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The Globe and Mail

Kenyan artisans turn trash into colourful toys

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A pile of discarded flip-flops sits in a crate ready to be washed, sorted, and carved into toy animals at the Ocean Sole flip-flop recycling company in Nairobi, Kenya. The company is cleaning the East African country's beaches of used, washed-up flip-flops.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Company owner and marine conservationist Julie Church noticed Kenyan children turning flip-flops into toy boats around 1999, when she worked as a marine scientist for WWF and the Kenya Wildlife Service on Kenya’s coast. Turtles hatching on the beach had to fight their way through the debris on beaches to get to the ocean, Church said, and a plan to clean up the debris and create artistic and useful items gained momentum.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Workers, such as Jacqueline Achien, wash the flip-flops, many of which show signs of multiple repairs.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Ocean Sole‘s artisans then glue together the various colours, carve the products, sand and rewash them. Here, carver Daniel Lekalau, 26, uses scissors to trim the mane of a toy lion.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Church says the goal of her company is to create products that people want to buy, then make them interested in the back story.

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Finished toy animals are laid out in rows to dry in the sun.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Carver Jackson Mbatha, 40, poses next to a an unfinished large toy giraffe. Ocean Sole aims to sell 70 per cent of its products outside Kenya. It has distributors in the United States, Europe and new inquiries from Japan; its biggest purchasers are zoos and aquariums.

Ben Curtis/AP

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