When it rains in Uganda, plastic waste clogs street drains. For Faith Aweko, growing up in a slum in Kampala, the capital city, heavy downpours meant water flooding into the family home at the side of the road.
“During rainy seasons most of the roads here in Kampala are full of plastic bottles and bags because people dispose of plastic in trenches and gutters. This makes it hard for people like me in the slums,” says Aweko. Along with Shamim Naluyima and Rachel Mema, two women she met on a course on social innovation, she launched Reform Africa in 2018, turning plastic waste into waterproof bags.
A team of women collect plastic bags and bottles from the streets and dumps. It is washed, dried and processed into a sustainable leather-like material to be made into backpacks, shopping bags and toiletry bags.
On average they make about 20 bags a day, which are sold in six boutiques across Uganda and on Reform Africa’s website, with prices ranging from $9 to $25 (£7 to £20). The venture has been a success.
Aweko says some of the backpacks are bought by humanitarian organisations and NGOs in Uganda.
“In the rural areas, you find that people cannot afford a decent schoolbag, so the parents buy plastic bags. But when the kids come home from school they are either torn or lost,” she says.
Sales initially fell in Uganda’s pandemic lockdown but bags are now being bought in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain and the US.
“We were actually able to double our sales from the previous year,” Aweko says.
Aweko is now setting up a factory to recycle hard plastics into items such as pegs and flowerpots, and she runs awareness programmes – key in a country where only 1% of waste material is recycled. Tom Collins in Uganda
‘A shocking wake-up call’
It is break time at Mahim school in Mumbai and a group of children eat their snacks on benches made from recycled Tetra Pak cartons.
“This bench makes me happy, as it is made from waste,” says Aayush Khurana, 12, as she tucks into her food.
Mumbai produces more than 6,900 tonnes of waste a day and, in 2009, Monisha Narke began RUR Green life (Are You Reducing, Reusing and Recycling?) in response to the problem.
The social enterprise makes several products, but through its Cartons for Schools programme, it works with Tetra Pak India to turn plastic and paper cartons into benches, desks and chairs, which can be bought online and donated to government schools. The organisation, which also educates children about cutting back on plastics use, has recycled about 8m discarded cartons, and distributed more than 350 school desks and 250 benches.
Narke was inspired after visiting the Deonar rubbish dump – the largest in India. “Trekking up the piles of waste with our noses choked, watching the big green dump-trucks dotting the landfill was a shocking wake-up call,” she says. Discovering that Tetra Pak cartons contained paper, she wondered if something could be made out of them. “I learned that the cartons could be recycled to produce composite sheets. These sheets were used to make the seats in cars, and could be used in many other ways. That got me thinking about desks and benches.”
The cartons are now collected in three cities from shops, schools and colleges, with plans to expand.
The cartons are shredded in factories, heated, compacted together and melted into moulds. About 4,500 cartons are needed to make a desk or chair, and about 6,500 for a bench.
“We had a great response to this initiative and hope to get more people involved,” says Narke.
Mohan Boghade, headteacher at Mahim school, says receiving the equipment brought great joy. “Having proper infrastructure aids students’ productivity and this move ensures every student has access to equal infrastructural standards.” Kavitha Yarlagadda in India
‘This is something precious for us’
It took Ovy Sabrina and Novita Tan 18 months to develop the formula to turn plastic into bricks. The university friends wanted to do something about the 7.8m tonnes of plastic waste generated in Indonesia annually.
“If we really think about it, it is horrifying. There are still no solutions for many kinds of plastic waste,” says Sabrina. “Meanwhile, everything that we use now is made of plastic.”
The psychology graduates researched and ran trials to find the mix of cement and plastic that would be environmentally safe, durable and meet standards. In November 2019, they launched Rebricks.
“In the early days, we had to visit food stalls to ask for plastic waste because we didn’t have enough for production. Sometimes, the stall owners were suspicious and didn’t want to give the waste to us,” Sabrina says.
The company collects plastic sachets, bags, packaging and bubble wrap from three pickup points in Jakarta and one in Bandung, West Java. Some people even send them plastic through the post.
