This post originally appeared on Peace Corps Passport. Hilary Braseth currently resides in San Francisco and serves as Platform Manager of OpenIDEO’s Fighting Ebola Challenge, an open-source platform that seeks to crowdsource ideas and research toward fighting the Ebola epidemic. A returned Peace Corps Economic Development Volunteer from Guinea (2011-2014), her experience lies in waste management & recycling, agribusiness, ecotourism, entrepreneurship & empowerment, and sustainable business development.
“Guinea Wasted” is a photojournalistic piece I conducted while living and working in waste management in Guinea. The piece seeks to provoke thoughtful reflection and critically-necessary discussion surrounding the wealth/filth paradox that lives and breathes side-by-side in Guinea: beautiful countryside/trash everywhere; wealth of natural resources/trash everywhere; fancily-clad bureaucrats and businessmen/trash everywhere; gigantic villas and homes/trash everywhere — it’s pervasive, puzzling and, quite frankly, alarming.
While attempting to tackle the issue in collaboration with local partners, we worked extensively to negotiate and install 108 trash cans for an integrated collection and recycling service in our city. The system was operated by employed youth, funded first by the Guinean Environmental Ministry and later by the planned sale of compost, plastic and a trash “tax” that we negotiated and instituted with the blessing of the mayor’s office. We conducted community surveys and educational efforts, drew community maps, named streets, took census data, and wrote and professionally recorded two “trash” songs in the local language that were later broadcast on local radio stations.
In the backdrop of this work, my mind continued to rest on the greater matter at hand: Why was Guinea so dirty and why was no one doing anything about it? While on a run one morning in my city, musing over its waste management system and the larger picture of Guinea in general, the idea came to me — how might I really cultivate attention around this? Why isn’t anyone?
I took the idea and ran with it, deciding to conduct a series of photo shoots with a very compliant Peace Corps Volunteer friend, Wiatta Thomas, as my model, juxtaposing beauty, wealth, the male/female dynamic, posterity and authority with the mountains of trash that exist everywhere. We flew by the seat of our pants in execution with zero budget, using my point-and-shoot and borrowing clothes and jewelry from friends in the capital city (thanks to those who helped make it happen!).
From there, “Guinea Wasted” was born. I hope each photo individually provokes a different sentiment and conversational element, all part of the greater question at hand. From there, I’ll leave it to you to connect, take a look and join the conversation — Guinea deeply deserves it.