Social change implications
One of the most difficult parts of this experience was the social issue we were working with. Here in the States, I shy away from homelessness issues. Well, that’s not completely true. Through the Junior League, I work with women and children who have been homeless. We provide art and literacy programs mostly. Our clients might be very low income, but generally they are no longer experiencing homelessness. Homelessness in general is just not an issue I work with. I love hearing about other people working to solve the problem, particularly in downtown LA and Santa Monica, but I tend to focus on other issues.
So for me, working with people on the street was just that much more out of my comfort zone. Not to mention the kind of streets they live on. Eastleigh is like skid row, sort of. But it’s a skid row that’s been neglected by the government for years. Little to no pavement, toppled buildings, it literally looks like a warzone. And it goes on for miles, that’s the most difficult thing. At least skid row is in a defined area. It’s hard to tell when you’re driving in and out of Eastleigh, because it mostly looks the same. You can see into Mathari Valley, which is supposedly even worse. But it looks the same too.
I am highly concerned with environmental issues, and being in Eastleigh was a wake up call. The thing that hit me most was the smell. Most of the smell, I think, is from vehicle exhaust. There were times we would be nauseous in the car, not from the bumps but from the fumes. You can see the black clouds coming out of the cars in front of you, and it sticks in the car interior and on your clothes. A major part of my concern for the environment centers on how we are adversely affecting human life by being bad stewards of our planet. I’m sure that the air quality in Eastleigh brings down life expectancy. If I got sick in just a couple of weeks, I can’t imagine what their lungs must look like from living there.
The trash in Eastleigh is atrocious. But, like I said in an earlier post, the trash plays a vital role for the kids there. I wish I could have taken a picture, it’s incredibly difficult to explain the literal mountain of trash where the kids slept. It was a full city block big, and the trash was taller than I am. Maybe 8 feet. We walked in dirt paths between the trash mounds, the same path the chickens walked. I couldn’t even tell you what all the trash was from. Paper mostly, with words in English and in other languages. Most of the plastic has been taken away to be sold, but dotted here and there are little makeshift ovens burning plastic bags. The smell there is terrible too. With all that trash, there’s no room for green. So these poor kids are running around with live electricity wires and chicken poop under their bare feet, and no plants to help clean the plastic filled air.
I don’t currently work in the environmental sector, but if I did I would have a renewed mission of recycling. I do now, even in my personal life. There is no way that the people in Kenya created all that trash themselves. I isn’t old, most of that paper will decompose in a few years. So this is new trash being created and dumped all in a short timeline. Why should we dump our trash? Let’s recycle it and upcycle it. Most newspapers are going virtual now, which is good, but what about magazines? Can we print with soy ink? Or more environmentally responsible paper? How about reducing the ridiculous amount of packaging in our products?
If I ran a products business, I would be seriously reconsidering how I deliver my goods. I am a firm believer in socially responsible businesses, so I hope my business would have some solid values to start with. But logistically, I would move away from traditional delivery methods to something with less environmental impact. If possible, I would prefer to move to digital. I would make sure our vision statement was in line with the environmental values of the company, and then revisit the mission statement to be sure it was guiding our actions in the right direction. Of course, when any company makes these changes they should market them and even rebrand the company if they can. This serves a dual purpose – the company gets greater market share because of the differentiation (which leads to more profits) and then other companies follow suit, making the world a little better. And I’d like to take my employees to see these places for themselves. You don’t need to go to Africa to see the problems caused by trash. Just go to skid row or downtown Chicago or even your local trash dump. If you go (actually go) I guarantee you’ll have a new appreciation.
(Photo credit: This isn’t my photo, but I had to find a way to show at least some of the trash. This is from Africa Stories)