When in 2005 16 young men and women from Kanyuambora area of Embu County came together to help the less fortunate in the society, a brick project was never on their minds. But last year, as they sought ways to generate an income, they got into making interlocking bricks.
With the project, the group, calling itself Tri-K Group, did not only find a way of earning a living, but is also contributing to the government’s affordable housing agenda as well environmental conservation.
Jonah Njeru, the group’s vice chairman, says they started the project with a capital of Sh1million, the bulk of which (Sh923,000) was a grant from the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTANRMP).
Members contributed Sh100,000. They used the money to buy a compressing machine, at Sh480,000, and materials.
Before they started, the Ministry of Housing trained them on building and construction. During which time they built a one-room shop at Kavengero market that will on completion act as the group’s office and store.
“Right now, we not only sell bricks to customers, but also ask if we can build them houses. They usually give us the job on learning that we have been trained by professionals and have certificates,” says Njeru.
Njeru says it costs them Sh18 to make a piece of interlocking brick, which they sell at Sh25.
He says the machine can produce 1,000 bricks a day, and that on a good day, they can make as much as Sh7,000 in profit. “The biggest component of our production expenses is labour. Since we provide labour, we end up creating employment opportunity for ourselves,” he says.
He says using bricks reduces the cost of building a house because they require less labour and plastering.
“Our interlocking blocks create a flat interior and exterior wall. This requires a thin plastering layer on the interior, thus saving on cement. The exterior wall is usually so even that one can skin- plaster it and apply some furnish,” says Njeru.
Their workplace near Kavengero market is usually a beehive of activity as the youth, wearing blue overalls and helmets, work hard to produce the bricks. They start by collecting natural soil from road construction sites, sieve it and then mix it with cement, and sprinkle a little water on it.
They feed the mixture into the compressing machine, which in less than a minute produces a firm, interlocking brick. The bricks are left to cure under the shade for 21 days.
Tri-K Group secretary Winfred Karimi says almost all the members, who are Form Four leavers, were jobless and have found a source livelihood in brick-making. The group has two motorcyles and a van that they use to ferry materials and sometimes lease them out to earn an extra income.
Environmental conservation experts tout interlocking bricks as more environmentally-friendly than the conventional ones.
UTANRMP Land and Environment coordinator Paul Njuguna says interlocking bricks require less sand and do not require curing in a kiln.
“We commend what Tri-K is doing,” says Njuguna, adding that part of the Sh923,000 grant was used to train the youth on financial management.