We started with International coastal cleanup last Saturday where we collected 1.5 tonnes of rubbish. We managed to fill multiple bags with ocean debris with 20 (approx 500 kg) of those bags being filled entirely with flip flops which are on their way to Nairobi where they will be converted into flip flop art. In order to be most effective, we created a team of 30 volunteers, which included some of our friends Nyambura Wahu, Angelika Schuetz, Atwaa Salim, and Famau Shukry from Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LAMCOT).
On the south end of the island is a big seaside dump similar to one that we had seen in Haiti. This is a looming issue as this is where people go to dump all of their garbage. Some of the local community has been trying their best to bury the ever-growing garbage heap because the Kenyan government has not provided the proper infrastructure needed to sustainably collect and dispose of rubbish.
During this trip, we visited Bihawa, who lives on a small island in the eastern part of the Lamu Archipelago. Bihawa is one of the resourceful mothers who made a decision to repurpose the washed-up flip-flops and make colourful toys for her children as well as others. This then turned into a successful enterprise which to this day, still supports the families on the island. She is one of the key members of the Kiwayu community, of which we have worked with for 20 years. As of late, they have been creating new, simple, fun recycled flip-flop products that will soon be available on our online website!
In order to get to Kiwayu from Lamu, we took a Dhow which was a seven-hour trip. The main economic activity on this island is fishing. Most young kids grow up to learn a lot more about fishing and the ocean than the average person due to the fact that there is only one school on the entire island and not everyone is able to afford the tuition fees. In addition, it is not always easy to gain access to drinkable water either since there is only one well. And lastly, healthcare has also proven to be a challenge because there is only one clinic on the island.
We also managed to visit Lamu Marine Conservation Trust which is a local turtle conservation organisation based on the island. A few of their objectives are undertaking protection of nesting and foraging sea turtles on Lamu and Manda Island, campaigning against destructive and illegal marine exploitation practises, establishing a greater understanding and wise uses of marine biodiversity amongst the local communities to improve their livelihood and lastly, to create awareness on marine conservation amongst hoteliers and tourist visiting Lamu archipelago. Learning about how local communities contribute to the betterment of their immediate environment truly was a heartwarming experience especially since we are all working towards the same goal or at least a similar cause. We also had the pleasure of partnering with Peponi hotel, who agreed to sell our products and donate 100% of the profits they make from sales to local community projects. These projects could be anything that is helping develop a sustainable future and they can range from beach cleaning to turtle conservation.
We wanted to document parts of it so we travelled with a film making crew to capture every step of our Ocean Sole process. With this film crew, we were able to interview local flip flop vendors to learn what they think about the problem of flip flops, we were also able to capture the huge number of flip flops that daily wash up onto our Kenyan beaches. And finally, we met with communities we work with in order to create a video that will launch our Sole Mate Project. This project is a mission to raise awareness on endangered species through creating sculptures of the animals at risk out of the flip flop pollution.