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“we want gulu to be smart.”

January 19, 2011

Three weeks ago, I stumbled across this:  a photograph of a house built entirely from used plastic (PET) bottles.  Sister Rosemary, distressed at the number of bottles piling up on campus, had asked me to do a little research on ways to reuse them.  After pecking around on Google for an afternoon, I showed her an assortment of findings:  melted plastic jewelry, bottle furniture, seedling planters, and the house.  The last I offered up as more of a pipe dream, an example of “oh the crazy things people can do.”  This Sister, however, is a force to be reckoned with.  She jumped on the idea and within the hour she was phoning friends around East Africa to save bottles for her and scheming up payment plans for employing bottle collectors.  We spent the rest of the week pouring over web tutorials, youtube videos, and even tracking down a bottle latrine project outside of Kampala.

The next week we began our collection campaign.  After tea one morning, Sister rounded up the school compound and we headed out for the sports grounds across the street from us.  Armed with plastic bags and a pickup truck, we combed the grounds.  I set off for one corner with two of our younger members in what felt like somewhat of an easter egg hunt. “Over here! Over here!” they cried out as we uncovered more and more bottles from within ditches and beneath bleachers.  At one point my eight-year-old companion, a bit perplexed by the morning activity, inquired,



“We want Gulu to be smart?”

In Uganda, the term “smart” describes anyone/thing stylish or well dressed.  For example, when I come to tea in the morning and the sisters tell me I look “smart,”  I am flattered.  So that’s right, my friend, we do want Gulu to be smart.

The sight of a ragtag band of nuns in habits, a handful of kids, and one foreigner picking up trash garnered quite a few odd looks from the boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers parked nearby.  One man stared me down before announcing, “Today the European has gone mad.”  The jeers didn’t slow down the sisters a bit.  They chanted “Keep Gulu Clean!” (t-shirts coming soon) and preached the gospel of environmental protection to every skeptic they met.  Within an hour we filled the bed of our truck twice and a trickling of vendors peddling collected bottles appeared at our gate throughout the rest of the day.

Our next task was filling the bottles.  To create “bricks,” the bottles are packed with wet sand or soil.  This is a duty the kids of the school have taken up on their own accord, mostly because it is an excuse to play in the mud to their hearts’ content.

This week construction began.  We’ve decided to try out our research in the form of a dog house.  We’re starting small, but we have bigger plans in store.  Wish us luck and stay tuned for more updates on our bottle constructions!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2011 5:55 pm


  2. January 20, 2011 1:28 pm

    SO incredible! I am excited to see how this endeavor turns out!

    I’m going to call you sometime this next week from my Rwandan line. Be sure to pick up!

  3. thebeankielbon permalink
    January 26, 2011 3:44 am

    THIS IS SO AMAZING! I can’t wait to hear how the rest of your project is going. Have you all finished the project yet? I would love to see how you did it all – maybe we could do something like this in Costa Rica 🙂

    Love hearing from you. Your in my thoughts!


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