Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Youth in the Move for Change: “Tackling Plastic Waste in The Gambia”

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Plastic bags in yellow, orange, red. Black lids of the coffee to go. White diapers and crystal-clear plastic bottles. A colorful hustle and bustle of plastic where there used to be a vibrant flurry of small fish. We walk across the Manjai-Dippa Kunda Bridge. Where once clean fresh water meandered through the community, greening and enriching the area with valuable water, where children and the elderly could fish from the small river, now floats garbage. We, that is Ablie Gaye and Luisa (“Isatou”) Elleser of the youth and environmental organization Youth in the Move for Change (YMC). Ablie is a co-founder and the president of our young nonprofit organization and Luisa is the coordinator of the current project.

YMC is a grassroots youth organization that has set out with a vision to serve humanity by creating opportunities for the young generation and promoting civilization in the country with a bottom-up approach. Our areas of work are education, public health, environmental protection and gender mainstreaming. The aim is to equip our young people with knowledge and skills that will enable them to return to their respected communities and play an important role in socio-economic development. With our current project, we are addressing the issue of plastic pollution in our communities.

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Plastic, once invented and praised as an effective product material that could be used to improve the problem of fresh water access through plastic bottles in which water could be filled and stored, or medical practices, among other things, is increasingly showing its darker side. The problem: plastic pollution. Plastic waste, unconsciously discarded and inadequately managed, is becoming a pressing environmental problem worldwide and also in our country, The Gambia. We see it everywhere. Basically anywhere you go, plastic waste will be the first things to greet you.  Not just in the Manjai stream, but on every street, every green space, on the beach and even in schoolyards, markets and parks  and private properties. And it is an issue to be tackled as it has a devastating impact on marine and terrestrial life, on our precious mangroves and the associated oyster industry, on the fishing sector, on accelerating climate change and, last but not least, on animal life and human health.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels, i.e. oil and gas, which are finite and environmentally damaging resources as their extraction contributes to the climate change we are experiencing here every year with rising temperatures and increasingly frequent flooding of the River Gambia. The problem with this material is firstly that we consume more than we need and that half of the plastic designed and used is for single use only, meaning. used once and thrown awayAnother problem is that it is not biodegradable, i.e. it does not decompose, but breaks down into very small particles the size of a sesame seed, so-called microparticles, which remain in the sea, penetrate the soil and eventually enter the bodies of animals and our own bodies via the food we grow on the polluted soil and the fish contaminated with microplastics from the sea. Finally, there is the problem of inadequate waste management and pollution of our environment.

People’s attitude towards the environment is very poor, they dispose of their waste on a whim without caring too much or thinking about what consequences their actions will have for the country in the future.

And this is where our project comes into play. Our ongoing initiative addresses the issue of plastic pollution and focuses on raising awareness of the problem, highlighting people’s responsibility and empowering them to make positive changes in their daily lives and contribute to a more sustainable future. We are also reaching out to different stakeholders to engage them in terms of joint cooperation, technical and financial support and in particular to put pressure on governments at different levels, i.e. local authorities such as city councils as well as the respective ministries and government officials to create and enforce existing measures.

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At a national level, there are indeed various policies that theoretically address the issue of waste and plastic waste in particular. There is the National Environmental Management Act of 1994, which provides a framework for environmental standards and also covers waste management practices. We have the Waste Management Act of 2007, an Anti-Littering Ordinance of 2008 that prohibits indiscriminate littering and makes it a public offense, and provides for a nationwide monthly clean-up campaign. And finally, in 2015, a ban on the sale, import and use of plastic bags was enacted and a contract was awarded to private companies.

But what good are all these measures if people, including authorities, police officers, public figures and every individual, turn a blind eye when waste is thrown out of the Gelli Gelli at random or mountains of garbage are simply burnt, accompanied by dark gray clouds of smoke that damage the environment and our lungs? Or in other words: What good is the law if it is not enforced?

Then it simply becomes empty words. And that is exactly what we are experiencing with the current policy. Another reason for us to put pressure on the authorities. Another reason for us to educate the public and empower them to take positive action on an individual and community level.

Our project “tackling Plastic Waste in The Gambia”, whose main objective is to raise awareness and ultimately reduce plastic pollution, has four main components: Firstly, interactive school workshops where we visit eight different schools in our four target communities of Sanchaba Sulay Jobe, Keirr Serign, Bijilo and Kololi, give theoretical inputs on plastic change with a special focus on The Gambia and the role of the individual, conduct interactive discussions and group work and conclude with a joint clean-up of the schoolyards and surrounding areas. Secondly, our outreach work where we conduct door-to-door campaigns and workshops in the communities to educate and raise awareness about plastic pollution. Third, together with community members, we conduct clean-up campaigns in public places, parks, beaches and the aforementioned river in the four target communities, involving as many people as possible, helping not only to clean up and improve the aesthetics, environment and microclimate of the area, but also to further raise awareness among community members. And finally, fourthly, our media work, involving private and state television stations, radio stations and newspapers like the one you are reading right now, and publishing posts on social media.

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We all bear our own responsibility. Both as government representatives and single one of us in the community. This issue is closely linked to so many other environmental, economic, social and political issues and as such needs to be addressed holistically and at different levels. But we as a grassroots organization believe in change from the ground up. We believe in the power of the individual as a positive changemaker. We believe in the ability of each and every one of us to act. Together, we can help shape a greener, more beautiful, healthier and more sustainable future.

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