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Change the world


Maria Grewar is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

Seeing trash blowing in the wind was the impetus for Maria Grewar’s initiative that has helped some of Gqeberha’s impoverished residents make a living off litter.

Re-Trade, the “trash trade” initiative started in 2013, has grown in leaps and bounds, and has landed Grewar and her team a spot among the finalists for the The Herald Citizens of the Year award, in partnership with Nelson Mandela University, in the category of innovators.

Starting with little more than a few recycling bins and a back office at the Fountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Walmer Heights, the initiative now employs five people and provides at least 40 families with basic day-to-day necessities.

“We believe in giving people a hand up, rather than a hand out,” Grewar said.

The 31-year-old’s involvement in assisting the community started when she worked in the Fountain Vineyard “mercy pantry”, giving out food parcels to needy families.

However, Grewar considered this method of helping the needy to be embarrassing for beneficiaries.

“I always felt that handing out these food parcels to poorer people in the community was very undignified.

“There had to be a better way — a way of giving people the opportunity to help themselves, that was accessible to everyone and gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”

While out on a run in 2012, Grewar saw a plastic bottle blowing in the wind.

It then dawned on her that rubbish was the one thing everyone had access to, and rewarding people for cleaning up the environment was a winwin for all involved.

A year later, Re-Trade was born.

Members from the poorer community, predominantly the nearby Walmer Township, bring recyclable cardboard, paper, cans and plastic bottles to the facility, where they can barter and trade their trash for household necessities at the Re-Trade shop.

While there, they are also taught the basics of sorting and cleaning rubbish, and are educated about what items can be recycled.

“We are quite strict about what kind of goods we receive, and the regular faces we see have learnt a lot about the process of recycling.

“We also see a lot of people from more affluent areas bring their recycling to us, and I have seen how this gives some of the poorer participants a sense of being involved in something very important, by associating themselves with something that involves people from all social standings and transcending socioeconomic boundaries,” Grewar said.

Re-Trade sells its recyclables to Behr Recycling and all the proceeds go to stocking the trade shop.

The recycling covers about 50% of the initiative’s costs, and they are dependent on donations and assistance from the broader community to cover the remaining expenses.

“We also collaborate with second-hand clothing initiatives in the city, as well as projects where bottle caps and bread bag tags are collected to buy wheelchairs,” Grewar said.

Being a finalist for the Citizens of the Year award came as a shock to Grewar, but she considers the nomination a reward for all the hard work her team put in.

“I am merely the face of the project.

“It has taken a whole team of people, as well as the broader Nelson Mandela Bay community, to make Re-Trade what it is today.

“Our city is a fairly environmentally conscious community and we like being a part of that.”

Re-Trade will soon operate out of its own facility at Fountain Vineyard — a centre built almost entirely out of reclaimed and recycled materials, that will serve as a concept building for what can be done with reclaimed goods.

Grewar said they also hoped to invite local artists to exhibit pieces made from recycled materials at the facility.

They hope to turn the surrounding yard into a community gardening project, while the remaining space can be used as an outdoor exhibition area for a variety of events.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 24 August 2021 written by Riaan Marais Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

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