I feel very fortunate to have met Dipesh Pabari. Years ago, before Ushahidi, we crossed paths when we were both interested in environmental issues and conservation. When I met him again this year, I found that we are still tree huggers just with more responsibilities, smartphones and more hectic lives.
Dipesh is an inspiring man with a mission to help a village develop. When I visited his family in the South Coast of Kenya, I had no idea just how much he had continued to champion re-use and recycling. In Kenya we used to have a very efficient deposit system for soda, where you had to either have the bottle/case of empty bottles to purchase soda and beer. It worked very well. Current situation? A mess. So many plastic bottles litter the city, and you’d be hard pressed to find recycling bins anywhere. There are bins for trash, but as far as I know there are no formal recycling services. Informal systems of collecting plastics for reuse do exist, but not at a scale that takes care of the current problem. Kenya’s cities have a trash handling problem to say the least.
Seeing these problems in Kenya, Dipesh decided to do something. Through his work with Camps International, he has continued to champion reuse and recycling.
Taking discarded flip flops (what Kenyan’s call Pati Pati in Swahili) and turning them into beautiful, functional pieces like key rings, pencil holders, bangles, desk art and more.
He has found ways to use discarded plastic bottles as building materials for everything from water tanks, sky lights and many more.
What was most inspiring is that he is using plastic bottles to build out a polytechnic in Muhaka, a small village of about 3000 inhabitants. It is quite remote, beautiful but very very poor with few options for creation of wealth.
This is what he has been able to do so far.
Water tank made with plastic bottles, cement and other materials.
Vertical gardening with used tyres
Plastic bottles as decorative building material at Muhaka Polytechnic
This is a skylight. Made out of what?
Decorative wall that lets in light, made out of glass bottles
Fun items made from recycled flip flops
Muhaka is an outpost of creativity, dare I say innovation and a possible node in the global network of people interested in learning, making and solving problems. Many of you who read this blog likely work in one such place, be it 1871 in Chicago, The Media Lab in Boston or even iHub in Nairobi. I am curious about the idea of making, with highly contextualized problem sets. Like those to be found in this small village, in urban spaces like Detroit, struggling towns in the midwest and Appalachia. I could not help but think, what if we networked these initiatives and learned from each other? perhaps at first virtually, but then mix fun safaris with actual world changing work and learning? Makers meeting makers, sharing, learning, inspiring… Transnationally, is it possible?