Osiepe Sango: Water You Waiting For?

Mobilizing Kisumu’s Youth for a Plastic Free Lake Victoria

Close to 60 young people gathered at the Osiepe Sango compound

On the eastern shores of Lake Victoria, in the bustling city of Kisumu, Kenya, a group of young people are organizing to turn the tide on plastic in Nam Lolwe (traditional Luo name for Lake Victoria), the largest freshwater lake in Africa. Osiepe Sango (Friends of Lake Victoria) was established in 2020 by siblings Michelle and Jeremy Muchilwa (14 and 12 years old at the time) to eradicate plastic pollution in the Lake. The two had joined the Ocean Heroes Global Virtual Bootcamp as part of their remote studies during COVID-19 and became impassioned by the need to address the plastic pollution crisis they were witnessing in their own community. 

The organization began with two of them visiting their local leaders and experts to see what was being done about the growing volume of plastic waste in the lake. Michelle and Jeremy quickly discovered this was not a simple problem with simple solutions. Together with the support of their mother Millicent and their mentor, Dr. Chrispine Nyamweya, Senior Research Scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute’s Kisumu location, Michelle and Jeremy formed Osiepe Sango to collect data, raise awareness, and galvanize support to address the plastic problem in Lake Victoria. 

Four years later, Osiepe Sango has become a force on the streets of Kisumu – advocating for turning the tide on plastic flowing into Lake Victoria! The organization has established a vibrant compound in the midst of one of East Africa’s largest street markets, engaging market traders and waste pickers right inside their own gates. This compound is being developed into a gathering and tinkering space, complete with space, tools, and technology for youth to gather, participate in training sessions, collaborate on campaigns, practice tactics, plan for clean-ups, work on new innovations — all in the name of Lake Victoria. 

“Water You Waiting For?” is their youth team supported in part by the Captain Planet Foundation that works with school groups, Scouts, Girl Guides, and Rovers across the city. These young people organize clean-ups, engage market traders, and develop campaigns to raise awareness of the plastic problem and pressure decision-makers to strengthen implementation and enforcement of the National Sustainable Waste Management Act passed in 2021. 

They have also partnered with the youth-led Amazon Theatrix Ensemble to develop and perform street performances aimed at helping market traders recognize the impact plastic bags are having on the Lake. In fact, one of their collaborative plays, “Voice of Sango” was selected to be performed at the Kenya International Theatre Festival in 2023. 

In 2023, Osiepe Sango engaged more than 600 youth across Kisumu in turning the tide on plastic. Their founders, now 18 and 16, were awarded with the Princess Diana Award for their inspiring work, which continues to expand. Michelle is finishing her program at the African Leadership Academy and represented Tide Turners and Planeteers at the INC-3 Negotiations in Nairobi. Jeremy has continued to develop his design skills in developing innovative solutions for collecting data and trash, including an autonomous plastic detection and collection system WALTER

In 2024, Osiepe Sango has already trained 150 Scouts, Girl Guides, and Rovers across Kisumu, and their reputation and momentum is only building!