Claremont, Calif. (May 12, 2023)—Michelle Muturi ’23 wants to turn the junk plastic found in her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya, into something beautiful and unexpected.
Her idea for recycling discarded plastic to create bricks that will be used to beautify and improve several schools in Nairobi has been awarded a 2023 Napier Initiative Award.
The award provides a stipend of $20,000 that will be used to implement her project.
“Winning this award is a tremendous achievement for me,” said Muturi, a biochemistry major who has served as 2022–23 Pitzer Student Senate president. “It means that a vision that has been lingering in my mind every time I visit home, wishing I could be of service to schoolchildren and improve their environment, will now turn into a reality.”
After looking at the plain landscape and environment of three schools on the outskirts of her hometown, Muturi proposed taking used plastic bottles filled with sand and recyclable plastic and creating eco-bricks. These bricks would be the supports and foundations for a variety of new structures and features, including benches, decorative fences, tree guards, and flower planters.
The work, which will be done by volunteers and students from the schools, will not only improve the aesthetics of the schools but also show the children how to respond creatively to pollution and create a joyous atmosphere.
In addition, as part of the project, Muturi proposes planting fruit trees not only to further beautify the schools but also for a practical reason: To supplement the students’ diets with fresh fruit.
Her project takes full advantage of a local competence-based curriculum that encourages learners to be creative in using locally available materials. The partnering agency, the Rongai East Rotary Club, will continue the project once it has been launched in person by Muturi.
“I am confident that this project has the potential to create a positive ripple effect, not only in the lives of the children but also for their families, communities, and beyond,” Muturi said. “By empowering these children to take an active role in managing their waste and reducing plastic pollution, we can inspire a culture of environmental stewardship that will have a lasting impact on the planet.”
The annual Napier Awards—named after the late Davie and Joy Napier, longtime residents of the Pilgrim Place senior community—are given to two graduating Claremont Colleges seniors “who demonstrate outstanding leadership in fostering justice for all people, caring for our fragile earth home, and nurturing peace and reconciliation,” according to the Napier website.
In addition to Muturi, this year’s other award recipient is Elisa Velasco of Pomona College for a summer program supporting Latinx high schoolers in Oklahoma.
Muturi and Velasco are among 12 students who were named Napier Fellows earlier this year and whose projects were each considered for the two larger annual awards. This year’s other Fellows include Muturi’s Pitzer classmates Danny Camarena ’23, Jorge Angel Lizarraga ’23, and Sergio Quechol ’23.
“I want to express my admiration and gratitude to my Napier Fellows cohort for their hard work and dedication in designing their projects and striving to be of assistance to different communities around the world,” Muturi said. “It’s an honor and a humbling experience to be part of such an amazing group of individuals. I am excited to witness the positive impact we will collectively create in the future, regardless of where we may end up.”
The awards and fellows program are part of the Napier Initiative, which is a partnership between The Claremont Colleges and Pilgrim Place.
For more information about the Napier Initiative, visit https://www.napierinitiative.org/