Nine employees recycle about 100kg of plastic a day. The company has recycled 17,500kg of waste and made about 100,000 bricks. It takes about 880 pieces of plastic to make one square metre of paving blocks.
The pair have received lots of support from the public. “It really warms my heart. Some of them sent us meatballs to eat. We feel very appreciated,” Sabrina says. “From morning to evening, our WhatsApp number kept receiving messages from so many people, asking about how they could send their waste to us.”
The women are planning recycling points in other provinces, so they don’t have to send waste between islands. They want to compete with conventional brick makers.
“For every square metre we think, OK, we have stopped this much plastic waste from being dumped at the landfill,” says Sabrina. “This is something precious for us.” Gemma Holliani Cahya in Indonesia
‘An idea of producing artworks came to me’
It began with a rhino, but elephants, cheetah and pangolins now appear in Chisomo Lifa’s plastic artwork. The 27-year-old from Blantyre, Malawi, began collecting plastic waste two years ago, disheartened by the amount he saw on the city streets. “I didn’t really have an idea exactly what I wanted to do, but then the idea of producing artworks came to me.”
Lifa melts down bottles and bags and moulds them into animals, which he paints and varnishes. “The response from people was overwhelming and that encouraged me to continue with the idea,” says Lifa.
“I chose animals in my sculptures because there is also the problem of wildlife poaching,” he says.
His sculptures have been displayed at the Four Seasons garden centre, a leading art space in Lilongwe. He has also sold some of his work.
Lifa hopes that by turning waste paper and plastic into eye-catching art, he can start to sway people’s perspective on the environment and wildlife.
Campaigners estimate that 75,000 tonnes of plastic is produced in Malawi each year, 80% of which cannot be recycled. Most of it ends up in landfill.
Although the government moved to ban the manufacture, distribution and use of thin plastics, court injunctions obtained by manufacturers, and insufficient monitoring, mean plastics still flood the market.
Lifa, who started drawing when he was in bed with malaria in 2014, now teaches in schools and has an ambition to open an art school in the city.
“Working with plastics is adventurous but challenging at the same time, since we work at high temperatures. But I am greatly motivated and am now working on lesser-known animals like pangolins so that people can know what these animals look like.” Charles Pensulo in Malawi
‘People can grow healthy food for themselves’
By turning bottles into plant pots, a sprawling residential neighbourhood in Peru’s capital is tackling two problems – plastic waste and the lack of space to grow vegetables.
Cut a hole in the side of a bottle, hang it upside down and fill it with soil, says Chris Cortez, head of environmental projects in Santiago de Surco, a Lima district home to about 350,000 people.
The bottles are big enough to grow lettuce, spinach, chard or one beetroot, radish or carrot. Connected by bottle caps screwed on through holes in the base of another bottle, they can be strung one on top of the other, in rows of up to seven, and hung on a wall.
Cortez says his online classes teaching vertical horticulture took off during the Covid pandemic.
“The idea was to show people they could grow healthy food at home,” says Cortez, 25. Peru had the highest death rate per capita and one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. “It gave them something to do when they were cooped up, particularly elderly people, many of whom grew up in the countryside,” he adds.
More than 220,000 reused plastic bottles now hang on a 700-metre stretch of wall on the edge of Lima’s largest and oldest recycling plant in the Voces por el Clima (Voices for the Climate) ecological park.
With a plentiful supply of plastic bottles, Cortez has used every inch of wall space for the horticultural technique, which saves water and space.
Every few weeks, kilos of vegetables are harvested and donated to one of 24 soup kitchens, which provide cheap meals in the district’s neighbourhoods.
Gloria Perez, 59, who runs the soup kitchen association, says she gets a delivery every few months. “Whenever there’s a harvest we receive something,” she says. Dan Collyns in Peru
‘All the banks rejected my idea’
On her Twitter page, Nzambi Matee describes herself as a dancer. But the 30-year-old scientist is winning plaudits as the social entrepreneur behind a project to recycle waste plastic in Kenya.
About 20% of the 2,400 tonnes of rubbish Nairobi churns out daily is single-use plastic. About 80% of it makes its way to Dandora, the city’s largest tip. Here, Matee saw an opportunity to turn some of the 500 tonnes of plastic into building materials.
