Isatou Ceesay grew up in a small village in Gambia, Africa.
In Gambia, it is normal for families to throw their plastic bags behind their homes. That’s why plastic bags can be seen stacked behind families homes.
Ceesay was forced to drop out of school at a young age, but she does not let anything stop her from learning or taking action.
She worked for the U.S. Peace Corps office in Gambia, the Swedish organization. Future in Our Hand, and as a consultant for development organizations.
Isatou Ceesay- Queen of Recycling
Isatou Ceesay was named Queen of Recycling when she started the recycling movement in Gambia called: One Plastic Bag.
Her recycling project began in 1998 and is still thriving today.
In 2012, she was awarded a TIAW “Difference Maker” award in Washington, DC.
Ceesay educates women on how to recycle plastic waste and turn it into income.
Moreover, she spreads awareness about plastic being the worst polluters in the environment. Educating people about recycling and its effect in reducing the amount of plastic waste.
Isatou Ceesay founded a project that created plastic threads and formed bags of waste that had become garbage. This initiative not only reduces that amount of waste in her village, but it is also able to provide a livelihood to hundreds of West African women, giving them monthly income.
“Our culture usually pigeonholes women to carry out all crops and housekeeping activities at home, then clean, cook, and raise the children, waiting for the husband to come back from work. Changing this image has been one of our main challenges.”
She sees families, women, and children use plastic to light up charcoal stoves: “they and their kids were directly breathing those toxic fumes. I realized we had to change this.” Abusing the environment has obvious consequences:
“I think that when you abuse your environment, you abuse yourself”– Isatou Ceesay
When Isatou and four other women started the movement, the N’Jau recycling center, their mission is to educate on how to reclaim garbage and recycle plastic rather than letting it accumulate behind their homes.
People have been accustomed to keep garbage behind their houses, that’s why in Africa they say that when your house is clean and your neighbors’ aren’t, then the air is all dirty.
In the beginning, women wouldn’t believe that they could turn garbage into revenue.
Isatou met a Peace Corps USA Volunteer in Gambia, where she learned how to reclaim plastic waste. Now, members of the movement craft wallets, bags, and toys for children-all of which came from reclaimed plastic bags that they cut knit and sew.
With more than 2,000 members in 40 different communities throughout Africa and projects with the European Union, the movement has come a long way.
After seventeen years of hard work, the government consulted them and voted a total ban on plastic bags imports. Now, shops have to use alternatives such as paper bags or paper wrappings, or customers need to bring their own reusable shopping bag.
With these serious movements and advocacies around the world, we can end plastic pollution. Gambia is indeed extremely lucky to have Isatou Ceesay.
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