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Bottle Bricks: Environmentalism and Political Discussion on the Shores of Lake Victoria and Beyond

Written by Evelyn Harford, OGHQ Communications Intern and East Africa Politics & Perceptions team member

Bottle bricks project with Ecofinders in KenyaThis past summer, Operation Groundswell traveled to East Africa exploring issues of politics and perceptions with a team of eight passionate young adults from all across North America. We spent a bulk of our time in Kisumu, Kenya where we learned about environmentally conscious waste management from our partners, Ecofinder and the Dunga Ecotourism and Environmental Group (DEEG). Both are non-governmental organizations dedicated to eco-cultural tourism, tree planting, and environmental education.

During our time there, our team contributed our time and efforts to the Peace Bench project, which combines environmental conservation with the purpose of promoting politically motivated discussions with all citizens of Kisumu County on the shores of Lake Victoria. The Peace Bench was designed to be a meeting place for community members to sit, talk and discuss all things politics, or not. Located just outside the Ecofinder office and moments from the beach, the Peach Bench is a perfect place to relax and engage in thought-provoking conversations with fellow citizens.

The Peace Bench itself is created from a Portable Landfill Device (PLDs) used to make so-called “Ecobuildings.” So what exactly are PLDs? They’re plastic soda bottles stuffed with soft inorganic landfill trash found in the surrounding area. They’re compressed like bricks to ensure their sturdiness. Waste management, according to Ecofinder, is problematic not only in the small Kisumu County but regionally, nationally and continentally. Ecofinder also added that by having trash collecting sessions at local schools, children are not only able to participate in cleaning the environment, but also to become more educated about the larger environmental concerns in their area.

Peace Bench in Kisumu, Kenya

The big focus with OG’s partners and projects across the globe has always been sustainability and useful waste management strategies definitely falls under that criteria. Even beyond Kenya, the OG Hub in Guatemala has been experimenting with these very same tactics. The bottle brick project is positively impacting local communities and also using PLDs as a way of cleaning the shoreline of Lago Atitlan.

Waste management in Lago Atitlan for bottle bricks

The problem of waste management is not unique to Kenya or Guatemala, but is a problem facing virtually all nations in the developing world. Will Zylman 19-year old OG East Africa team member said that, “Working with ecofinder was an amazing opportunity. Getting to work with the people in the community and make this bench out of trash we had cleaned up was an unforgettable experience.” Learning about environmental projects has inspired both the youth from Canada who participated on this project, but also the local schools to get involved and make Earth Benches as they are more commonly a mainstay of school programing/activities.

Environmental sustainability is not an issue that stops at one country’s borders. It is an issue that transcends age, race, gender, nationality and religion. We all have a stake in keeping our earth healthy. Bottle Bricks are just one project to support local ecology and promote sustainable development. Learning from communities who actively participate in Bottle Brick projects opens your eyes to the possibilities of using garbage as a useful building material. From benches to hubs–the possibilities are endless!
Learn more about the bottle bricks movement here.

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