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My Road to Tombe
Picture of Donna Switzer

Donna Switzer

Being Confronted with a Challenge

“Tombe” in the Chitonga language has a dual meaning – soil or unclean, similar to “Dirt” in the English language can mean soil or unclean. My college education and work experience has taught me that waste is dirty and unclean. Waste must be controlled. And poorly managed waste can cause damage to human health and the environment. I am a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) and I have a wonderful career helping industry manage their waste by reducing it, reusing it, designing it out of the process, and/or ensuring it is disposed of in reputable, permitted, and well managed disposal facilities. We are fortunate in the US that we have laws, regulations, logistics, and resources that make managing waste properly fairly routine.

“We were used to being able to “win” in this arena here in the States”​

When fellow CHMM, Michelo Kalambo, who has similar education and experience as I do, returned from his hometown in Macha, Zambia, he lamented with me how very little resources are available for proper waste management in the area. Less than 10% of waste is landfilled. Most trash, including industrial waste, is burned in pits in the middle of the village. General trash is strewn on the ground everywhere. Not because of laziness or disrespect, but because of the lack of receptacles and resources and disposal options. It is like stepping back in time to the 1970s when they aired the “Keep America Beautiful” commercial with the crying Native American. Remember that? I share in Michelo’s disbelief and powerlessness at not being able to use our education and experience to make an improvement in that area.

A Non-Profit Was Born!

As a result of these environmental injustices, we went to work forming, a 501(c)3 non-profit, and developing a plan to correct the issues. We used the brain power of a Villanova University graduate student to identify the action plan and the steps for successful implementation of waste management infrastructure in the area. We found that there was more to undertake than just putting out trash cans.

We needed to find funding, gain the trust of the community members, educate local leaders, provide security and separation from local wildlife, and meet basic human needs. Frankly, meeting basic human needs trumps the decision to put a used plastic water bottle in a recycling bin or not. Only THEN we can establish systems to collect the waste and send it through proper channels for adequate management.


Over the past two years, Tombe has received grants from philanthropic organizations, private donations from businesses, personal donations from friends and family, and contributions from the Tombe Board of Directors.


1320 gallons per day water produced

1000+ members of the community served

3-4 healthy garden harvests annually
EIN 84-3632866

With that funding we have made great encouraging progress toward our goals. We dug a well to provide a water source, started a community garden to provide nutrition and income, provided training on irrigation and organic gardening, established compost piles that turn organic waste collected from the village into fertilizer for the garden, and are currently building a community center.

There’s more work to be done!

The community center, which is presently under construction, is intended to be used as a gathering place and training center to further educate community members. It will be the center point for the village’s waste collection, prior to transfer through proper channels for management.

We are also planting an orchard which will provide additional nutritional opportunities and support reforestation to help with carbon sequestration.

We hope this message of progress and success will inspire you to help our mission. With your financial support, we plan to complete construction of the community center and continue to enrich lives and spread awareness about the benefits of proper waste management.

Community Center Construction Progress

Photo of Community Center construction progress

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