GOMA, DEMOCRACTIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO –
Goma is filthy.
The lack of refuse bins and collection services is evident everywhere in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province.
Downtown, people eat on the roadsides and throw food waste and wrappers into the streets.
At Virunga Market, one of the four major markets in Goma, food vendors display their fish and produce on the ground, near a mountain of garbage swarming with flies.
Across town, in an alleyway in the Mapendo neighborhood, pools of stagnant water block pedestrian passage. No gutters drain the pools of filthy, trash-strewn water.
The streets of Birere, a slum neighborhood near the Rwandan border, also are strewn with trash. Here, the pools of smelly, stagnant water are so deep that even motorists have difficulty passing.
But one vehicle, a Mitsubishi Fuso truck, is commonly seen speeding through the busy, dirty streets of Birere. The truck leads with a large banner that reads: “Evacuation des Immondices,” or Evacuation of Trash. The painted banner provides phone numbers for the waste collection service.
At the wheel of the truck is Celine Bolangi, a married mother of three who is passionate about cleaning up the streets of Goma. She and her four onboard employees, all dressed in overalls and wearing facemasks, are here to collect garbage and haul it to the community’s dumping ground, a few open fields around Lac Vert, 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Goma.
The constant presence of trash in Bolangi’s neighborhood, the Katindo area of Goma, drove her to establish her own garbage collection service.
“In the beginning, people in my neighborhood could not believe it,” says Bolangi, 30. “They were surprised to see a young woman creating an initiative that men did not yet believe possible. They were dubious about my abilities.”
After two years of study at the University of Goma, Bolangi says she was not able to find a job in Goma, where the informal economy produces few opportunities, even for educated residents.
Repulsed by the garbage problem and determined to feed her family, Bolangi decided to employ herself as an independent garbage collector. She disregarded naysayers.
“It is hard work,” she says. “Some people thought that it was an idea that could not be sustainable.”
Bolangi now collects trash in five Goma neighborhoods – Katindo, Himbi, Birere, Kasika and Carmel.
She provides residents with trash bags and asks that they put out the full bags for collection on the weekend. Calling her business simply Garbage Collection, Bolangi charges each customer household 500 Congolese francs (54 cents) a week for trash removal.
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