WeAreM.A.D. (Making A Difference), doesn’t just clear dumpsites and tackle environmental sanitation. It also fights unemployment and gender inequality by helping women start their own businesses.
Where others see trash, Tony Joy sees the prospect of a more equal society.
Old tires, plastic bottles, discarded clothes: They all have potential. Not only can trash be turned into something beautiful. It can also help people gain access to basics like housing and health care, Joy says.
“How does waste link directly to gender parity and inequality issues?” Joy asks. It's one of the questions the Making A Difference (MAD) initiative in Nigeria is trying to answer.
“We look at waste as value that society has to create solutions to problem like unemployment, women not doing anything, young people not having jobs," she explains.
"Waste is a constant. Every day we have waste being thrown out and at the same time, every day we have issues around unemployment.”
Joy founded the NGO – which also goes by the name We.Are.MAD – in 2013 as an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University. Working around the issues of a clean environment, education, community development and livelihoods, it has now has 130 volunteers in nine Nigeria states, and works to clear dumpsites and keep communities clean.
But they don’t just shift trash from one place to another. It’s all about recycling. MAD has trained over 100 young people in craft skills that allow them to turn what others have thrown away into school bags, jewelry – and even buildings.
“We make waste into art,” Joy says.
Joy is particularly focused on what waste can do to improve the lot of women in her country. After a year working and training with MAD, women are given the chance or found their own businesses.
“The essence of them staying with us for one year is to learn certain skills,” Joy explains. “In that one year they have learned business management, they have learned customer relations, they have learned standards.”
MAD works as cooperative. Women can borrow the funds to set up their business. The money they put back in means more and more women have the chance to turn their creativity into a way for making a living, Joy says.
Her enthusiasm for trash seems to have no bounds – as if it holds the key to just about any social problem she sees around her. Teenage pregnancy, for example.
“The question is not around teenage pregnancy really,” Joy she says. “If you look closely, it’s around poverty. They don’t have an income, they don’t have anything to do.”
By showing them how to make use of the resources available around them, Joy believes you can empower young women to take change of their lives and make better choices.
It’s not all smooth sailing. Joy says the Nigerian government has been slow to recognize the benefits her work brings.
“For us, it has not been very easy to work with the government, especially with waste management. But we look forward to working better with them. Maybe when they understand the value of what we are doing better they will come and work with us.”
But despite challenges, she is convinced that MAD's achievements so far are just the beginning.
“In the next four to five years this is going to be the largest hub for crafts in Nigeria – crafts made out of waste!”