Zimbabwe: Youth association becomes thriving eco-business

A Clean-up campaign with origins in Mbare Township, a high-density, southern suburb of Harare in Zimbabwe has grown from being the story of a Catholic voluntary youth association into a fully-fledged Start-up business thanks to a local Clean City Franchise. Over 50 locals are now employed.

Every morning the buzz at St Peter Claver Catholic Church in Mbare along Rakajani Street can easily be mistaken for a commercial entity. Every day, more than 50 men and women in branded work-suits assemble religiously to receive their orders before being carried off by 15 branded trucks. At the same time, 40 young people in branded t-shirts armed with clipboards, questionnaires and pens are released into the Mbare community.

It all started in 2015 with 30 youths from two different organisations who came together on World Environment Day. They asked themselves what they could do for their community.

Challenged by their respective spiritual mentors, Fr Isaac Fernandes sj and Fr Brian MacGarry sj, the St Peter Claver Catholic youths and the youths from ‘I Am Mbare,’ a local youth empowerment centre agreed to team-up and tackle the garbage in their society. They resolved that their environmental project would be to clean up Mbare and rid it of its numerous dump-sites littered with all manner of garbage from decaying vegetables, maize husks, plastic and paper.

The clean-up endeavour had to be more than the usual once-in-a-blue-moon campaign. With this in mind, the youths committed to congregating every six weeks to clean their community, one rubbish dump at a time. They settled for ‘Team up 2 Clean up Mbare,’ by which name they are now affectionately known.

The movement grew from just 30 to over 150 youths, comprising both local Mbare youths as well as those from other suburbs. With the numbers on their side, they decided to embark on complimentary projects that would sustain their waste management efforts. In 2017, they decided to build a bin-shed to house skip bins and contain the overflowing waste; and repurpose the largest dumpsite at Matererini into a children’s play centre. Many small children were anyway already playing at this unhealthy site.

Inspired by what the young people were doing, a group of young professionals gatherd around this movement to form a trust that would do the necessary fundraising to see the venture through. With assistance from Jesuits who work in Mbare and many like-minded Non-Governmental entities which include but not limited to Justice for Children Trust, Plan International, The President’s Fund, and Battle of the Chefs, the youths together with the older members of the community constructed the bin-shed and the Matapi-Matererini children’s play Centre in 2017.

After numerous presentations of their concept-note to humanitarian and private sector organisations, the trust received formal partnership commitment from RioZim Foundation at the end of 2018. The Foundation, committed to partnering for sustainable waste management and other community support activities. They began by sponsoring a Mbare census and a mini waste management baseline survey. The aim of the exercise is to have an insight into the socio-economic situation and to understand the community’s attitudes and perceived role in waste management.

In 2019, the trust received a waste collection and recycling franchise offer from ‘Clean City’, Econet’s waste management subsidiary whose main role has been to provide waste collection infrastructure and the technology to run a commercial, domestic refuse collection ventures. ‘Team Up 2 Clean Up Mbare’ is one of several franchisees.

What started as a voluntary youth association has gradually evolved into a Start-up business, thanks to the Clean City Franchise that now employs over 50 locals. As they say, sometimes “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (C.L.)

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