Stepping backward to jump forward

Married at the age of 14, Mariam Keita dropped out of school and later became a young mother to two girls. Determined not to become another statistic, she set out to complete her education and prove young women in Guinea can be vital contributors to the country’s economic development.

Women and girls must participate in the development of our country and play a transformative role

After two failed attempts at finishing her education due to her caregiving duties, Mariam, now 25-years-old, did not lose hope. With the support of her husband, she decided to take a professional training course in accounting and management. In 2016, she completed the course and graduated with her brevet de technician supérieur (advanced technician’s) degree.

Factory workers in a recycling factory
© UNICEF/Guinea/PardoMariam’s recycling service is improving her community’s health.

“In life you sometimes have to go backwards before you can jump forward,” says Mariam.

The degree was not the end of Mariam’s journey. Seeing the environmental degradation of Conakry, Guinea’s capital, due to more than 5,000 tons of plastic waste being thrown on its streets every month, Mariam decided to launch a plastic waste recycling company.

“In Conakry, the water runoff channels are blocked by all the waste left by people,” she says. “I saw this garbage gathered in the capital as a great business opportunity.”

Her business, Binedou Global Services, collects, processes and transforms plastic waste into traditional bricks for paving. Through an innovative and inexpensive process that doesn’t use water, Mariam’s company uses plastic instead of cement to bond bricks and cuts the drying process from 24 hours per traditional brick to 15 minutes.

The waste is also collected with the help of the community and small storage companies. In exchange, the recycling company receives small financial incentives. Mariam is not only helping provide recycling and waste management services where there are few, but also improving her community’s health and generating income for her family and others.

Today, Mariam employs a staff of five, three of whom are women. She is inspiring more municipalities in Conakry to get rid of plastic waste. In the future, she wants to professionalize and modernize the business, while keeping the community approach and their principles of respect and conservation of the environment at the centre.

A factory worker in a mask holding up a brick made from recycled plastic.
© UNICEF/Guinea/PardoMariam in her workshop transforming recycling into bricks.

Gaining national recognition

Last year, she was one of five young female Guineans who participated in the YouthConnekt Africa Summit in Rwanda, with support from UNICEF, UNDP and the Ministry of Youth and Social Action. YouthConnekt, a regional initiative supported by UNDP, aims to inspire thousands of young people to promote sustainable development, economic growth and social progress in Africa through technology.

Apart from being Mariam’s first time traveling outside of her home country, YouthConneckt allowed her to see how other countries are managing plastic waste and how other youth are making significant contributions in the region.

This March, she was also named “Entrepreneur of the Year” at the first edition of the Entrepreneurs’ Expo of Guinea, a significant achievement for a young woman who has come a long way. Next, Mariam will work with UNICEF Guinea to build female-friendly toilets in schools.

To other survivors of child marriage or early childbearing, Mariam says, “Don’t give up. Thanks to the challenges I’ve faced, I’ve had the courage to move forward and seize opportunities. Being a woman means a lot. We must have great ambitions and work to achieve our dreams.”

“Women and girls must participate in the development of our country and play a transformative role,” she says.

 

Liliana Liz Carolina Pardo Guerrero is Gender Programme Specialist, UNICEF Guinea.

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