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Women Empowerment: Cameroonian woman turns hazardous waste into household furniture

In most towns and cities in Cameroon, piles of scrap tyres are a common sight. These tyres are routinely dumped on the streets, abandoned in running streams, piled up in landfills or regularly burnt in open places. Residents or companies dealing with used tyres often burn them at night for lack of a safer method of disposal. Environmental experts have pointed out several times that scrap tyres sitting in the sun release methane gas into the air leading to pollution.

The huge amount of solid waste generated from tyres according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) represents a major problem. It hurts the environment in terms of air, water and soil pollution as no major strategy has been put in place to properly dispose of solid waste like scrap tyres.

In response to the environmental problems and health hazards posed by the disposal of used tyres, most industrialised countries have put in place a legal framework to tackle waste management.

Cameroon’s 1996 law on environmental management isn’t effectively implemented. The law in Article 42 states, “Waste shall be treated in an ecologically rational manner to eliminate or curb their harmful effects on human health, natural resources, the fauna and flora, and on the quality of the environment in general.” Articles 77-85 highlight sanctions to be meted on those found guilty of not respecting the laws put in place but little is being done to put them into force.

Turn used tyre into money

The concept of recycling is yet to effectively gain ground especially when it comes to scrap tyres. This can be attributed to ignorance or lack of knowledge that effective waste management can also contribute to household income. However, 35-years-old Ayeah Leonette is changing this perception. The artist who is also a single mother is one of those who found an opportunity to convert scrap tyres to household furniture used within her home city of Bamenda, in the Northwest Region of Cameroon.

She started two years ago with this as a business idea before realizing she was fighting environmental degradation through the collection of scrap tyres from running streams, streets or landfills. “I learned shoemaking and bags out of fabrics and my knowledge from this then got incorporated into the transformation of used tyres to household furniture like chairs, stools and tables. For me, it was about sustaining myself and my son as a single mum but then I realised it was keeping the environment clean. My products are being used in homes, bars, restaurants and offices,” she says.

Due to lack of specific dumpsites for these scrap tyres, I collect them alongside my younger brother from running streams, along the streets or in specific areas operating tyres business and dumpsites. I sometimes get called by those who know what I do, to come to collect scrap tyres while others tell me to buy. When I realised this was contributing to fighting pollution, I felt motivated and knew this is a way of giving back to my community. I worked with a few other women but they were not committed and did not see it as a source of income,” Leonette adds.

She has so far transformed over 500 used tyres in her living room serving as a workshop for now. It takes 2-3 days to collect the raw materials and assemble and one hour and 30 minutes is used to cover it up. It brings her at least $200 per month depending on the sales.

I hope to get a working space and showroom where I can train more women like me and in particular youths which would help curb the high unemployment rate in my community while tackling pollution at the same time,” she says.

Ayeah Leonette is a native of Kom, a dominant tribe in Boyo Division, North West region Cameroon. She is the first in a family of three and a mother of one. From her works, she is definitely different from others in her hussle to put food on her table.

By Nji Nelson Chefor

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