Rewards for Rubbish in Zambia’s Compounds: Empowering Women Through Trash | Chuma Lutato


The Zambian shanty compounds, popularly known as “komboni”, usually have little or no access to electricity, running water or sewage systems and are densely populated areas. These settlements developed as a result of a chronic housing shortage especially for the urban poor. Most compounds have developed on the outskirts of large urban centres are unplanned settlements with little or no social amenities.

When I applied as a volunteer for Challenges Worldwide ICS Zambia I did not see myself working in the compounds. When I first heard of Trashback, the SME I am currently placed in, it was not necessarily the type of company I had expected to be place in and I wasn’t sure of the work we would receive since I hadn’t heard of a company like this before.

My counterpart and I have been working under the business development section where we have been trying to recruit more people in the various compounds to begin to collect the recyclable materials and find ways to eventually sustain the business.


Most of the collectors recruited are women who don’t really do much in terms of formal employment so they look for means to survive on a daily basis. This is their motivation to engage in trash collection. My days have involved speaking our local languages seeing as most of the residents in the compounds understand very little English (I must say my local language skills have immensely improved!) Although we have had instances where people try to construct sentences in English because they have seen me with a Muzungu (white person).


Many people, not just in the compounds, do not know that most of the rubbish they throw away actually has a value and could be a means of survival for some. The first thing people want to know when we explain to them the essence behind the concept of Trashback is how much they would get for the recyclable materials but what we want to enforce first is the desire for them to keep their communities clean and disease free.

Trashback is creating hope where hope seems vague for many women in the compounds. Very few men participate in the programme at the moment but one of its aims is to get as many people as possible, even if it won’t be a full time duty for them. Having both men and women participate in the project enables more trash to be collected. Although they fear discrimination from the community for picking up trash, they do it firstly to keep the community clean and secondly to make a living, put food on their tables and educate their children.

Having interacted with most of the women involved in the project in the different compounds my perspective on life has definitely changed in the sense that I never saw myself working with women in the compounds. Trashback and Challenges Worldwide might just have given me an idea of what I want to do for the rest of my life!

Before Challenges Worldwide I had very little knowledge about proper waste management and recycling, I literally had no idea how long it took a plastic bottle to decompose (400 years by the way!), I highly doubt any of us will be around by then. Also, our work has involved us moving around the city from one end to another. It has given me a chance to see how the majority of Zambians in Lusaka are living; behind our walls we hardly know what is going.

With recycling still in its infancy I strongly believe Trashback is on the right track and the work it is doing is not only empowering the women in the compounds but also ensuring that the compounds they work in are clean and disease free.

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