One volunteer’s trash is another Zambian kid’s treasure

If necessity is the mother of invention, then rural Zambian kids are its crazy stepchildren. In their hands, old plastic bottles and cast-off pieces of rubber become cars and trucks, pulled around on strings. Discarded maize husks and scraps of dirty chitenge are transformed into dolls, twigs and leaves are reimagined as propellers, and used plastic bags are strung upon sticks and launched into the air, reborn as kites.


And most ubiquitous of all are the makeshift footballs. Across the world balls are made by children using whatever they have on hand, and here in my village plastic bags are the material du jour. The kids wind the bags tightly and tie them so that the resulting effort is rounder and bounces truer than any synthetic, FIFA-approved soccer ball you can buy at Big 5.


I’m not wild about the idea of my flock of iwes rooting around in my trash pit – it’s bad enough that they literally see all of my dirty laundry – so in contradiction to my typical creed of sustainability and responsible natural resource stewardship, I burn my trash.

But I give the kids the plastic bags first.



3 thoughts on “One volunteer’s trash is another Zambian kid’s treasure

  1. In a way, you feel so proud of them for their resourcefulness, but at the same time, so sad that they have to scavenge around in the trash for something American children take for granted……a toy.

    • Or option 3: if we didn’t manufacture and advertise and give American kids expensive, shiny toys, would they be just as happy with simple models made from discarded materials?

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