When Luleka Zepe, from Site C, saw two toddlers playing with dirty water, overflowing from a drain in 2012, she worried about the toddler’s health for days afterward and knew that illegal dumping and sewage were among the major challenges facing the area.
After some time Ms Zepe approached a few community members, informing them about the impact of illegal dumping.
And it was this simple action that led to the launch of the Elam Ilima environmental organisation which teaches residents about the dangers of illegal dumping, promotes cleanliness and encourages people to recycle.
Ms Zepe said most people did not know that illegal dumping caused drain blockages and put children at risk of contracting diseases. The 44-year-old mother of two said they started by cleaning dustbins and the containers from which food is sold at the Site C taxi rank.
These ranks, she said, were infested with rodents.
The organisation then decided to spruce up nearby informal settlements, while residents were taught the importance of hygiene.
Through the initiative, she said, they wanted to not only clean their communities, but also create job opportunities.
In a bid to change the belief that recycling was something only poor families did, she said, they regularly conducted workshops educate people about this subject. She said they also wanted to encourage people to start food gardens in their backyards-and had taught people to give their old garments a new lease on life.
“Instead of throwing away their old clothes, especially jeans, we take those and make aprons as well as doormats,” she said.
“As an organisation we have empowered young people with skills so that they can take initiatives in fighting for a safe environment.
“We make necklaces from magazines and newspapers. Recyling is not only for poor people.We keep the youth occupied as well as helping them to stay away from criminal activities. We are trying to make a change in our communities and we need government to support us, We need to take of our environment to prevent diseases”she said. Ms Zepe said one of the advantages of recycling was that it helped the community to manage waste and prevented illegal dumping. But, she said, the lack of funding and space was a challenge for the organisation because they did not have somewhere to store their recycled materials.
Founding member Zamikhaya Manyamala said when they started the organisation, they had had a number of members but some had since left the organisation. He said two of their members had been addicted to drugs when they joined the organisation but their involvement had helped them turn over a new leaf.
He called on government and local business to lend them a helping hand. He said now they were planning to host workshops where they will equip people with life changing skills. “We want to establish our own dumping depot but we need financial support,” he said.