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Mazingira Safi: Making Nairobi clean again

Saturday July 2 2016

Purity Wanjohi is the founder Mazingira Safi Initiative, a community-based organisation that cleans up the city through volunteers. PHOTO | COURTESY

Purity Wanjohi is the founder Mazingira Safi Initiative, a community-based organisation that cleans up the city through volunteers. PHOTO | COURTESY 

JOAN THATIAH
By JOAN THATIAH
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“I have an undergraduate degree in microbiology and biotechnology. I was set for a career in the health care or pharmaceutical industry. Then just before graduation, I took up a part-time job as a waitress at a restaurant. While here, I got to meet an interesting breed of people. People who seemed utterly content with their lives and happy with their jobs. I knew that the path my degree was taking me towards would not make me happy, so I quit the waitressing job and took some time to do some soul-searching. It opened my eyes to just how dirty Nairobi was, so I immediately registered my foundation and went back to school for a master’s in environmental planning and management to get the skills I needed.

“It has been three years now and my team of four and I have done 25 environmental clean-ups in Nairobi. Every day is another chance to reduce littering and promote better waste management. My programme is community-based.

TANGIBLE RESULTS

“I am up at 6am every morning to do the house chores before setting out for work. I spend most of my days in meetings trying to talk people round to partnering with me in my initiative. In three years, I have recruited 2, 000 volunteers. The youngest volunteer is 16 and the oldest, 40. The most fulfilling part is knowing that in addition to cleaning the environment, I am helping clean up their minds. I source most of the volunteers on social media.

“It is impossible to think of an environmentally-conscious generation without thinking about the children. So I visit primary schools every so often to have environmental awareness talks with the pupils. Some days, we plant flowers around the school and have pupils adopt them.

“The greatest challenge has been changing the “tunaomba serikali” mentality, where Kenyans absolve themselves from taking responsibility for anything, and instead expect the government to do everything. Yes, the government has its role, but putting up litter bins is not enough. Citizens have to understand the role they play in keeping the environment clean. Getting people to fund the project is also a problem because the results are not tangible, yet most people prefer to contribute to causes where the results are physically tangible.

“There are days that what I am doing feels insignificant. Reminding myself that it is actually important even when I can’t see the results, is what keeps me going. Eventually I want to go beyond litter. I want to go into people’s homes and talk to them about proper waste management. Other than having a clean environment, my ultimate goal is to give people jobs.

“When I am not working, I like to watch sport documentaries. They tell very interesting stories of struggles and triumphs. They also teach the value of hard work.”

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