Zimbabwean women turning waste into livelihoods.

Regina Pasipondya

Dressed up as beggars with large sacks on their backs, moving around in teams of twos, the women of the ‘IVA’ group from Domboshava, Mungate community in Zimbabwe move around picking up plastic bottles and other recycled materials for sale.

The initiator, leader of the group

IVA meaning; ‘you can become whatever you dream of in life’ is a women empowerment initiative led by Ruth Takapera that seeks to change the narrative of disadvantaged women in Domboshava a peri-urban community in the Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe.

“We started as 15 but five others have dropped out along the way due to the nature of our job that demands long hours walking around carrying large brown sacks and picking up plastic waste.

“Our project focuses on women who have faced so many adversities in life such as failure to continue with studies and other unfortunate situations. Therefore, we formed a group where we work together focusing on income generating projects because our goal is to see women earning a living and at the same time contribute towards environmental conservation,” said Takapera.

Armed with knowledge and determination, they collect and sell recyclable materials. Their efforts not only provided income for the women but also contributed to environmental sustainability.

For Takapera, her involvement in the Community Solutions Program in 2022, groomed her for this vision as she is now a Director of IVA Women’s Group.

Her story took another turn when she thought of an idea that could empower her community.

“I did not know that IVA would be something that can be recognised and I feel it is because of the women that I work with that contributed towards the growth of this initiative,” Takapera told this publication.

She introduced IVA in 2022, starting with a peanut butter processing project.

In 2023, IVA expanded and ventured into recycling, an opportunity she found out of the country’s waste management crisis.

Some of the women on their graduation day

Like many other countries worldwide, Harare and other surrounding areas in Zimbabwe have been grappling with the mounting challenge of waste management.

Plastic, paper, and other contaminants piled up, polluting waterways and ecosystems.

Takapera saw an opportunity within this crisis and embarked on a waste management journey that would empower not only herself but also other women and the youths in her community.

“Through the IVA program, women are gaining essential skills in waste collection, recycling, and business management.

“We are learning how to turn discarded materials into valuable resources,” Takapera stated.

Recently, more than 10 women graduated from the recycling training defying the odds by creating employment opportunities for themselves and inspiring others to follow suit.

Their story shows the transformative power of generative business practices that can change people’s livelihoods in a community.

“So far we have been making around USD200 a month from peanut butter only not calculating tonnes of plastic waste that we are yet to sell,” said Takapera.

During the graduation ceremony of IVA Group in Waste Management training in Domboshava recently, the women expressed gratitude to the Recycling Lady, Mary Wazara for sharing her knowledge in recycling with them during the training.

The Recycling Lady (Pvt) Ltd Director, Mary Wazara graced the occasion and participated in the handing over of certificates to the 10 women.

In her speech at the occasion, Wazara said she had never met anyone with such determination as members of IVA.

“I have been working with these ladies since last year and their hard work and determination is extraordinary and today I am proud to hand over the certificates to them because they deserve them.

“As someone who has been in this business for long, I can tell you that it is not easy to move around picking waste at roadside or a shopping centre. Sometimes people would think that you are crazy but this is where the money is. I was in the recycling business for years now and I can guarantee the members of IVA not lose hope considering the challenges faced by dependent women in our society as they face discrimination and many inequalities,” said Wazara.

UNDP Zimbabwe acknowledges that discrimination and gender inequality continue to be significant barriers to Zimbabwe’s development with numerous issues still affecting women and girls, such as restricted access to economic, healthcare, and educational possibilities.

However, the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) representative, Liberty Mugadza applauded the IVA Women’s Group for demonstrating how community-driven recycling initiatives can foster environmental consciousness, empower citizens, and create a positive ripple effect for generations to come.

“The positive effects of IVA extend beyond local boundaries and I know that one-day people would want to visit Mungate area just to witness the hard work of these women and how they have been improving their livelihoods through recycling.

“Being able to remove recyclables from landfills reduces environmental pollution. Moreover, the project’s alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals underscores its commitment to creating a more sustainable and resilient future. As citizens actively participate in IVA, they contribute not only to their immediate communities but also to global efforts to combat plastic waste and promote circular economies,” said Mugadza.

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