The densely-populated, low-income regions in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya often struggle to maintain a healthy living environment. Lack of waste-management facilities and extensive environmental degradation often exacerbate these problems. To alleviate poverty and prevent further harm to the environment, a group of conservation activists founded Big Ship in 2010. The organization is dedicated to providing community-focused solutions to local problems in Mombasa. By addressing these challenges, the organization targets several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those pertaining to socio-economic growth, environmental reestablishment and sustainable living.

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Big Ship’s three pillars

Big Ship is founded on three pillars. The first is the Urban Resilience Pillar, which serves underprivileged urban populations in the city. Since Mombasa has a high population growth rate, its low-income settlements are also on the rise. In light of SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, the organization strives to strengthen the resilience of these marginalized groups. The team supports community members to boost their socio-economic status through training and mentorship.

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The second pillar is Waste Resource Collection (RECO). Waste disposal facilities are not able to keep up with high volumes of trash. In fact, the city produces 19,000 tons of waste each month, 10% of which is plastic-based. This often results in trash piling up in illegal dumping sites. Over time, and especially during the rainy season, the rubbish makes its way into freshwater and marine ecosystems. Since Mombasa is highly dependent on marine resources for its economy, the city is becoming more vulnerable to environmental degradation caused by pollution.

The third pillar that Big Ship is built on is Mangrove Conservation. Mangrove forests are a key component of marine ecosystems. They shield the land from strong waves that can degrade coastlines, provide homes and sources of food for local communities and absorb pollutants from the air. In Mombasa, Tudor Creek is home to a large mangrove forest of various species, spanning 1,641 hectares (4,054 acres). Despite these Tudor Creek mangroves acting as the lungs of the city of Mombasa, human-related factors have severely damaged this ecosystem.

Urban resilience

To accomplish each of the organization’s goals, Big Ship carries out various projects throughout Mombasa. Following Big Ship’s first pillar, Urban Resilience, the team works to empower local communities with a focus on youth, women and other marginalized individuals.

One such example is the organization’s Boresha Jamii project. The Swahili phrase translates to “Improve Society” in English. This project addresses SDG 1, No Poverty, and SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth. The Boresha Jamii Urban Resilience Program works in collaboration with Big Ship’s Volunteering, Internship and Mentorship Program (VIMP) to provide individuals with life skills and entrepreneurship training.

Thanks to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, marginalized communities in Mombasa have become even more vulnerable to the effects of poverty. Through VIMP, Big Ship supports individuals, especially youth and women, to develop their careers. Participants interact with experts in different fields and explore careers they are interested in. Thus, they build skills and enhance their knowledge in their field(s) of interest. Additionally, participants are mentored by industry experts, further enhancing their career trajectory.

A person standing in a landfill

Waste management and resource collection

Big Ship’s second pillar, Waste Resource Collection, is one that was more of a challenge for Big Ship to work towards. Because of commonly-held mindsets regarding the handling of waste, the region has faced extensive problems, including improper waste disposal and a lack of recycling systems. In turn, has resulted in long-term effects on the society and surrounding ecology. To combat this, Big Ship put together the Resource Collection Project (RECO).

RECO has two main objectives: to enhance awareness about waste-management practices and facilitate capacity-building to recover resources. These initiatives create a circular economy by maximizing resources that would typically be thrown away.

To raise awareness, Big Ship targets the youth. They are taught about the organization’s Attitude and Behavior Change (ABC) concept. Through this, youth are encouraged to change their mindsets about waste management and resource recovery. Additionally, resource collectors are employed to gather and transfer resources that can be reused or recycled, activating waste recovery options. Over the past few years, this effort has slashed plastics at the main dumping site by 60%.

A stork standing in a mangrove wetland

Mangrove restoration

Big Ship’s flagship project, #BringBackTudorCreek, is the main initiative that works to fulfill their third objective. The mangrove restoration works to conserve and re-establish deforested and/or degraded mangrove ecosystems. Since Mombasa attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for its gorgeous beaches, ensuring that the coastline is well-maintained is key.

Currently, 80% of the mangrove forest in Tudor Creek has been depleted. This is due to unsustainable extensive pollution and deforestation. This not only causes harm to the environment, but also to the marginalized communities living near Tudor Creek who depend on the ecosystem for income through tourism, food sources and energy needs.

Using the 10,000 plastic yogurt containers collected through RECO initiatives each year, Big Ship plants mangrove seedlings along the creek. These yogurt pots can be used to propagate seedlings up to 50 times each, unlike common polythene bags which can only be used once. Through the reforestation drive, Big Ship planted over 300,000 mangroves on 200 hectares (494 acres) of coastline in Tudor Creek. The seedlings have a 95% survival rate and are rebuilding the marine ecosystem, allowing aquatic life to thrive once more.

To further sustain the project, Big Ship assisted community members to start up their own beekeeping practices in the newly reforested areas. This helps safeguard the mangroves from clear-cutting and prevents the space being used as a dumping ground. As a result, the creek is flourishing and is no longer threatened by harmful resource exploitation, including mangroves being used for construction and charcoal.

Big Ship’s community-focused solutions are key to tackling local challenges in Mombasa. By empowering the community to manage waste and maintain the coastline, socio-economic development grows in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner.

+ Big Ship

via Al Jazeera

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