The story of Harrison Musonda is a relative rags-to-riches story with a difference: it is the rags and other household waste that are now bringing Musonda prosperity, and helping the community at the same time.
Musonda earns a living by selling litter and recyclable waste as part of the highly successful Manja Pamodzi project, a community-based initiative that has seen parts of Lusaka where the project has been launched cleared of refuse, and recycled material for cash.
Dealing in other people’s household waste has always earned the 29-year-old Musonda enough to survive, but since becoming an aggregator for the Zambian Breweries-supported Manja Pamodzi initiative, he has enjoyed a noticeable improvement in his standard of living.
His role involves buying litter in bulk from collectors so that he can then process the discarded material into bundles to be sold on to Manja Pamodzi. Thereafter; companies specialising in processing of recyclable materials buy the solid waste and turn into useable material such as tissues and egg trays.
It is difficult to believe that Musonda at one time had to survive on picking waste from the dump site; now these days are long gone.
“Before engaging with the Manja Pamodzi project, I met up with some business people who would buy plastic litter in bulk. They would give us K50 a time. Later, I realised that there is value in this waste-picking business. I started selling a kilo for 30 ngwee. I would make between K300 and K500 weekly and I started saving,” he says.
As fate may have it, in March 2014 he met with some consultants who were conducting feasibility studies on recyclable material. This was a turning point in his life as it meant he could finally move on from his Chunga dumping ground litter-picking business. In 2015, the team came back for the Manja Pamodzi project with Zambian Breweries. That was the moment when it dawned on him that becoming an aggregator was a way out of the poverty trap which he was in danger of falling into.
“I realised that I could engage others and now have about 60 collectors. I have even engaged professionals and university graduates.”
The renowned Manja Pamodzi initiative is supported by Zambian Breweries and its sister companies National 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 disease 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 and thus alleviating poverty. Through the initiative the 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.
Musonda says he is happy to be part of the Manja Pamodzi initiative because as far as he is concerned, it is not just about the money he raises but the contribution he and his colleagues are making towards keeping the country clean. “I have engaged about 60 people under the Manja Pamodzi project. I have been to Chawama, Ngombe and other places in Lusaka collecting recyclable litter,” he recalls.
“I have grown up in a hard situation. I was a bin scavenger. I was getting food to survive by God’s Grace. Then I started visiting the Chunga dumping site, but I was also determined to work hard and make it in life. When I look at litter, I see business: I see money.”
He does not blame his parents for his harsh and humble beginnings: “It wasn’t my parents’ fault that I was a scavenger. Being a scavenger was a tough situation but I was doing it for survival. I am happy that through my business I have built them a house. God blessed me with a car and now I can take my children to a good school,” the father-of-two says.
Musonda hopes he can inspire schoolchildren to keep their environment clean: “I also provide leadership in schools and started working with Lusaka City Council (LCC). He has some words of advice for the youth of today, and that is to value your life, be dedicated to what you are doing, set goals and achieve them.