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Published: September 10, 2023

Gambia: The Queen of Recycling

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Isatou Ceesay is a Gambian social entrepreneur who, through the One Plastic Bag in the Gambia which she founded has removed waste plastic from the environment and created livelihoods.

“Isatou’s sister had taught her how to crochet, and this gave her an idea for how to upcycle the plastic bags that were causing so many problems – changing them from waste into something valuable. She would turn them into purses that could be sold to make money. Isatou persuaded five friends to join her to form a new women’s group, and together they collected bags from the rubbish pile, washed them and dried them out. Then, that first afternoon beneath the tree, they carefully cut each bag into a long continuous thread of plastic several centimetres wide – called ‘plarn’, or plastic yarn. With this, they started to crochet small purses for coins, using different coloured plarn to add pretty patterns. It took eight hours or more to make one purse and it used up around 10 plastic bags. The women were delighted with what they had made.

Some people laughed at Isatou and her friends, telling them they were ‘dirty’ for digging around in the rubbish. Some men told her that her plans couldn’t work because she was a woman and too young to be a leader. But Isatou believed in what she was doing. She loved helping others and relished a challenge. In her family, everyone had always worked together to solve problems, and her mother had been a great inspiration to her. In the Gambia, many girls were unable to finish school because they were needed at home to help their mothers. Isatou wanted women to have the chance to learn skills and to earn money, even if they had not been given the chance to finish their education.”

Excerpt from Climate Heroes, where you can read more about Isatou Ceesay and her replicable and scalable achievements, turning waste to wealth.

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