There is a saying stating that hindsight vision is always 20/20.
And so, one may rightfully ask – did you reach your goals? Are you happy with the way the first Waste Walk turned out? And here we sit on couches somewhere in a heated room in Germany reviewing Websites, sorting through photo material, composing and translating protocols – in short, re-living the entitity of the Waste Walk and of course asking ourselves – was this project we created from scratch a success? Yet I can’t help wondering if we are asking the right questions.
To clarify somewhat, I will start by confirming with a very loud “yes” to above mentioned queries. Among the specific goals we had set was to walk from Moshi to Dar es Salaam and pick up trash along the way, stopping at schools and exchanging ideas with locals and students about pollution. Though the walking part of the concept had been a symbolic one from the start, we quickly realized we would not be able to go the entire route by foot (partially due to the masses of waste, the collecting of which slowed our pace significantly) and thus were reliant on our trash truck to bring us to Dar in time for the arrival date. To our great appreciation, though we must admit it was mixed with surprise, we were not only invariably allowed to camp at schools but also to introduce the project to the students. Another aim we had pursued – though one may add at this point that our realistic hopes lay nowhere nearly as high as our idealistic hopes – was to implement a long-term garbage disposal system as an alternative to burning and burying waste. Indeed, even this bold enterprise was achieved we are beyond ecstatic to announce that this waste disposal system is still up and running months after we left. Jonac Meena, a Tanzanian volunteer from Arusha who was involved in the Waste Walk from the first step on, embarked on October 10th on the first collection round. Using the same truck from Mwanga High School and accompanied by a driver, they returned to a number of schools who had agreed to continue collecting plastic waste after a visit from the Waste Walkers. On this first run, they collected 1,5 tonnes of recyclable materials and brought it to a recycling firm in nearby Moshi. Of the 250 TSH per kilogram earned, 150 TSH went to the schools via M-Pesa (a cashless currency system common in Tanzania for transactions via cell phone) and the remainder covered costs for truck rental and gas, leaving a profit in the sum of 50.000 TSH for Jonac. For Tanzania, the equivalent of 25 Euros is quite the impressive salary for a single days’ work. Since then, Jonac has been doing rounds as soon as at least a ton is collected by schools and private persons, which is roughly on a biweekly basis.
And so, with our (objective) objectives attained, there is still the matter of abstruse intents to be settled.
Despite distinguishing accomplishments brought about by this project, there is of course always room for improvement.
Though the existence of a language barrier was obviously known to us prior, we did not estimate the magnitude of its importance sufficiently. Among the Europeans in our team only a few had any knowledge of Swahili and none were fluent. English may be the second official language next to Swahili in Tanzania, but especially in rural areas, where many speak only their tribal tongue, communication beyond bare necessities would have been impossible without our local volunteers. Of course, one can always get one’s point across, yet in an open concept like the Waste Walk, communication does not serve the sole purpose of informing others of facts, but exchanging ideas and beliefs. This cost us many opinions we would have liked to have heard from the people themselves, also contributing to a more flowing conversation uninterrupted by translations. Essential criteria for the next Waste Walk will be language skills of the respective country.
Establishment and observing of days off
Our days were never planned beyond the coming day save for our arrival date in Dar, so making accurate predictions concerning days off were hard to make. Spontaneity was on the one side essential because we had no fixed dates, reversibly, it was next to impossible to fix a date due to our spontaneity. Generally, there should be a schedule to speak of for the next Waste Walk and it should be observed, including free time especially, since the uncertainty as to when this will be definitely put a damper on collective motivation and team spirit.
Team meetings on a regulated basis
As the days wore on, any sense of regulation was tossed out of the window. While at first group meetings were held on a daily basis, by joint decision we agreed that this frequency was not necessary. Unfortunately, we held the option open without establishing set dates. This led to many group meetings not happening at all, which of course resulted in insufficient communication at times between the project leaders and the rest of the group. Lacking information regarding the upcoming days, uncertainty caused slight demoralization and thus the aspect of communications cannot be stressed enough for the next Waste Walk.
One cannot stress enough the fact that this being the pilot project that it was, many inconveniences that could have easily been avoided occurred. In direct connection with our inexperience we overlooked many discrepancies between our ideals and our Modus Operandi involuntarily.
At times we made compromises we would not accept as lightheartedly today, first and foremost in regards to Co2 emissions we ourselves caused on a quite considerable scale. Our truck, which is not exactly a Tesla, definitely redeemed itself when one keeps in mind the waste it was transporting away from the environment and to a recycling center. So we thought. And yet, it is a compromise we would now look to replace with a greener solution. The tonnes and tonnes of Co2 we and each volunteer blasted out into Mother Nature in order to “educate” people on environmental issues fall into the same category, though evil tongues may attribute it to pure hypocrisy, were somehow a concession we were willing to make in order to improve the horrendous trash dilemma in an African country we both had ties to. Both these strains in form of Co2 were ineluctable for the project as it was planned, and so we took these evils into account, weighing the pro against contra and deciding the advantage is greater on the larger scale of things. Yet this leaves us with a mathematical equation with the plus side, being the project leading to progress in Tanzania’s plastic catastrophe, and the negative aspect, being the price we had to pay at the cost of Mother Nature. In the long run, however, we need to orientate ourselves towards an equation where there is no minus in front of our tally.