“I… LOVE… TAMALE… I… KEEP… IT… CLEAN…”
Jemilla slowly reads the words
printed on the label of her new school bag, one by one. She looks at me as
if she wants to ask me something, then reads the words again. A little
quicker this time, so that the words become a sentence and their meaning
starts to sink in. "What can you do to keep Tamale clean in this new year?",
I ask her. “I will sweep”, she says. Salma is planning to throw her litter
in the bin, Wunam says he will clean his house, Osman is going to pull
weeds, Ismael promises to eat all his food and throw nothing away, Hamida
wants to sweep too and burn her garbage, and I suspect Ziyaad cites from a
school book when he pompously proclaims: “We should not throw rubbish on the
As of 1 January 2017, all products from the Tuma Viela workshop carry a
label saying 'I LOVE TAMALE I KEEP IT CLEAN'. It's an inspiring message,
because the well know slogan 'Keep Ghana Clean' left room to point at others
and leave responsibility with them. Our new slogan, however, says 'I'.
That's about ME! The kids love it.
We ask every child who wants to wear the label what they will do to keep
Tamale clean. We write their answers down in a big book. So far, hundreds of
children have solemnly sealed their intentions by signing with their
fingerprints. It gives us new hope for 2017!
Of course, we always have to wait and see if these plans will actually be
put into practice. But at least the new slogan printed on the labels of all
our products will be visible all over town, constantly reminding the
children of their pledge.
We also hope that 2017 will be a year of collaboration with other
environmental organisations and organisations for garbage collection and
recycling. We can't do it alone and we don't want to either.
I often think of the story an old man once told me. He held a broom in his
hand, made up out of hundreds of long, thin twigs. He pulled one out and
snapped it in two without any effort. Then he took the whole bunch in both
his hands and tried to break the whole broom, which was impossible. It's a
wonderful way of saying that united we are strong. Which is exactly what we
are hoping to achieve!
Mamuru, eight years old, quietly thinks about his answer when I ask him what
he will do to keep Tamale clean. Then, bravely, he says he will sweep
everything into the open sewer system until the streets are clean. I
complete the picture in my mind: the pipes will become blocked and the water
will become stagnant, creating a lovely, smelly breeding ground for malaria
mosquitos, which obviously has serious consequences.
I smile at him and tell him it would be better to sweep
everything up and take it to the nearest litter bin. He nods and looks at
the schoolbag insecurely, as if his answer no longer gives him the right to
own it. I give it to him with a big smile and say: "Good luck Manuru. Try
your best. Keep Tamale Clean!"