“If people have only thought about it for a moment before throwing away their garbage, they might not do it because it hurts our environment.”
Zymal Umer, 10, sighs as she takes a look at a makeshift dump at the edge of her hometown Sargodha in Punjab, Pakistan. But could the girl have described the country’s “youngest social worker” as a solution?
For the time being there are colorful piles of plastic bags, metal and garbage as far as the eye can see.
Smoke clouds fill the air with a foul and poisonous smell as a large part of the garbage is put on fire.
What stands before Zymal is only the tip of the iceberg, which is Pakistan’s waste problem.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, 20 million tonnes of solid waste are generated annually, increasing 2.4% annually.
“This is a situation that can be found throughout Pakistan – these bags are not biodegradable, and people throw them away without a thought.” They do not really think about recycling, “says Zymal.
Proper waste management has never been practiced in the country; only half of the generated garbage is collected by the government and there is no adequate landfill.
Draining and burning are still the most common disposal methods and a large proportion of the non-collected waste represents serious risks to public health.
Zeebags is Zymal’s attempt to reduce pollution and raise awareness of the environment.
The schoolgirl turns old newspapers into bright and beautifully decorated gift bags, which are then sold to families and friends and most of the profits are distributed to various local charities.
Within just three years, she has gone from selling a few bags to selling hundreds of dollars worth 4-5,000 dollars.
“I’ve learned to make the bags by watching YouTube.
“It is hard to get my hands on the Zeebags, so I do them on weekends or holidays with my cousins.
“My father and grandfather pay for my raw materials and if they do not help me, it would be very difficult to continue my project,” she says.
A charity funded by Zymal is called SOS Children’s Village, which helps orphans and childless children throughout Pakistan.
“Through my income, I was able to pay for water coolers, washing machines, batteries and the kind of things they need for their daily lives,” Zymal explains. “Seeing happiness on their faces gives me a lot of satisfaction and motivation to continue.”
Her innovative and charitable company has attracted Zymal as the “youngest social entrepreneur of Pakistan” with TV and newspaper withdrawals.
Zeebags has also been awarded in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
“I was very excited to get an international recognition for my work and I am proud to have a positive commitment to my country and my parents.”
Online sales have opened their business into a new world of possibilities.
“In Pakistan it is assumed that girls can not work independently, but I have had no difficulties and my goal is to continue my work.
“I would like to become a businesswoman in the future and expand Zeebags through my website and also present the products of other people.”