ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
IT MAY be one of the most unattractive sources of income, but scavenging through garbage has provided Gershom Kafuti and his family a livelihood.Mr Kafuti, 38-year-old father of five is a waste-picker. He has been for over 10 years.
He lives with his wife Ruth Phiri and their children in Chawama township, near the Patuka dumpsite.
The site is one of the largest in the area, which receives close to 10 trucks of garbage a day.
It is at Patuka that Mr Kafuti, along with several other waste-pickers, linger around for trucks that deliver garbage. They search through mounts of rubbish for recyclables such as bottles, cans, newspapers, plastics, metals and card boxes.
After scavenging on the dumpsite for years, Mr Kafuti declared himself as the manager of the site and employed about 17 young men to help him pick recyclable waste.
“I pay the boys K10 per 50 kilogrammes, they help me pick plastic bottles and other refuses that I sell at recycling companies,” he explained.
He says while some waste-pickers especially those specialised in metals, choose to move through the streets to collect recyclables, while others still pick trash straight from bins but he chooses to collect from the dumpsite, where he cleans them, organises them, and then sells them to companies.
“I have been in this business for a very long time and I make a lot of money from it, I have tried working for other people but I always come back to the dumpsite,” Mr Kafuti explained.
The more reason why he finds scavenging profitable is that he has built strong relationships with recycling companies. He says, he deals with companies like Wonderful World, Golden Sacks, Poly Packers and Jahg-jahg a Chinese company.
Apart from these companies, Mr Kafuti is also a member of the Manja Pamodzi project that is currently co-funded by the Millennium Challenge Account Zambia and is supported by Lusaka City Council and the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA).
Manja Pamodzi is an initiative by Zambian Breweries and Heinrich’s Syndicate.
The aim of the environmental clean-up and recycling project is to minimise litter that can block drainage system and give rise to diseases such as cholera and typhoid, especially during the rainy season.
Apart from giving people a sense of worth, a spirit of hope, and a future to look forward to, the project is generating enterprise development opportunities for many and thus alleviating poverty.
Through the initiative, communities are also being given the chance to create their own businesses.
The collectors are identified through environmental education campaigns with the emphasis on recycling. The collectors gather polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, cardboard and other recyclable materials from target areas in their communities.
Mr Kafuti explained that since the project was launched in Chawama, he has been given an opportunity to sell recyclables to Zambian Breweries.
“This project by Zambian Breweries has helped me a lot, if it’s here in Chawama, I am not the only who takes recyclables to them, most of us do,” he shared.
For Mr Kafuti, scavenging at the dumpsite is seen as a more financially profitable because he is able to provide a proper shelter for his family and pay up his children’s tuition fees.
“When you work for someone like an Indian for example, you have to wait for the month end to get paid, to make matters worse, you end up getting little money. Now here, I work when I want. There’s always something to find,” he said.
On a good weekend, Mr Kafuti makes about K2,500 from the waste he picks, for him, scavenging is a 24-hour business and the more the garbage is thrown at the site, the more money he makes.
“I collect and sell almost anything, it is very dirty and there is a bad smell. But I make a lot of money here, this dumpsite is just like mine, I manage it and everyone around here knows,” he shared.
Prior to scavenging, he went to Vallyveiw Primary School in Kitwe from 1991 to 1997. He later completed his education at Kitwe Boys Secondary School in 2002.
For his tertiary education, Mr Kafuti obtained his certificate in Metal Fribrigation and Welding from Lusaka Trades Training Institute in 2004.
“I know people look at me and think am mentally-disturbed just because am always here but trust me, I make a lot of money from here. Even the people that discriminate my job can never compare themselves to me,” he happily shared.
From the time he started waste-picking, he believes that selling recyclables has opened opportunities for him like sending his five children to school and providing food for them three times a day.
“I do not care what people say about me, my wife understands me and most of the times she joins me at work, she knows with this business we will achieve a lot in life,” he explained.
ZIO MWALE, Lusaka