Namugongo is a lush, forested community in central Uganda where tall trees are home to colourful birds and noisy monkeys. The community has a tragic place in history: on 3 June 1886, 22 Ugandan Christian converts were publicly executed, on the orders of King Mwanga II of the Buganda Kingdom, in an attempt to ward off the influence of colonial powers with whom the Christians were associated.
The converts were elevated to sainthood by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Ugandans today see those converts as martyrs. They commemorate every 3 June, Martyrs Day, with weeklong celebrations that attract thousands of visitors from around the country.
During the week celebrants discard tons of waste, including plastic bottles, food and sewage, often throwing them into open channels, where they are likely to be transported by heavy rains into the premises of St. Kizito High School on the outskirts of the village.
Waste to wealth
But the students of St. Kizito have come up with ways to collect that waste and transform it into wealth. They use the silt they collect to create and maintain the school's pavers, and they create arts and crafts from the plastic straws and bottles, which they then sell. The students also turn biowaste into organic fertilizer for the school gardens, where they learn to grow mushrooms, onions and cabbage, and they use dried briquettes made from biowaste as fuel to cook school meals.
A visit to the school reveals many recycling efforts by the students. Three large metal bed frames, refashioned by the students into a simple recycling facility, sit in the middle of the school courtyard. Here the students separate waste into paper, plastic and biodegradables.
'We get the dirty straws, wash them, and soften them. We then weave them into baskets, handbags, money purses, laptop bags, doormats and carpets. We sell the products to our parents and visitors,' says Patricia Nakibuule, one of the students producing the handcrafted items.
'I am responsible for ensuring that my fellow students, all 800 of them, have lunch to eat,' she says, smiling. 'We use biowaste briquettes as fuel because this contributes to recycling and reduces deforestation.' The school does not need firewood and therefore does not have to cut down trees in the forest.
Aside from waste recycling, St. Kizito school equips students with skills in making soap and candles, caring for animals, landscaping and baking.
Students tell their stories
'At home, I rear poultry and grow tomatoes...