How Health Clubs and recycling initiatives improve well-being in Karoi, Zimbabwe

Mr. Chima’s Office
Photo: Will Maize, 2019

The light beamed in through the few holes not covered by metal, illuminating the fine dust that kicked up from cars, donkeys, and people passing nearby. Most of the scrap was from automobiles – axels, door panels, differentials, gearboxes – you name it. It was stacked from ground to ceiling, which upon inspection was also formed from pieces of cars. The office we were standing in belonged to Mr. Chima, an industrious citizen of Karoi, Zimbabwe, who had been collecting scrap metal since 2013 as part of the Chima Scrap Metal Project. The project is a great example of one of the many initiatives that have evolved out from the active citizen groups in Karoi town, called Health Clubs. These groups, helped off the ground by the Karoi Town Council and UNICEF Zimbabwe with support from Australian Aid, are improving health and wellness in Karoi through the hard work and dedication of a group of committed citizens.  On May 28th, 2019, we had the pleasure of meeting with citizen leaders of the Health Clubs, as well as supporting staff from the Town Council. 

Karoi is located approximately halfway between Kariba and Harare, in Mashonaland West province. The Town boasts a population of approximately 26,000 people, spread out over a hilly, tree covered, and savannah landscape. We were in Karoi to learn about the innovative ways its community leaders were mobilizing to address ongoing health, hygiene, and waste issues – many of which are systemic failures caused by a lack of adequate operating budgets at the local government level. With the aim to create awareness around health issues and enable community action, under the Australian Aid supported Small Towns WASH Program, the Town Council partnered with UNICEF Zimbabwe in 2013 to launch the Health Club initiative. Six years on, it is still making a significant impact for Karoi’s citizens. 

There are twenty five Health Clubs active in Karoi, each managed locally at the Ward level. This decentralization allows each ward to adapt its focus on the issues concerning local citizens, while positioning the club leaders as leaders for health and wellbeing within their wards. With membership typically ranging between 5 to 10 committed citizens, these clubs, which operate without budget, provide vital services to their wardship. Some of the initiatives and projects that Health Club members discussed include: 

  • Citizen reporting on health, hygiene, sanitation and environmental issues via U-Report
  • Making and selling soap for dishes and personal hygiene
  • Using club membership to expand into community collections for funeral coverage (via Eco-Sure)
  • Educating neighbours to have waste bins in their homes, and taking out the garbage to the street twice a day when the truck passes.
Karoi Town Council and Health Club Leaders
Photo: Will Maize, 2019

The community leaders volunteer their time and efforts because they are inspired to improve the health and wellbeing in their communities. Leading the Health Clubs has provided these individuals a special recognition within their Wards and has enabled to have a closer relationship with the Town Council, being able to directly translate the social issues and stresses in their local jurisdictions. Furthermore, they receive training in different areas and they are provided with items that can help us engage with the different projects, such a smartphones. They are hoping to raise funding to acquire tools and other items that will facilitate their identification as Health Club leaders – such as tote bags, t-shirts, as well as better phones and tablets to provide more detailed and accurate data via U-Report. 

The impact of the Health Clubs goes beyond specific projects or actions. Citizens like Mr. Chima, who was originally involved with in the Health Club initiative, have launched side projects aiming to tackle Karoi’s solid waste problems. Sorting all types of scrap metal sources by hand, Mr. Chima and his employees are generating income from selling electronics, used car parts, and small amounts of bulk scrap. He dreams of acquiring a crusher machine, which would improve his ability to access the industrial demand for scrap metal in larger cities like Harare, Bulawayo, and Lusaka.

Gabi and Mr. Chima
Photo: Will Maize, 2019

Another spin-off project emerged this last February when a group of citizens launched an effort to collect and sort recyclables – mainly plastics and cardboard – storing and packaging for sale and eventual processing. With years of plastics mixed into the dumpsite, the group has started its efforts by picking plastics out of the dumpsite, bringing it back to a designated sorting location where it piles and starts to sort. In just three months since it launch, the group has collected hundreds of large bags worth of plastics, sorted into five main groups: PET bottles and fast-food takeout, HDPE bottles, plastics bags and wrappers, brown plastic bottles, and bottle caps. 

Sorted clear plastics at the sorting facility
Photo: Will Maize, 2019

While it has sold some bags already, the group hopes to acquire a smelting machine that can produce plastic pellets and granules, which are in demand from industrial buyers. They also hoping to start sorting out organics and sell as higher-value, locally created fertilizer. The promising initiative is supported by the Town Council, which lends it the Town’s flat-bed garbage collecting truck, because it is helping alleviate pressure on the Town dumpsite. 

Plastics sorted and ready for transport
Photo: Will Maize, 2019

The community-led innovations developing in Karoi are a great example of how improving citizen agency can expand the social and economic opportunities of individuals and communities. Karoi’s citizens are actively identifying problematic areas related to health, hygiene, and the environment, and in some cases are creating local, market-based solutions to solve them. 

We recently finished a route of (well over) 15,000 km around Southern and Eastern Africa, experiencing the diverse cultures and customs, and beautiful flora and fauna in the region. Through our project, 15000km.org, we seek to develop an understanding into how different social structures and institutions influence the adoption of innovative technical and human solutions in the development and use of basic infrastructure: Water, Sanitation, Energy, and Waste management. This article will belong to a series of stories from our trip, which will tie into our final publication. Find out more at http://www.15000km.org. 

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