NEWS: Let’s Do It! Kenya leader believes in technological solutions

Kenya is among the few countries in the world that has banned plastics thanks to a government directive. Next there are also plans to ban plastic bottles which will be a big win for the environment. Christine Sayo, the country leader of Let’s Do It!, believes in technological solutions towards the cleaner world. The Let’s […]

Kenya is among the few countries in the world that has banned plastics thanks to a government directive. Next there are also plans to ban plastic bottles which will be a big win for the environment. Christine Sayo, the country leader of Let’s Do It!, believes in technological solutions towards the cleaner world.

The Let’s Do It! country leader Christine Sayo is a passionate communications professional who enjoys using new media to communicate developmental issues. Her first task as the country coordinator was to test out World Cleanup Day mapping app. “I love the whole idea of technology solving everyday problems. That is what I believe in the movement,” says Christine.

How did you get involved with Let’s Do It movement?
Heidi Solba, the Let’s Do It World! network team head, sent an email to JCI Kenya team. I was the president of Nairobi (capital city of Kenya) chapter that time. Nobody seemed keen to take up her invitation, either they were too busy or not interested in a volunteer position. I stepped up thinking that would be a great way to go further as to my interest in technology and environmental matters.

What about earlier days? How have you been involved with environmental issues so far?
I have been actively involved in environmental activities such as clean-ups and tree planting initiatives since high school. My interest peaked in 2012 when I became a producer of EcoJournal and Project Green TV shows. As a producer, my work involved sourcing for stories on environment and talking to community members and environmental activists. It was during that time I realised how much disparity there was in the public and conservationists’ perception of environmental matters. As a journalist I realised that it was my duty to bring these interest groups together and talk about important environmental issues in a way everybody understands.

When it came time to do my research for my thesis, I decided to delve into the matter further and did my Masters Degree thesis on how TV in Kenya packages environmental matters, what can be improved and what lessons learned. I have since joined various environmental groups such as the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change and the Gender and Climate Working Group where I always advocate for simplification of environmental issues so that the general public can understand what it means and what is their role in creating a healthier and sustainable world.

What is the general waste situation in Kenya? What is the most problematic?
We have laws on waste management and county governments are expected to provide waste management systems at county level. We have also various initiatives started by individuals, civil society organisations and government. Still there are lots of areas which need to be improved as it is not rare to hear about diseases such as cholera outbreaks, caused by poor waste disposal.

The most problematic is the lack of awareness in my opinion. Most areas have designated dumping spots and bins, but if people don’t know where those places are, they won’t use them either.

On the other hand Kenya is a very good example of the country which has banned plastics…
This is the second time the Kenyan government has banned plastics. In 2011 manufacturers went to court to oppose a plastics ban and they won the case. So, between 2011 and 2017 (this is when the ban was put to use for a second time) civil society organisations and government partnered to raise awareness on the need to stop use of plastics. By the time the ban came into force, the public was already well informed. People accepted the step and were ready to abandon plastics, hence the success. Still, only packages were banned, but there are also plans to ban bottles. The uptake has been great so far with people embracing alternative, eco-friendly packaging for groceries etc. Part of this is fuelled by large fine (20,000 USD for offenders) as a sanction for anybody found with plastic bags.

Why being part of those environmental movements is so important for you personally?
The most personal thing for me about Let’s Do It World! and World Cleanup Day as a whole is the number of women in decision making positions. Society speaks much about positive action and the need for women empowerment. This is one of the few organisations where I have seen that is actually put into practice and I am happy to be part of it.

My first task as the country coordinator for Let’s Do It! Kenya was to test out the mapping app. Being able to contribute ideas and give feedback about the app and eventually see the final product, the World Clean Up app, was a wholesome experience. It was a really exciting task as I felt part of this insider crew that was working on this huge secret that would change the world! Consequently, I have become more confident and I always encourage other young women to take the challenges, attend meetings and speak out. Though, it’s not been a smooth sail for me either. As a woman in leading position there is a tendency for people to question your competence and comparing to the male counterparts they take any misstep for a quick generalisation and use it as an argument against women being in leadership positions. My best defence on such occasions has always been my work which speaks for itself.

As to volunteering and running cleaning actions, what has been the most difficult?
At first I was afraid we would not have volunteers, but thanks to the LDI website and our social media activity, we have been able to pull crowds. Many of the volunteers we work with are those who have already read about LDI and WCD online and understand the rationale of why they need to be involved.

The difficult part is also not having a budget. As World Cleanup Day approaches, being a coordinator is a full time job, yet you need to pay your personal bills. As I understand, some of the countries have been in the movement for a while so they have found sponsors, but for those who are doing it for the first time, it can be tricky.

What gives you strength doing it all? Who supports you?
I love the whole idea of technology solving everyday problems. That is why I believe in the movement. The idea of mapping garbage waste points is very dear to me – I can feel how the world moves towards automation and blockchain technology. At that stage we cannot afford leaving the environment behind.

My support is my closest team of six core members, Valentine Kichwen, Oscar Wanjala, Caroline Boraya, Ashley Diana, Alfred Sigo and John Miano, who have been there since the very beginning, when we did our pilot mapping, and who are always available to attend meetings, manage our social media, design graphics, coordinate clean-ups and mapping activities. Knowing that I don’t have to do everything, and I have a supportive team gives me strength. I know I can always count on them to get things done, even when I am not available.

As to the pilot mapping, I heard that you had some problems with taking pictures then. How is the situation now?
When we did our first mapping, we ran into trouble with authorities because taking pictures that time had been banned within the city centre after a wave of terrorist attacks. We have since learnt to always ensure we have permits before we do any activity.

Also, 2017 was a bad year for us. We had elections and a run-off. Because of the reported cases of violence during the elections in various parts of country we had a real difficult time to mobilise people for clean-ups or mapping. Things have stabilised now politically and we are all ready for World Cleanup Day.

What’s next?
Our biggest priority after the 15th of September will be building a financially sustainable organisation. We intend to do that by documenting our activities and sharing our results with partners. I believe showcasing our success and lessons learnt over the past year will go a long way in helping us to attract investors and sponsors.

What kind of impact have all those activities had on you?
I have been nominated for two awards. Even though I did not win eventually, it is a big deal knowing that your work is being recognised. I have also been invited to speak at conferences, the most recent is the upcoming International Volunteer Conference by IAVE in Augsburg Germany where I will be sharing how with engaging volunteers we have mapped and cleaned Kenya. I am also thinking of going back to school for my PHD… I intend to delve more into matters of environment and in particular, how technology can help raising awareness and saving our mother nature.

Esme Kassak