Wairimu Mwangi, an inspiring woman with a love for sustainability and desire to design a balanced life, developed an incredible project that is changing the lives for street youth in the urban areas of Nairobi. In teaching youth and those living in informal settlements how to create food gardens in their spaces and repurpose waste materials, she is helping them to care for themselves and produce beautiful products which may be sold to generate income. This exceptional illustration of a circular economy is uplifting these creative youth.
Growing up mostly in an urban area, Wairimu’s and her family grew their own food, repurposed materials to create pieces in their home and used their imagination to develop original games. This holistic way of living allowed her to feel connected to her environment, a higher purpose and those around her in a meaningful way. Today, she is working to bring that sense of connection, wholeness, healthy living and creativity to many communities.
“By and by, we are becoming disconnected. We are earning more money but getting more mentally unstable, stressed, and generally unhappy. We are becoming removed from what is natural to us, from nature, from each other,” said Wairimu.
Drawing upon her childhood and love for taking one thing and creating another, Wairimu launched a pilot program that repurposed glass bottles, cutting them into drinking glasses and candle holders. The youth she worked with were so inspired that the creativity just poured out of them.
The success of that program ignited a desire within Wairimu to continue this work, so she submitted a proposal to The Pollination Project. When her initial proposal was denied, she decided to revise her idea and place greater focus on growing food, especially indigenous varieties which are more adaptable, resilient and highly nutritious, and using waste recovery to create products that would generate income. This time, she received the grant.
“Oh my goodness,” she laughs, “When TPP gave us a green light, when we got the grant, I did the happiest dance ever and felt highly validated. The validation of someone saying, “You’re on to something,” was humbling and energizing.”
There were challenges as she worked to bring her project to life, one of which was time. Many street youth work for wages meaning they are not fully employed. So, for example, if they got a call from someone who had some work for them right then and there, they would leave before they’d finished their learning; however, Wairimu found a balance. She began training those that were available and then the ones she trained would meet with other young people when they had time and they would train them. Time and again, she would overcome obstacles and find ways to engage youth.
Wairimu has trained over 100 youth, including teen mothers and young children, on how to grow seedlings, create income, develop vertical gardens using recycled plastic bottles and use waste materials to create beautiful planters. Many youth and children have now learned how to grow food vertically so as to avoid contamination.
When it comes to creatively repurposing materials such as fabric from construction sites and plastic bottles, Wairimu teaches youth to create many things. They truly enjoy being creative and savor the ability to turn something seen as waste into stunning products that generate income.
In looking to the future, Wairimu hopes to bring her program into more centers and help the homeless, children’s homes, people living with disabilities and many more to grow their own food and sell their own unique products. As she reaches new communities, she creates even more opportunities for marginalized people to build a balanced lifestyle that includes caring for oneself, the environment and others in a sustainable way.