In 2017, she gave her job as a data analyst and created a rudimentary workshop in her mother’s compound on the outskirts of Nairobi to learn how to make paving stones out of plastic. She had “a noisy machine”. “So noisy that neighbours gave me one year to wind down the operations or [they would] call authorities on me.” It took nine months – “a whole pregnancy period” – to make the first paving slab out of a combination of plastic and sand.
But while the founder of Gjenge Makers Ltd had passion, she didn’t have the capital to expand. She made several pitches to funders, “but all the banks I approached rejected my idea, saying it was too risky since I had no collateral. It was painful,” she says.
In 2018, Matee left for the US to raise funds, returning a year later with enough money for production. She now has a team of 113, many of them young people, who scour Dandora for plastic bottles and other containers.
By the end of June, Matee’s company will have recycled about 100 tonnes of plastic into 200,000 paving tiles.
Matee is inspired by the late Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel peace prize winner Prof Wangari Maathai. “I want to have an environmental impact like Wangari Maathai,” says Matee, named as one of the UN Environment Programme’s 2020 Young Champions of the Earth. “Her main tool was activism, and I’m in science. I want to turn plastic waste into something useful. It’s a daunting task.” Peter Muiruri in Kenya
“We’ve observed that the currently available and already registered intranasal vaccine is demonstrating high efficiency in protecting against all strains [of the coronavirus], forming mucosal immunity to the pathogen,” Gintsburg said.The Russian Health Ministry registered the world’s first intranasal vaccine against COVID-19 in April.Gintsburg told Sputnik in March that the new vaccine was effective against the Omicron variant. He said that the new vaccine was going to be used as a booster, in addition to the Sputnik V shots, until there was enough evidence that this new intranasal method gives the same level of protection as an injection.In November of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to become a volunteer in the testing of the new vaccine and said that he felt no side effects after getting the procedure.Russia became the first country in the world to register a vaccine against COVID-19, dubbed Sputnik V, in August 2020. The Russian Health Ministry has also registered a new, Sputnik M, vaccine for adolescents aged 12-17. Clinical trials of Sputnik shots for children aged 6-11 are currently underway in Moscow, according to Gintsburg.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The new Russian nasal vaccine against COVID-19 has demonstrated effectiveness against all variants of the coronavirus, Alexander Gintsburg, the director of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed the vaccine, told Sputnik.
“We’ve observed that the currently available and already registered intranasal vaccine is demonstrating high efficiency in protecting against all strains [of the coronavirus], forming mucosal immunity to the pathogen,” Gintsburg said.
The Russian Health Ministry registered the world’s first intranasal vaccine against COVID-19 in April.
Gintsburg told Sputnik in March that the new vaccine was effective against the Omicron variant. He said that the new vaccine was going to be used as a booster, in addition to the Sputnik V shots, until there was enough evidence that this new intranasal method gives the same level of protection as an injection.
In November of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to become a volunteer in the testing of the new vaccine and said that he felt no side effects after getting the procedure.
Russia became the first country in the world to register a vaccine against COVID-19, dubbed Sputnik V, in August 2020. The Russian Health Ministry has also registered a new, Sputnik M, vaccine for adolescents aged 12-17. Clinical trials of Sputnik shots for children aged 6-11 are currently underway in Moscow, according to Gintsburg.
Nancy Pelosi’s brief and controversial visit to Taiwan could not have incited more contrasting reactions from the governments on either side of the Formosa Strait. President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration received the speaker of the United States House of Representatives with everything but a fireworks show, projecting flamboyant welcome messages on the island’s tallest building. Beijing, on the other hand, responded to what it considered a “blatant provocation” with a week of unprecedented military exercises. The superpower has also cut ties with Washington on key topics and recently published the first official report on Taiwan in two decades. Its aggressive reaction has brought to the forefront the debate about international recognition of the island, which functions as a state but is recognized by only 14 countries.
“My friends and I were very excited for a figure like this to come. It’s good to attract attention,” says Sun Hui’an by phone. “We are used to threats from China. We can’t let it dictate our lives,” adds the 29-year-old nurse.
