Using the web as a tool for collaboration and information sharing, Peter Okwoko founded Takataka Plastics, a social enterprise that transforms plastic waste into resources and also creates jobs for street-connected youth. He has provided PPE for health workers treating COVID across 25 districts in Uganda, as well as food aid for communities affected by lockdowns.
I was born and raised in Uganda. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Information and Communications Technology from Gulu University. I had passion for computing when it was introduced at my secondary school in 2003. I knew that this was something I would use to make changes in my community.
In 2015, I got a scholarship to study a MSc in Innovative Communication Technologies and Entrepreneurship from Aalborg University. Here I was introduced to blended learning where I would study both online and also have face-to-face interactions with my professors. This was a new mode of delivery to me.
It was during my stay in Denmark that I realised the vast amounts of resources associated with waste. I was so inspired that, in 2016, I started AfriGreen Sustain, a waste management initiative whose main focus was education around waste management. I relied mostly on the web to learn best practices across different countries and also to reach out to different stakeholders through social media platforms.
Around the same time, I came across a Facebook post by one of my friends in Gulu talking about the challenges affecting young people forced to live and work on the streets. I was touched by this post, so my friend and I started Hashtag Gulu, a community-based organisation working to help these young people change their lives.
When I came back to Uganda in 2017, I continued working with both street-connected youth and my venture in waste management. I would come up with new ideas to try by researching what others were doing on the internet and share what I was doing on social media platforms.
Later on, I met Paige Balcom, a PhD student at UC Berkeley, whose research focused on plastic waste management. Together we started Takataka Plastics, a social enterprise that transforms plastic waste into resources and also creates jobs for street connected-youth. We’ve been able to coordinate our work remotely online while Paige studies in the US.
The web has enabled us to achieve so many things during the pandemic. We’ve formed new partnerships, attracted media publicity and gathered new knowledge and experiences.
We’ve shared stories of our work across more than 50 countries and raised enough funds to donate more than 10,000 faceshields to medical workers across Uganda. Through a ‘Feed Gulu’ campaign we started on Facebook, we were able to provide 52 tonnes of maize flour and 26 tonnes of beans to over 5,000 households affected by the impact of Covid-19.
Our team in Uganda has been able to connect with other teams across the world, working remotely with teams of students from both UC Berkeley and Stanford University to develop innovative solutions around sustainable plastic waste management.
And the web has allowed us to share with the world the magnitude of the plastic waste problem in Uganda through our blog posts and social media channels. And we’ve also been able to share the awesome solutions we’re using to address the waste management challenge in Gulu.
In Uganda, young people are aware of the web and its vast benefits. However, there still exists a huge digital divide. Due to high levels of unemployment, only a few young people living mostly in urban or semi-urban centers have access to smartphones and computers that they can use for web access. According to the 2020 Uganda Higher Education Review, there is only one computer for every 12 students in the country.
When COVID-19 hit, schools were closed. However, some young people with access to smartphones and computers continued to access education through online services. Some also utilised social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook for education. But the majority of young people who could not access such digital devices regularly were left out.
And during the past two general elections in the country, the government has intentionally cut off access to the internet to its citizens. They have always claimed that they do this for security purposes.
Young citizens can harness the power of the web to find innovative solutions to problems surrounding their communities. If all young people could access the web, the world would be a tiny, jolly village. Young people would easily access different resources from across the world. Standards of education would be improved as students in different parts of the world would have global access to different learning materials. Young people would be in position to see what their governments are doing and hold them accountable. Research and development of different solutions would be simplified as access to information would be greatly improved. Young people would get to learn about different cultures and therefore live in better harmony with people from different races and religions.
Access to the web should be prioritised as a human right among young people because of the vast social, economic, and environmental benefits that it brings to the world.
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