Despite his youthful age, Stephen Chiunjira has a rare passion—to make his community a better place. Chiunjira dedicates his time to improving sanitation in his community at Kawale in Lilongwe and he has become a model among many youths in the area.
Growing up in Kawale, he realised that poor sanitation was one of the challenges his area faced. When he was selected to study for a Bachelor of Education in Business Studies at Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima), his passion grew as he could compare good sanitation at the college and at his home area.
His passion to improve sanitation in Kawale started out of frustration when he once failed to cross a bridge in his area because someone had dumped a dead dog in the stream and it was stinking heavily. From that moment, he vowed to work to improve sanitation in the location.
Kawale, which has a population of about 40 867, is one of the oldest and largest townships of Lilongwe City. The area is expanding at an alarming rate due to its proximity to the city centre, where most of the people walk to and from work amid the deepening financial crisis and the high cost of living in the city.
With such an influx of people into Kawale Township, the amount of waste produced is huge. According to a survey conducted by Chiunjira, about 70 percent of waste is hardly collected and managed due to the city council’s poor capacity as well as poor road infrastructure. This clearly suggests that a large proportion of waste generated is improperly disposed of.
“Residents use methods that are not environmentally-friendly in disposing their waste. Some residents dig pits in their backyard for waste disposal while others disposed of it carelessly,” says Chiunjira.
But Chiunjira says the four years he spent at university taught him that it is possible to live in a good environment if residents act responsibly.
“My four years in college taught me that it is possible to live in a clean environment. I felt sorry whenever I returned to Kawale for holidays to find that people were still living in a poor environment, putting their lives at risk of disease outbreaks,” he says.
Chiunjira decided to be the change he wanted to see in his community.
“I realised that if I did not do something, I would continue to be one of the victims of poor sanitation. Hence, I decided to lead in improving sanitation,” he explains.
During his fourth year in college, Chiunjira convinced some Lilongwe City Council officials to grant him permission to clean up a stream in his community. The officials did not hesitate to grant him permission.
Together with a few friends, the young man cleaned up the stream by removing plastic papers and some metals that were in it. They also created outlets for stagnant waters that were breeding mosquitoes.
“I felt gratified that I had contributed positively to the welfare of my community,” he says.
But it occurred to him that just one clean-up exercise would not solve the problem, hence he formed an organisation called Our World International (OWI) to offer a lasting solution to the problem.
He says he chose the name considering that sanitation is a global issue.
“The issue of sanitation does not concern Malawi only. All countries need to take sanitation seriously because it is a step towards a healthy life,” says Chiunjira.
The organisation started its operations in February, 2013 in Kawale and registered in April the same year under the Trustees Incorporation Act.
According to Chiunjira, so far the organisation has been working with various stakeholders such as the Lilongwe City Council, the city development committee and traditional leaders from Kawale jointly allocated an open square, about 90 metres long and 30 metres wide, to be used temporarily for sorting solid waste components. The collected waste is used to make manure for agriculture.
In addition, Kawale Primary School temporarily provided one classroom which the organisation uses as an office on Saturdays.
“Members of this organisation work on voluntary basis. We meet every Saturday to share ideas on how we can improve sanitation and use waste materials such as garbage to make manure,” says Chiunjira.
He says he is happy to see that his passion for good sanitation is bearing fruit in his community. With the other volunteers, Chiunjira visits schools to sensitise students to the importance of good sanitation and hygiene.
One of Kawale residents, Chrissy Mwandira says most areas in Kawale are now clean because of OWI.
“I am one of the volunteers who help clean some parts of Kawale. In the past, garbage was everywhere, but now we collect it and use it to produce manure,” says Mwandira.
Chiunjira’s dream is to see OWI expanding its activities outside Lilongwe.
“We intend to expand to other cities like Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba, primarily in the low income and highly populated areas where many residents are poor and contribute little or nothing to the development of their areas,” he says.
Slowly, Chiunjira is proving that it does not take much bring about positive change in society.