In Togo, I’ve had to slightly suppress my pro-environment personality. You’d think it would be the opposite, being in Africa and all. But trash on the ground of every corner, deforestation near villages, and trash burning says otherwise.
There aren’t recycle bins in offices separating plastics from paper. There aren’t really trash bins at all throughout most villages and small towns. After almost 20 months, it’s no surprise to me when someone throws his trash on the ground wherever and whenever he pleases. And admittedly, I’ve done it too a bit—though I aim for the already-started trash piles.
For years I separated glass bottles, plastic and paper. I also composted and never burned my trash. So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to change such a lifestyle in Togo—a country where the concept of reusable bags has yet to reach the masses.
Even though respecting and protecting the environment is at the bottom of the must-do checklist, Togolese are learning. And PCVs educate them.
Since purified water is scarce, in addition to bleaching and filtering, people buy small bags filled with water (500ml) for 25CFA (approximately $0.05). Volunteers and locals call them "pure water sachets" and they are a bargain. Nevertheless when someone drinks a small bag of water, a question surfaces: What does one do with the leftover bag? The answer: Bags are often tossed on the ground with everything else, adding to pollution.
Thankfully, an organization called Zameke found a solution. They collect the pure water sachets, wash them, dry them, and reuse them. Following the well-known “REDUCE RECYCLE REUSE”, they’ve made wallets, purses, school bags, trashcans and pencil holders out of these bags. Phenomenal! This organization, however, exists in Lomé, 12 hours from the northern-most capital. Additionally, there’s no office or store that sells its merchandise in Dapaong.
Soon I hope that will change.
I just started to work with my site-mate’s work partner (who is an upholster) and we plan to make several wallets and bags for students in Dapaong. We’ve been practicing with pure water sachets I collected since I moved to post, which amounted to more than 250. But I knew it wasn’t enough to start. So I created a little competition with elementary students in my art class. Last week I told them a prize would be given to the top five students to bring me old pure water sachets from the streets of Dapaong. Today, they made my day. Several kids handed me large bags filled with pure water sachets!!! One student who forgot her bag of sachets even cried and begged for me to give her a chance to retrieve it from her house. It was priceless.
With a bit of luck and hard work, this project will go well and students will purchase these bags for about 200CFA (less than $0.41). The purpose of this project isn’t to increase income, but to reduce waste and make the streets of Dapaong a bit greener.
We’ll soon see. But for now, it’s time for me to start counting for I have prizes to pass out.
Until next time…
PS – I counted. 980 sachets. Today.