Formosa was the place to which nationalist leaders and around a million people fled after the victory of the Communist Army in 1949 in the civil war. While in mainland China Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic, Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang (the formation that had presided over the country between 1927 and 1949), established a government in exile in Taiwan. Not until the 1970s did the United Nations and most Western countries began to recognize Beijing as the legitimate government of China, to the detriment of Taipei.
Taiwan is not a special administrative region of China like Hong Kong and Macau. It has a democratic government, a constitution and an army of 300,000 soldiers. It ranks as the 21st largest economy in the world, and it is the leading producer in the semiconductor industry. In 2019, it became the first place in Asia to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.
For the Chinese government, the island is a headache. The Asian giant considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory, whose “reunification” is, in the words of President Xi Jinping, “a historic mission of the Communist Party.” In recent years, especially since Tsai Ing-wen assumed the presidency in 2016, Chinese authorities have spoken with increasing assertiveness about a future unification, for which they have not ruled out the use of force. The rapport between the Tsai Administration and the United States, as evidenced by the recent visit of the American politician, has infuriated Beijing. On Wednesday, China published the first white paper on Taiwan in 22 years, drawing far more red lines than previous publications from 1993 and 2000.
Beijing’s discourse has never quite caught on across the strait. The two main Taiwanese parliamentary groups hold two radically opposed ideas about nationalism. While the Blue Coalition, led by the Kuomintang (KMT), aspires to an eventual unification with the People’s Republic, the Green Coalition, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), prefers to distance the island from Beijing.
Xulio Ríos, director of the Chinese Policy Observatory, points out that, however, that “the nuances are important”: “In the KMT there is everything from an intense blue –which defends unification and the idea of China – to a sky-blue, which understands that there are two different realities on both sides of the strait. The PDP advocated for independence, but today it does not defend it so aggressively and is committed to maintaining the status quo.”
Although historically opposed, the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have sometimes found ways to collaborate and prevent secession. KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia is currently on a 17-day trip to the mainland to boost cross-border communication. “The cooperation between the KMT and the CCP really picked up momentum in 2008, with the victory of Ma Ying-jeou [KMT] in the elections. This made possible a rapprochement between the business and political elites of the mainland and Taiwan,” says Ríos.
Maintaining the status quo
That approach was cut short in 2014, when a group of protesters occupied parliament to denounce the approval, without bipartisan debate, of a controversial trade agreement with China. “The Sunflower Movement put the brakes on a whole process of rapprochement, which had generated the expectation of a possibility of peaceful unification through dialogue,” says Ríos. “After PDP’s victory with an absolute majority in 2016 is completely the opposite, a completely opposite path opened,” he adds.
Despite the two trends, the surveys carried out biannually by the Center for Electoral Studies of National Chengchi University (Taipei) since 1994 show that the vast majority of the 23 million Taiwanese are committed to maintaining the status quo. In its latest poll, from July, those in favor of unification are few (1.3%) and falling, while those in favor of declaring independence (5.1%) have also lost steam.
“My parents and I share the same opinion: we don’t care who rules Taiwan, but we don’t want to lose our freedoms. My grandparents and my parents had hopes for the principle of one country, two systems, but after what happened in Hong Kong we know that it is not viable,” says Wu, 32, who prefers to identify himself with a pseudonym.
Deng Xiaoping devised the one country, two systems model in the late 1980s. The goal was to ensure conformity to the idea that there is but one China, while ensuring that those areas that had developed their own economic systems could keep them under Chinese rule. The idea, originally conceived for Taiwan, has never been accepted by the island’s political parties.
Taiwanese fear that the idea’s acceptance will bring an erosion of democracy. China had agreed with the United Kingdom to guarantee Hong Kong’s system of freedoms until 2047. But after the 2019 protests, Beijing has become intransigent, with the approval of the draconian National Security Law and with an electoral reform that ended up placing Beijing-backed candidate John Lee as head of government in May.
“Once you visit the Chinese mainland, if you are green, you turn dark green. If you are blue, you go green,” Wu says, summarizing the Taiwanese’s misgivings. But given the obvious difference in opinion that has persisted in high political circles, the most intelligent response seems to be the one reflected by the polls. When asked what he would choose between preserving the status quo or moving towards complete autonomy from Beijing, Wu does not hesitate: “Independence does not deserve a war.”
