When water creates jobs (and more)

 By Simonetta Sandri

The 22nd March  is the World Water Day, established by the United Nations in 1993, to remind us of the importance of water and the need to preserve  it and make it accessible to all. Water is essential not only to survive and protect our health but it is also vital for jobs creation and to support economic, social and human development. The 2016 edition “Better water, better jobs” was dedicated to the central role that water plays in producing jobs. The 2017 edition is focused instead on the issue “Wastewater”. We’ve been listening about water being a synonym of life for two years, a precious asset that should not be wasted and that could also raise jobs offer.  We have found a project that seamlessly combines these aspects, where one resource stems  from another, one thing leads to another, for a disadvantaged community. Let’s go to Algeria. In “Algiers the white”, jasmine scented city…

Combining a simple daily gesture such as drinking a glass of water and avoid  throwing away the plastic bottle can indeed change people’s lives. Would you believe that? This seems a shallow and hazardous claim but, in reality, it can’t be truer . If, in a prevailing cost-cutting scenario, the project has a reduced or practically zero budget, the statement makes even a greater impact. By combining all these elements together, Eni Algeria has come up with a case that is tailored in a spirit of respect for the environment, in the value of solidarity and, why not, with the solution to one of its daily operating needs. Here how we come to the recycle of plastic bottles used in the office which brings work to the local community of young disabled people. A blend of dynamism, willingness, operability, solidarity, ambition and creativity.

It all started with a self-analysis: the daily consumption of mineral water in plastic bottles in Eni Algiers’offices is considerable. It urged a recycling intervention. Ready, steady, go! Recycling – or recovery – is an economic activity able to create jobs. It should be distinguished from re-use, which is an immediate action that entails reuse an object which has not yet become waste, for the same purpose used previously. Recycling, however, leads to a real transformation and means “recovering and reusing scrap materials and waste” in order to give objects or products a second life, whether is equal or different from the previous one (this distinction is provided in the EU Directive 2008/98, which deals with “recovery”). Part of the virtuous RRR cycle (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) on waste,  aimed here to promote recycle, hence, to create an income for young people with disabilities. Said and done.

A workshop set up within Eni's Project

The beneficiary population was quickly identified in the centre of the working-class district Hussein-Dey, in Algiers, where the Association d’Entraide Populaire Familiale en Faveur des Handicapés Mentaux, has been looking after young people with mental disabilities for over 20 years. This organization assists about 400 youngsters  across its five centres in Hussein-Dey, Maqaria and El Harrach: the first one is a centre for helping young adults enter the workplace, the others are dedicated to children and teenagers.

The centre managed within Eni’s project provides support for about 120 young people affected by Down Syndrom and other mental illnesses. Since its start in 2009 it has been helping the over 20s, (who were previously  assisted in specialized units),  by involving them in workshops on crafts, mosaics, woodwork, sewing, weaving, decorating, carpentry and cooking.  Photographs of the embroideries made in the centre let your imagination wander over colourful pillows, sheets, rugs, tablecloths and table covers. Lozenges and delicate flowers in beautiful, bright colours. Even the dishes prepared in the kitchens, animated by voices and laughter, intrigue the lovers of culinary traditions: both boys and girls prepare small popular sweets like the so called “Helwat Ettabaa” and “Tcherek”, but also all sort of savoury dishes like pizzas, quiches or tasty stuffed “boureks” (my greedy palate has still momories of them from my stay in Algeria…). The director of the centre  assures us that the young chefs continually try to innovate their recipe book. There is no shortage of ideas.

Typical algerian sweets

The aim of Eni’s project was (and is) to recycle plastic bottles, improve and create environmental awareness among young disabled people involving them in activities that could add value to their work, making them feeling useful, recognizing their role in society.  The recycling of about 1500 bottles a week in Eni’s offices was soon followed by the recycling of other institutions which joined  the project becoming important partners: the Italian, Spanish and French Embassies in Algiers, as well as the Italian Cultural Centre. Besides these,  Eni’s employees were also asked to bring their plastic bottles from home (the city still doesn’t have an adequate collection service) raising so the total number of bottles to approximately 3500 a week. These numbers are progressively increasing and we are working to include other “collectors”, weaving a kind of virtuous network by word of mouth.

Once a week, the collected bottles are taken to the Hussein-Dey centre, where the plastic is checked and sorted by type, and the virtuous circle closes thanks to the contribution of the GGS recycling company which buys the material from the association. And here is the income. The whole process  is regularly monitored and communicated to the employees who can then follow its development and progress. A small, but important beginning,  because every long journey commences with a first step. And because everyone is entitled to his own space-place in the sun. Thinking differently is possible: you just have to want it.

SEE MORE: “Life is changing…” by Anima Team

about the author
Simonetta Sandri