ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
GROWING up in Olympia, Chitalu Banda, 22, remembers seeing litter and rotting garbage on the streets, oblivious that one day they would give her a livelihood.
Her eco-consciousness (concern for the environment) came to life in 2012 when she was in Grade 12 at Roma Girls Secondary School.
After high school, she decided to start recycling plastic litter which she was picking from the market to make jewelry and ornaments.
“I would go in Olympia market, pick plastics, melt them, reshape and decorate them into new objects like earrings, bungles and other small ornaments for myself,” the eighth in a family of nine explains.
After scoring nine points at Grade 12, Chitalu earned herself a 100 percent bursary at the University of Zambia (UNZA).
In 2014, she was admitted into the School of Natural Sciences at UNZA, but unfortunately she dropped out after failing her examinations.
“When I learnt that I had failed, I thought that was the end of me because in Zambia, success means attaining tertiary education,” she said.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but somehow Chitalu summoned courage and told her family about her dropping out of UNZA. As expected, her parents were disappointed that she would not become the medical doctor that she wanted to be.
“I just could not believe it. I was sad, hurt, and angry at myself. I did not know how to break the news to my family and friends because they had high expectations from me,” she said.
While Chitalu was figuring out what to do with her life, it was her eco-consciousness that hinted a business idea.
Inspired by the ‘Keep Zambia Clean’ campaign, Chitalu decided to shed off the bitterness and do business using plastic waste.
From the time she was young, she had keenly followed the ‘Keep Zambia Clean’ campaign, launched in 2007 by President Levy Mwanawasa.
The campaign mainly emphasises the need to throw garbage in the trash bin, but Chitalu thought of another way of supporting the campaign. Being a creative person, she decided to become an ecopreneur.
According to the business dictionary, an ecopreneur is someone who creates and sells environmentally-friendly products and services, including organic food, recycling efforts or green constructions.
That’s how Chitalu began to collect used beer and wine glass bottles from friends, the streets, and her local market in Olympia Park to make beautiful pieces of home décor, so her business, called Vie Chic (Chic Life), was born with no capital to write home about.
“I normally gather plastic bottles, old newspapers, cardboard boxes, old compact discs, and other waste that I could use for my business,” she said in an interview.
She was undeterred when people started calling her names for picking garbage from trash bins in the market.
“Some people made fun of me saying, ‘Chainama siku doba chabe mu street (madness is not all about picking things from the streets,).”
Her love for decorative arts spurred her on to make different home decors for sale. Chitalu started by selling to her parents, siblings and friends for small amounts of money.
When she raised K300, she was able to buy more materials and tools for making home decors. Her backyard and sometimes bedroom provide her the much needed ‘office space’.
When business is good, Chitalu earns about K3, 000-4, 000 per month from her passion of transforming litter into admirable decor pieces. Sometimes she only manages a K1, 000 income per month when business is slow.
In what other people view as useless garbage, Chitalu sees treasures that she uses to make money.
Once in a week, she goes round the market to pick used plastic containers, paper, wood and bottles. Empty bottles of beer and other bottles are normally delivered to her home by bar owners.
Like in any business, Chitalu faces challenges and the most pressing ones are the unsteady nature of income and lack of a proper office.
“It is very hard for my customers to locate my whereabouts because I work from my parents’ home,” she said.
But Chitalu is still upbeat about her business because she is saving money for a second attempt at university education. Both her parents have retired, so she is depending on herself to pay school fees.
She has applied for re-admission into UNZA, but this time she would like to study civil and environmental engineering or natural resource management.
Although some of her contemporaries at UNZA are almost nearing finishing line, Chitalu is not discouraged because she believes each person on earth has a different journey path.
“I am still very passionate about school because knowledge is power; power to better manage our nature and man-made resources and to improve the quality of life, “she said.