Dumping on Colorado

Sunday, January 27, 2013 - 21:23

I thought these cameras were just gadgets to play with until today,

one woman remarked when we had just finished reviewing a photo display and a video with the group. 

But now I understand what we can do with them.

The women, from Mwakirunge, a poor area of Kenya close to Mombasa, have been taking part in the Unpaid Care Work programme – intended to bring to the fore the huge burden of work that women undertake that underpins the basic functioning of societies, unrewarded and mostly unacknowledged.

The women have filled time diaries and seasonal calendars to analyse how their time is spent. However, you need nothing more than your nose to understand the big issue for the women in the Colorado community. More wild east than wild west, but wild all the same – Mombasa municipality decided to dump its waste, including toxic industrial waste, in the middle of their community.

To some it represented an opportunity – there’s valuable scrap to be scavenged from the waste, and in a poor community that has had little rain in the last year it’s worth sorting through the waste from maize mills and food scraps to see what can be salvaged.

But it has had corrosive impacts – not only the acid burns suffered by adults and children, and the respiratory diseases that have broken out, but also children dropping out of school to earn a few shillings in this foul environment.

Worse still, the pickings have attracted gangs from outside with harassment and rape of women and girls as well as factional disputes resulting in machete attacks and deaths. Even the maize husks are no longer a communal resource but a tightly controlled commodity.

The women have been protesting since the dump first started, but the time diaries and seasonal calendars they filled in confirmed that more and more of their time is taken up in dealing with the consequences – looking after sick children and elderly, having to run errands that they would have sent children on before the insecurity arrived.

The Unpaid Care Work programme also provided them with a way to make their protests more effective – simple cameras that they can use to record stills and video.

This week I have been working with them to shape some useful communications, like pictures printed on a portable printer that they have selected to show to all the surrounding villages. It's hoped that these photos will help to persuade local people to prevent their children from skipping school to scavange.

They're also putting together a video to send to the authorities who have been reluctant to meet them to discuss all the broken promises that were made before the waste dump started.