By Paul Njie

Whenever Ngwane Ehabe Kwame saw people littering on the streets around him, he knew something wasn’t going right. He felt the need to put an end to this, but just didn’t know how. It was too big a thing to bear the reality that his Ndongo neighbourhood had become a habitat for trash. 

But, it wasn’t just a “Ndongo Problem.” To the guy in his twenties, this was a Cameroonian problem. When he went out of town, he realised that the situation — littering — in Yaounde wasn’t any different from that in Buea where he’s based. People still littered the streets with cigarette butts, plastics, and a host of other junk. It became all the more clear to Ngwane that he needed to change the narrative, or at least, people’s waste disposal habits.

While in Yaounde, Ngwane, a final year undergraduate student, suggested to his friend Dilan, that they make images and videos depicting people throwing dirt in a trash can, instead of dumping it on the ground. At first, the images and videos were just meant to be used on Ngwane’s social media handles, to create awareness on the need for proper waste disposal. But the reaction from his followers and friends was massive, and he was inspired to start a campaign. He named it “Dunk the Dirt Challenge.”

The challenge is a fun way of campaigning and raising awareness about the importance of properly disposing dirt, and is aimed at discouraging littering on the streets.

“It involves someone who has dirt in hand, particularly on the streets, [and] in order to avoid them littering, they hold their dirt in the hand and try to throw it in the trash can like basketball players do,” says Ngwane, initiator of the campaign.

“You simply make a video, putting the dirt in the trash can, and you challenge someone else to do so. The dunking part is the challenge, and the underlying message is to encourage someone else to raise their voice against littering — especially on the streets — in order to save our planet.”

In a country where filth could be found practically everywhere on the streets of most towns and cities — perpetrated by nearly everyone — it would be hard to imagine that such a campaign would mean anything to people. But it did! It was quite a deal.

It got enormous reactions online. The initial videos of the challenge posted on social media got about 200 views, about 300 likes and numerous shares. People have joined the campaign as well, by filming themselves choosing to dunk dirt in a trash can rather than litter. Months into the campaign, Ngwane has received a number of videos from friends and supporters of the project both in and out of Cameroon. 

Despite the support the young man is getting for this project, some think it’s not his responsibility to clean up the streets or advocate for it. They say it’s the government’s role to play. But, to this, Ngwane says “no, we have to take action!” 

“The idea of littering or not littering may seem farfetched because everyone believes the problem is not theirs to fix, unless it’s affecting them directly,” he intimated. 

Given that littering poses huge health risks, Ngwane has one question for those who oppose his project: “Would you want to wait till this affects you directly, or would you want to solve the problem before hand?”

He’s not discouraged by negative criticism, he’s more focused on seeing how the environment could be better, especially as research shows that most of what is littered ends up affecting the environment negatively.

As much as Ngwane thinks the government needs to step up efforts to prevent littering, he believes everyone, at a personal level, has a key role to play to end the practice. Keep your dirt and drop it in the trash when you can, he’d say. 

Nothing would make Ngwane happier than to see many more people take up the challenge, to preach good waste disposal habits — not just preach, but practice as well.