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Gwarinpa: Abuja ghetto where residents exchange waste for food items

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By Luminous Jannamike

Beside the extravagant mansions, the beautiful road network, and the metropolitan look of Gwarinpa District in Abuja lies a local community of natives and other residents who live in abject poverty and face severe deprivation of basic amenities.

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This slum section of the Gwarinpa District is smaller than the highbrow locations in terms of landmass but it is denser in population, its environment is more polluted, and the people in the ghetto live closely knit together and share similar outlook in life.

They agree that the level of environmental pollution in the neighborhood is alarming, and also know that the District, which hosts the largest housing estate in West Africa, possesses a very weak waste management system.

An every day sight in some parts of Gwarinpa used to be individuals dumping wastes on bare ground or into make shift receptacles that fill up in less than 24 hrs. The overflow litter the streets and create filthy environmental conditions.

In spite of the odds against that frustrate their daily struggles, the residents of Gwarinpa slum have come up with an initiative to harness the fortune in their environmental misfortune and solve real life socioeconomic problems for themselves.

The initiative tagged ‘Waste to Chop’, was fashioned last year in a hairdressing by two women. They are Ms. Adiza Ujo, an environmental activist, and Ms. Margaret Baffoe, a Ghanaian hair stylist, who resides with her family of eight in a two-room slum apartment in Gwarinpa village.

The initiative is such that residents of the district can collect wastes in the environment and simply exchange them for food items, toiletries, snacks and drinks, clothes and soccer kits in a shop without cash.

A recycling company comes around the ghetto, pays for the collected and wastes, the women restock the shop with household items the people are demanding.

Speaking on how they came about the waste-to-chop initiative, Ms Ujo told Saturday Vanguard: “I make my hair at Margaret’s shop. So, as friends, we discovered that so many people were going to bed hungry in Gwarinpa village because they cannot afford food ingredients that cost as low as N50. Some families drink water and they go to sleep.

“We also realised that there is value in what people throw away that pollutes our environment. So, we started this initiative with funds that were given to us by a goodhearted organization. We set up a little shop where people can collect wastes in the community and bring them here to exchange for food and other basic necessities.”

A female resident, Mrs Amina a.k.a Mama Khalid, told Saturday Vanguard that in the beginning, some members of the community considered the move ‘crazy’ despite its apparent simplicity and practicality.

“When we started in 2018, it was a very small enterprise and some people were calling our children who go about collecting wastes to exchange for food all sort of bad names.

“But, we told them that we will persevere and continue to do so even when it becomes very successful. Today, almost everyone in our community has keyed into the initiative,” she said.

One of the leading waste collectors, Segun Joseph, 14 yrs-old teenager, told our correspondent that he has exchanged wastes for packs of spaghetti, noodles, yoghurt and cocoa pops in the last two weeks.

According to him, he usually redeems the food items after collecting a certain number of plastics cans as well as gathering a certain mass of waste nylon bags.

Deputy German Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Regina Hess, who herself is a visiting waste collector in the community but gives her redeemable items to charity, speaking in a chat with Saturday Vanguard, advised residents of other communities across the country to adopt a similar strategy.

Another top diplomat who has keyed into the initiative, Mr. Pham Anh Than, the Vietnamese Ambassador to Nigeria, said he supports the Waste-to-Chop team, because of the subconscious influence their activities exert on children who, he said, are imbibing the habits of sanitation and enterprise through their participation in the waste collection process.

“Children are the future of every nation. The Waste-to-Chop idea, as simple as it is appears, teaches the child how to keep the environment clean. It also shapes their habits now that they are still very young to identify and remove plastic wastes from streets, water channels, and drainages when they see them,” he told our correspondent.

While Mrs Margaret Baffoe and her Ghanaian husband, KingsFord, operators of the shop, were shy and self-effacing when Saturday Vanguard visited them in Gwarinpa, Ms Adiza Ujo, spoke excitedly about the work they do; highlighting the benefits the initiative has brought the ghetto people.

“If you knew this environment before now, you would agree that it was really polluted but the kids have been hard at work in sanitising the environment, removing all the recyclables, and educating their neighbours.

“This initiative solves a number of social problems. It addresses the issue of poverty and hunger. It is also creates jobs. We are moving into other communities where people just lazy about without any work. Individuals can start up similar Waste-to-Chop shops to be able to feed themselves and their children.

“Plastic pollution is a problem and Nigeria is still in the midst of the ugly situation. Communities can contribute to solving that problem through this initiative. We’re empowering women and families as well,” she said.

Ms. Ujo, who runs an NGO (Stewards of the Environment for Sustainable Change Initiative), added that since the initiative went full blast two weeks ago, the team have removed over 200 Kg of plastic wastes.

“By the time the recycling companies come to buy the wastes come to in a day or two, we would have succeeded in clearing over two tonnes of plastics and nylon bags in 16 days,” she added.

On government’s in the activities of the Waste-to-Chop team; The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB)’s Supervisor Head of Monitoring and Enforcement, Mr. Kaka Bello, said that the environmental protection board is aware of the activities of the team and also working to provide regulation and technical assistance for the protection of Abuja’s biodiversity.

“The Board is ever ready to assist such environmental groups. Anytime they seek AEPB’s assistance through the Chief Executive Officer, such technical support is delivered free of charge to them,” he told our correspondent.

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