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Treasured trash that's changing women's lives

By | February 2nd 2012

A group of women is reaping from the stinking dumpsite, enabling them to pay for the children’s fees, writes PATRICK KIBET.

In Gioto area in Nakuru town within the expansive dumpsite along Nakuru-Koibatek Road, a group of 30 women wade through the trash, probably searching for forgotten treasure.

It is an activity dominated by men but the women have successfully curved their niche, weaving Kiondos from polythene papers, necklaces among other artefacts from trash. These, they ultimately sell to tourists, usually at lucrative prices.

Lucy Wambui, in her 40s, has lived in the dumpsite for as long as she can remember. And now she lives and eats literally from the huge piles of garbage dumped by municipal council trucks, every day.

"We started this in 1993 when we used to sweep and collect garbage. In 1995, we started Menyore Women Group and moved to weaving Kiondos and other accessories," Wambui says.

Indeed, the design of the handiwork by these local women with little formal education to boast about is enticing. For over 15 years, they have known the waste as their treasure. This has compelled them to guard it, jealously.

Town cleaner

Wambui stares at the huge piles of rubbish as she narrates the story to Business Unusual when we recently visited.

Though she first hesitates about sharing her story, she gives in after a few calls and consultation from other women in the group.

"When we started, we were selling the Kiondos at Sh75 but now we sell the big Kiondos at Sh400 mostly to tourists who come to the dumpsite after learning of our products," Wambui reveals.

The Kiondos are purely made from pieces of polythene left at the dumpsite. As Wambui reveals after collecting the polythene papers the women clean them thoroughly then embark on weaving the Kiondos to various designs and sizes.

"We sometimes receive orders from interested people but with specific designs which we have to master before producing them. It is hard since we do it with our own hands."

Despite the nauseating stench emanating from the refuse, these hardworking women face other challenges especially the availability of water used to wash polythene and even getting the goods to the market, which is already flooded with identical competing products.

"When it is sunny and hot like in January, our productivity goes down as we are forced to abandon due to scarcity of water," Wambui notes.

Apart from weaving the Kiondos the women also make necklaces from magazines and old newspapers. The necklaces, which sell for Sh 200-300 are made from papers are meticulously cut to suit the design then glued together.

"Our joy is that through our handiwork we can provide for our families, take children to school and even encourage one another to face the problems that come with life without indulging in some offensive activities," Wambui says.

Each of the 30 women weaves her own baskets then after selling they contribute an amount agreed to the group. Their main aim currently is to educate their children, then move to other important things since the business too has low cashflow.

"When the business season is not good each and every one of us has to get an opportunity to sell her Kiondos especially when there is an order." Wambui says. "However, when the business is good we sell the much we can."

Through the trash, the businesswomen have managed to educate their sons and daughters and put them to colleges for courses such wiring, mechanics and driving.

"Our children have gone to boarding school and gotten education and now even some have accessed sponsorships for college education. That motivates us a lot to continue with the spirit and work harder," she says.

Since establishing business outlets in town is becoming a challenge we now have tourists who visit us and buy the products. Through the assistance of Pastor Njoroge and Pastor Mike Brawan tourists have been streaming in and buy our products.

Business skills

Brawan, a nominated councillor in Nakuru reckons that the ultimate goal is to enable the women to move out of the dumpsite to conducive and affordable housing.

"The conditions at the dump site are not fit for children and the women but I understand that is where they earn their livelihood. We are still seeking government help to get land for resettling their families," Brawan says.

Brawan says that the women need business skills to boost their capacity and at the same time create exhibition halls in Nakuru town to expose their products.

"I am currently acquiring a container to set in town to enable the women expose their artefacts. In addition, am also seeking for avenue to get their products to European markets," Brawan adds.

According to Wambui they prefer to sell their products from the dumpsite where their customers can access their work whenever they are interested.

"These tourists who visit once in a week buy these products once they like the artefacts. That is why we have opted to stay here at Gioto and those who know our products have been loyal customers," Wambui concludes.

Digging through these junks is not an easy task to these women since they are prone to bad health. The products are also woven by hand hence requires the skills especially which they teach one another.

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