed youths in Kisumu County are venturing into solid waste management to earn a living.

About 500 youths from Obunga, Nyalenda and Manyatta slums are now gainfully employed from dealing with hazardous solid wastes generated from more than 5,000 households.

Last year, only 300 youths were in the business, but the coronavirus pandemic rendered many jobless and the number of youth in solid waste management has nearly doubled.

The youths collect garbage for a small fee on a daily basis and thus keeping the slums clean while creating jobs created which in turn enhance sanitation leading to reduced infections.   

Peter Okello, formerly in hospitality industry, lost his job five months ago and “life became unbearable. I thought of crime but couldn’t. I chose to earn a living from garbage which was being produced at my neighbourhood,” he narrates adding that he earns Sh20,000 a month which his higher than his previous salary.   

Fighting idleness

Okello joined Phanice Awuor, a diploma in business management graduate and who did not manage to secure any job since leaving Masinde Muliro University in 2016 and now in garbage collection “as I wait for a better job. I cannot stay idle. Because of Coronavirus many are joining the garbage business, a sign that the situation is getting worse” argues Awuor who takes home Sh18,000 each month.

Awuor also runs an Obunga Community Based Organisation(CBO) with about 30 youths and “on a good day, I pay them Sh500  and on a recession they earn Sh300. This has helped them fend for their families.”

The team collects solid wastes from 190 households paying Sh50 each for the service. The waste is sorted after separating those for recycling from organic wastes for making manure.

Fredrick Omondi of Nalanda lost his part time teaching job at a private school but now earns Sh30,000 per month sorting and disposing garbage and he reckons “garbage collection has transformed my life and that of my family” but lack of gloves and other protective gear has been a challenge since “sometimes I am pricked by sharp objects or even exposed to medical wastes forcing me to often get tetanus vaccine.”

Another challenge is stigma and Omondi recalls “there was a time I experienced discrimination. Some people felt like I had lost my mind, but I kept working.”

Conservation and Stewardship director Ken Koyoo says waste collectors are vital in sanitation and with the 200 members of the Kisumu Waste Actors Network (KIWAN) the department has managed to deal with solid wastes, but “inadequate bins, pick up stations and transfer stations have hampered the process of proper wastes, says Koyoo adding that plans are underway to turn organic wastes to fertilizer to boost farm production in the county.


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