Quiet Hero: A Small Business Owner Cleans Up His Corner of the World

Running a small business is tough anywhere. It requires dedication, long hours, and multiple skill sets. For a couple in east Africa, it requires picking through garbage, washing filthy plastic bags with care, and using them as stuffing for hand-made dolls.

In this moving video, we watch Juma and Asia make and sell animal dolls to tourists in their Tanzanian village and online at their website, arushacleaner.com. We watch as they collect the plastic bag “waste” from their village and turn it into something that is not waste: stuffing for brightly-colored monkey or giraffe dolls. This is the best kind of small business: enterprising, self-supporting and giving back to the community.

The Mazingira Monkey Project is an example for budding entrepreneurs everywhere. All the precepts of a small business are here:

When choosing a business idea, follow your passion: Mazingira means environment in Swahili, and Juma explains that he chose the name because “I love the environment.”

Keep your operation lean: We follow Juma through Arusha village, where he collects the trash plastic and buys soap; to the river, where he hand carries water to the bank to wash the bags; to his two-room house where he and his wife make the dolls by hand; to the nearby town of Jambo, where he sells them.

Focus on your goals: Juma’s goals are simple. Selling the monkey dolls helps him to buy food, clothing and shoes for his family of six. Survival is a powerful incentive.

Contribute to the community: Some 20,000 ugly plastic bags are now inside children’s toys instead of “flying around the streets of Arusha town.”

Have a strategic plan: Juma is clear on his goal: to ramp up sales from 10 dolls to 100 per month, to allow capital investment and expansion.  He would like to invest in a sewing machine and move the “office” out of his two-room home.

There are thousands of entrepreneurs all over the world, like Juma, who could take their business to a more comfortable and sustainable level with the tiniest of loans. This past week I attended the fourth birthday party of the  wonderful organization Kiva, which provides a portal where members of the public, known as Kiva Lenders, can give micro-loans (as small as $25) to enterprising people–83% of them women–around the world who need a small hand to help them on the road to self-sufficient sustainability. Since its founding, Kiva Lenders have loaned over $100 million to a quarter of a million recipients in 49 countries. 

Like Kiva’s microloans, which are 98% repaid so that the money can be lent out again, I wish Kiva, whose name is the Swahili word for unity, many happy returns. As we enter the giving season, Kiva is a great way to support hard-working people everywhere with a gift that gives back. And some of us may also want a more tangible gift; I’m signing off to go purchase a plastic-stuffed monkey doll. 

Photo: Courtesy Kristian Ruggieri
Thanks to Kristian for making the video of the Mazingira Monkey Project.


Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog7 years ago

Fabulous! It's wonderful to see that all you need to help your family and the environment is passion, drive, and some inspiration :) Even a little bit can make a difference, like removing all those plastic bags from the environment will ensure that no animal will choke on them or swallow them and end up with a stomach-ful of plastic, killing the animal slowly and painfully. Great job Juma, wish you all the best!

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M8 years ago

Nice! How inspiring!! Micro-loans are a fantastic way to help people improve their lives and the environment around them.

Lisa Tyree
Lisa Tyree8 years ago

I think this is the best thing I've ever read at this site. I'm very touched & impressed.

Lisa Tyree
Lisa Tyree8 years ago

I think this is the best thing I've ever read at this site. I am very touched & impressed.

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E8 years ago

Juma is a cool guy...He cares about the environment, his family, and isn't afraid of hard work. Our planet could use a lot more people like him. I hope he soon exceeds his monthly sales quota and makes an impact on others.

delores faun
delores faun8 years ago

that's it :) everyone is getting monkey dolls for Christmas; sorted! x

Barbara V.
Barbara V8 years ago

How wonderful! To take nothing and make something useful out of it! This man and his wife are a credit to their village and to their country. A million KUDOS!

clara H.
Clara Hamill8 years ago

Good for them I hope they prosper.

Debra Thomas
Debra Thomas8 years ago

Very inspiring, and when studying devleopment studies i was made aware of how effective and empowering micro loans can be, including to women who often have no money of their own - also good example to us overconsuming, polluting Westerners! Great to see a lovely human story like this coming from a part of the world where 'stories' are often told by besuitted male journos who have no first-hand knowledge of those cultures

Sushma Webber
Sushma W8 years ago

A very inspiring story. Thanks.