Contribution to Environmental and Ecological Education

Ecological charcoal and hats from waste recovery

After a seven-month stay here in the province of Haut-Katanga, in the city of Lubumbashi, and more specifically in the commune of Katuba, where our parish of Sainte-Bernadette is located, I observed several things during my walks, visits to local Christian communities and sick people and their families. These observations are not too different from what we often see in big cities: floods during the rainy season, gutters dripping with dirty, foul-smelling sewage; in some places, these gutters are blocked with plastic bottles; and sometimes, the same water full of microbes is used to wash vehicles. Bags and household rubbish litter many of the streets; some people pile the rubbish up in front of their houses as protection to prevent water from entering their homes; others wait until the piles of rubbish reach a certain height before covering them with earth to prevent the water from penetrating the ground. The water in the Katuba River has turned a greenish colour; on either side of its banks, there are shower pipes and, without exaggerating, toilets. The same river water is used for watering the vegetables grown in the surrounding gardens. The first phase is “seeing”.

To better clarify and analyse our findings, the parish benefited from the services of a local NGO called AMA (Action Metanïa Africa). AMA specialises in waste management and recycling and produces ecological charcoal and hydrophobic paving stones from recycled plastics, hats, mineral bags, and much more – giving waste a second life. A technical team from this NGO, led by the founder, Virginie Adallah, and four people from the parish, including myself, visited the area to find out what was happening and assess how we could help the population.

During the tour of the district, we gathered information from residents. Many of them see their situation as inevitable and believe that they have been forgotten by the government, which they feel should be responsible for rubbish collection, so they dump it on the streets. We clarified to them that we’re not here to accuse anyone but rather to do something for ourselves. The photos, videos and interviews we took helped us prepare for our activity’s second phase, “judging”.

There was a conference on contribution to environmental and ecological education. This theme was chosen after a meeting with the founder of AMA, during which I informed her of the Encyclical by Pope Francis entitled Laudato Si’, which talks about safeguarding the environment. Invited to the conference were the pastoral agents of our parish, the mayor and the heads of the neighbourhoods and avenues, then the pastors and leaders of the new religious movements and revivalist churches and, finally, certain resource people from the neighbourhoods who look after their properties. The Laudato Si’ team from the archdiocese of Lubumbashi was also invited to the conference. Some officials, such as the mayor and the minister responsible for the environment, apologised but were represented by others.

After the opening prayer and welcome by the parish priest of Sainte-Bernadette, Father Gautier Sokpo, Virginie Adallah, founder of AMA, gave the first talk. The talk recounted the findings of our visit to the neighbourhood, which were then analysed and interpreted. It was an eye-opener for participants who believed it was solely the state’s responsibility to clean up our neighbourhoods and streets. It was an invitation to everyone to take charge of the destiny of our neighbourhoods by doing what they could to make them clean before calling on the state and the government to play their part. There were videos of waste sorting techniques, particularly the system of three or four bins of different colours, and how to recover old clothes and fabrics to make hats. She also mentioned the activities of their NGO.

Then, it was the turn of Sr Syvie, coordinator of the Laudato Si’ team in the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi. She presented Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and how it invites the world to thank God for his creatures, who are like brothers and sisters and need to be cared for. She highlighted the team’s work in parishes, seminaries, and mosques. The team was set up at the behest of Mgr Fulgence Muteba, Archbishop of Lubumbashi. He has been involved in this movement ever since and can’t finish his homilies without mentioning environmental protection.

We organised our activity in line with the impetus given by our pastor. The sister came with artists who sang “les déchets sorciers” or “kuloka” or “Buchafu bulozi”. She said that our parish was a flagship parish because of how it organised this activity and that her team would use it as a model for others. The participants were surprised to hear that waste can be recycled.

After these presentations, the participants were invited to work in groups to answer a questionnaire on how they care for their environment. The responses revealed a desire to care for their environment. They wanted to see our collective dream of a clean neighbourhood come true. So they asked that this conference be different from many others they had participated in but failed to bear fruit.

The next phase of our activities will focus on “taking action”. To this end, participants at the conference were invited to start doing what they could at their level before lobbying the mayor and the governor concerning our district. The programme of activities will include visits to schools to raise awareness among pupils about the importance of looking after the school environment to guide them along the path of environmental education. Besides the schools, the health centres in our health zone will also be visited to raise awareness, as will the churches in our neighbourhood.

By: Gautier Sokpo, M.Afr.