24 June 2016
Since its creation in 1995, the Groupe d’Action des Femmes pour la Relance Économique du Houet (Women’s action group for the economic revival of Houet – known as Gafreh) has set itself the goal of improving living conditions for women in the region. Through its plastic bag recycling project, it has succeeded in ensuring financial independence for more than eighty women and their family.
The idea came from Haoua Ibouldo, who is now the treasurer of Gafreh. As is the case in other large cities in Africa, there is a high level of pollution in Bobo Dioulasso, which is Burkina Faso’s second city, notably as a result of the waste and plastic bags which are discarded in the streets. This waste gets into the soil and even goes down into the water table and this leads to both contamination and the transmission of diseases.
Furthermore, Ibouldo, together with many of her fellow citizens, could see animals dying as they choked on these discarded plastic bags. So she thought about how to solve this problem and began to collect the plastic bags and to give them an added value by turning them into something useful.
Bags, baskets, mobile phone covers, key rings, dolls are just some of the articles currently in production as a result of the efforts being made to transform plastic bags.
It is lengthy and painstaking work. First of all, the bags are collected in the streets by people who live in highly precarious conditions. This provides them with a minimum income, whilst they are also helping to clean up the urban environment. The bags are then washed with soap by hand, disinfected, dried and cut into thin strips. The women who are members of the association then have the task of spinning the plastic strips onto reels and bobbins before making the various finished articles.
This is all carried out at the artisanal weaving centre, which was opened by the Gafreh cooperative in 2003 and now employs 85 women from very modest backgrounds. The centre provides them with training in the areas of recycling and craft skills and enables them to use skills that they are particularly good at, namely knitting and crocheting.
As Gafreh explains on its website, “the selection of the people who work in this centre is not left to chance. The direct beneficiaries of the recycling project are poor women and young girls who come from different parts of Bobo Dioulasso”. The age of the workers is taken into account in the allocation of the various tasks. For example, rather than being excluded, women aged over fifty wash the bags.
Gafreh’s efforts have been recognised by many different international awards, including first prize in the Chamber of Commerce Product Design Competition in 2006 and the UNESCO prize in 2005.
Gafreh is involved in other projects, such as the training centre which has been running literacy programmes for women since 2011. Thus far 1,170 women have taken part in the literacy courses run by Gafreh and this is particularly important since 87% of women in Burkina Faso are illiterate.