By Leila Hall
It is a Saturday morning in Moshoeshoe II, a neighborhood of Maseru, Lesotho. A small army of eco-warriors has set out to try and clean up the litter in their community. The group is made up of children and teenagers of varying ages who work together, holding black rubbish bags between them and picking up the many bottles, cans, and miscellaneous bits of rubbish that are strewn along the sides of the neighborhood’s dirt roads.
Clean-up days such as this one happen every second Saturday in this neighborhood. The initiative is organized by Africa’s Green Generation (AGG), a Lesotho-based NGO founded by sisters Fila and Mahlao Maema.
“It’s a good exercise for the children, because they get to learn about waste segregation – the idea that not everything is litter,” explains Fila. “We emphasise the idea that cleanliness is important, and that it begins at home. We try to challenge the children to think of what our environment would look like if we just left everything as it is.”
Under the guidance of the two sisters, a core group of children and teenagers living in the neighborhood get together on a regular basis, and have even assigned themselves various leadership positions. Sixteen-year-old Motšopho Motheselane is currently President of the group.
“We meet on Saturdays and during the school holidays,” he says. “We hold clean-up days and we also make things, like knitting and wire cars. We use old glass bottles to make pots for plants, and we recycle tins to make wheels for wire cars.”
Motšopho is worried about the problem of litter in so many communities in Lesotho, and would like to see AGG’s activities expand to other parts of Lesotho.
“I want to see a clean Lesotho in the future,” he says, “with everyone cleaning his or her village. We have to make other people interested in cleaning up, we have to form other AGG groups in the country.”
Today’s clean-up day is followed by a talk and Q&A session with Chris ‘Redz’ Ranthithi, a young Mosotho activist who recently travelled to Canada and held interviews with a number of people about issues related to climate change: an experience that has been documented in the film Talking to Canadians. The young members of AGG are fully attentive, engaged by Chris’ stories and knowledge, and unafraid to raise their hands and ask questions. It is clear that even within this small group there is a sharp interest in environmental issues, and a desire to take positive action.
However, as Fila explains, there exist many barriers in Lesotho for young green activists looking to make a difference. There is currently no recycling plant in the country, and very few public rubbish bins.
“The situation doesn’t change: we hold a clean-up day, but two weeks later when we hold another one there is litter everywhere again,” she says. “There are no bins in this community. The bar behind me has no bin, so there are always bottles and cans on the floor outside. It would be great to run an education and awareness campaign, to encourage people not to litter, but you can’t tell people to not litter when there are no bins available!”
“Most of the rubbish that we pick up is simply taken by the Maseru City Council to the city’s main dump. We need bins where we can separate rubbish properly, and we need a recycling plant, otherwise much of what we do is pointless.”
Despite these challenges, however, the sisters are working hard to try and improve and expand AGG’s reach and activities, and especially to inspire in a younger generation of Basotho the desire and confidence to take action towards creating a cleaner and healthier environment in Lesotho and further afield.
After Chris’ talk, Mahlao addresses the group: “Everything starts at home, everything starts with you. You guys are the solution, not your parents. It will be you and your children living on this earth.”