Jumoke Olowookere is the Creative Director of Africa Creative Hub in Ibadan, Oyo State. Her desire to turn waste materials into something creative and useful made her become an art teacher where she teaches the younger ones how to turn their waste products into useful objects. Speaking about objects, Jumoke and her team made a Christmas tree with used bottles of water, drinks and decorated it with lights to bring out a beautiful effect. The 42-year-old has touched lives by impacting knowledge into the younger generation and also trying so hard to teach the society at large how to make use of their waste products instead of littering them around and contaminating the environment. Excerpts:
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Jumoke Olowookere, I am 42 years old. I’ve lived all my life in Ibadan, I was born here, schooled here in Ibadan. I love Ibadan so much but my parents are not from here, they are from Abeokuta in Ogun State but they lived here. My dad is late but my mum is still alive and I met my husband here and got married and we are blessed with four children.
How did you get to know about turning waste products into beautiful things?
Well, several years ago I gave birth to twins and I was home on maternity leave. For the first time I noticed the amount of waste I was personally generating from my house and I started asking questions, I started feeling reluctant to throw the waste away such as egg shell, juice cartons, paper, nylons, then I started hurding the waste. Instead of throwing it away, I wash and keep it somewhere as I did not know what to do with it because I don’t have any background of art. I knew there should be something I could use them for because my twins were taking a tin of baby food everyday so that triggered my interest. It triggered my asking questions of what we can use the waste product for and my quest for looking for what to use them for began. Originally I was tired of my old job but I love reading alot and a friend advised me to start a business around books which made him introduce me to where I can buy books in Lagos. So one day, I stumpled on a craft book that talks about dollar craft, how you can use little things and waste to do things. The book was very expensive but I bought it and brought it down to Ibadan. I saw multiple ways I could use the idea, that was how I started exploring recycled art. I did so many designs, I used papers, boxes, egg shells. I did so many art designs that I started taking it round to schools for me to come and teach them how to use the waste because I got this big idea that if all the children in the world could learn what to do with their waste, imagine that there will be no more waste again. So I took it round schools and they liked it but none of them got back to me. I didn’t give up because I was so full of the ideas and what I could do with the children, that was how I started the holiday camp where children will come in and them we explore different forms of paper and that was how I became an art teacher by accident. So, a parent came in to see what we were doing and she invited me to her school (Ibadan International School) and I became a visual art teacher and I was there for 5 years. That was how my forage into waste began.
What inspired you into doing what you do?
Waste itself is an inspiration for me. Each time I see a waste, it’s like a challenge. Each time I am walking on the street, I notice the waste and that’s what catches my attention and for each waste I see, I immediately picture what I can use it for. Instead of throwing it away, we could turn it into something else and that cuts accross human being. Sometimes when I am driving around and I see people that have been abandoned by the roadside, I see out of school children, for me every abandoned child that I see on the street, every waste is an inspiration for me and it keeps me alive, gives me hope of what I could do with them And it inspires me to dream of that day when I will have the capacity to actually make a change. Presently now, I am making changes in waste but I am looking forward to a day whereby I will make a change in the life of a person in the life of an abandoned child and out of school children, where I will be able to give them a good life, expose them to life they have only imagined, help them change their stories.
What you do now, is it related to what you studied in school?
It’s not related at all. I’ve never had an art teacher before. For first degree I did special Education and French and then I went back for masters to do counseling psychology. I’ve never done anything about waste or art before, all I’m doing now is what I picked up as passion and trying to turn it into business. I did not plan to divert I just found myself where I am.
When you started, what challenges were you faced with and what are the challenges surrounding the job now?
When I started, I was faced with many challenges and I’m still faced with challenges now. Each day I face a challenge, I continue to see reasons why I should still be on this path that I am following right now, so I won’t say that it’s been easy. The major challenge that I face so far is the financial aspect because sometimes there’s no money, sometimes no job, sometimes you do products and people don’t want to buy because its a new product and they’re not used to and they are not willing to test. Till now, the challenge we are still facing is finance and we are not letting that stop us, whether we are facing financial challenge which I believe every company is facing we are taking it one day at a time and one thing we have been able to do is that instead of focusing on our challenges, we are focusing on what we have, what can we do with what we have.
What are the major jobs you’ve done so far?
We’ve done so many jobs in a little time that we started. One thing I believe in starting a new business is believe in your dreams no matter what. We’ve been able to do so many milestone projects, we started the first creative hand day competition Which is the first of his kind in Ibadan or Nigeria as a whole. It’s a recycling competition we started it in 2019 but we couldn’t do it in 2020 because of Corona virus we had to postpone. Its a competition for primary and secondary schools and it’s a recycling competition where by they would have to explore waste in three category fashion, science and arts and the maiden edition, we had over 300 students who attended and we have so many beautiful projects that children are working on. Another major milestone that we’ve been able to achieve is we are the first person to start a Christmas tree with plastic bottles in Ibadan. We also have creative eco-summer camp where we went to 10 communities, and for the first time children came to the summer camp with waste as payment and that is the first of its kind around and we started it also in 2019. We did the PP40 projects The one I did for my 40th birthday where I went to 40 primary schools for 13 months to teach them how to recycle a waste into a playground and through that, I was able to reach out to 22,000 children in Ibadan alone and we’ve been able to work with big top brands like Lafarge, Dangote, MTN we have made progress and still making more.
Are there any health hazards surrounding this job, judging from how you get waste products to create exciting things?
Majorly the waste products we use are usually household. Household waste is the one that has been segregated. One of our campaign is for household to segregate their waste which means that you should sort your waste from source so most of the waste that we use I producing our products are actually collected from homes, so they are not contaminated. So for the waste that we collect while doing world cleanup day we have our hand gloves on nosemasks and sanitizers, we are probably kitted for the event. There’s no major health hazard on the job because we don’t do recycling we just collect. Once you are properly kitted for the job, clean up after collecting waste and waste collected is properly washed and sterilized before usage.
How do you get large quantity of these waste products to make them into something beautiful?
We collect from homes and the campaign that we call creative eco home ambassadors whereby we have homes, offices that we collect waste from after they have segregated it, that’s where we pick up from, so we have collection points from different homes. We are trying to make sure that every home is responsible for how they dispose their waste. Once the waste is up to the amount we want, we just drive down to get them.
Asides this job, do you have something else doing?
presently I don’t have any other job I do accept this job. This is what I wake up to everyday and I sleep in everyday. I used to have a dreadlock studio and a makeup studio but I’ve packed them up to concentrate on waste education.
How do you relax after a hectic day at work?
I watch movies, play with my children at home, watch YouTube videos, I love trying new food and I don’t joke with my sleep.
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