The day the Taliban entered my city last August, I started to receive renewed threats from Taliban commanders who wanted to punish me for my work as a news journalist. I was forced to leave my home that day, amid the loud explosions of an ongoing battle, hiding under a burqa, and praying to survive the journey.
What I did not know then was that this journey would continue for the next year.
Every few weeks, I moved from province to province, sometimes living in the heart of cities, other times hiding out in remote villages. In the first few days, I stayed at my uncle’s house in Sari Pul province, but once the local Taliban learned he was harbouring a fugitive, we had to leave in the middle of the night.
I went to Mazar-i-Sharif city in Balkh, and then took the road to Kabul, passing through Samangan, Baghlan and Parwan provinces. We were stopped at checkpoints in every province, and every time my heart would pound inside my chest. Luckily, I was under a chadari [the full Afghan burqa] and passed through checkpoints undetected.
In Kabul, the very air had shifted; there was fear and dread, alongside celebrations, as Taliban fighters from all over the country gathered in the capital. With the help of some friends, I was moved to a safe house, where I spent the next three months attempting to find ways to leave the country, but seldom even leaving the compound I was hiding in. The Taliban would launch random raids in the neighbourhood, looking for fugitives like me.
Somehow, our compound evaded suspicion, but when the number of raids increased, I knew I would have to leave Kabul soon.
In December 2021, I heard the news that my cousin had been killed by the Taliban. He was a policeman and often clashed with the Taliban during the years of conflict. Like me, he had been hiding for months, looking for a way to leave the country, but was caught and killed. I broke down, not just in grief over his loss, but also in incredible pain over what my life had turned into.
I decided to go back to my province, but did not go home because I didn’t want to risk my family’s lives. I hid at the home of another relative, but being so close to my family again made me homesick. I yearned for my mother’s embrace; I hadn’t seen her in months.
One day, I met my mother in a crowded marketplace. We hugged each other tight, and I cried, but she gave me strength. I knew I couldn’t give up now.
Over the next few months, I started weaving carpets to help support myself and my family. Since the Taliban takeover, we had not only lost income but my life in exile was costing my parents, who had already sacrificed so much to raise me and now had to support me. It was hard labour, and I developed rashes and sores on my hands, but it helped my family and took my mind off the threats I was still receiving.
Then the threats from the Taliban changed. They no longer wanted to kill me. They wanted me to marry one of their commanders. They reached out to my parents and community elders, pressuring them to give me away in marriage.
I couldn’t believe it was now happening to me. In the past, I covered stories of the Taliban imposing forced marriages on young girls. Now I was one of the women I had reported about last year.
When I refused, they sent me photos of AK-47s and pistols, threatening to kidnap me, and kill my parents. I blocked their numbers and deleted WhatsApp but they still found ways to send me threats. Eventually, I took out my sim card and broke it into pieces. I was terrified of what they would do to me, or worse, to my family.
So in July, with the help of friends, I made one more attempt to leave the country. First, with the help of my father, I moved to Mazar-i-Sharif, and then we took the road to Kabul again. I carried medical certificates, and every time we were stopped, we would say I was going to Kabul for treatment. I was nervous throughout the journey because the Taliban were more brutal than before.
Eventually we made it to Kabul, where I met with other women like myself. Together, under the pretext of seeking medical help, we were able to get on a flight leaving for a neighbouring country.
I am somewhat safer now, but not out of danger. I barely sleep because I fear for my family, who are still in Afghanistan. They are already being shamed because I ran away. A young unmarried daughter leaving by herself is considered very dishonourable in Afghan culture.
But I am fortunate in the support I have received from my parents, at great personal risk. They always prioritised my passion, my happiness, and now my security and future. Contrary to popular belief, many Afghan fathers would, like mine, rather face societal dishonour and threats than deny their daughters opportunities for a better future.
I appeal to our international allies to empower such Afghan families, particularly the women. We worked so hard to attain values of equality and freedom and have lost the most in the last year. But we are still resisting, and we are seeking allies to support us and amplify our voices.
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