Margaret Wanjiru worked for years as a casual labourer in Thika town, Kiambu County, earning an average Sh200 a day for back-breaking work.
She would wake up early in the morning and sit outside estates, hoping residents would single her out from a group of several other hopeful women to do their laundry.
“There were days we would be dismissed as women who cannot be trusted, and we would end up going home at the end of the day without earning a shilling,” she said.
Six months ago, after years of doing the same thing with little to show for it, Ms Wanjiru got together with 14 other women in an attempt to professionalise their trade. And her luck began to change.
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They formed a group, Maendeleo, and approached estate associations, factories and hotels looking for work.
“Before joining this group, I would get laundry work that included washing clothes and dishes, and cleaning the house and compound for just Sh200, which was not enough to fund my daily obligations,” said Wanjiru.
Now, the women have more than doubled their daily income, and have set up a savings account, which they hope to use to get loans.
“We are happy as every day we go home with good money, which enables us cater to our daily needs. We have remained together and this unity has served us well,” said another Maendeleo member, Ruth Wambui.
The group got financial support from Jungle Nuts Foundation, which was founded by Jungle Nuts EPZ, a nut-processing firm located in Thika, to set up a laundry facility.
Jungle Nuts was one of Maendeleo’s first clients. The firm gave the women a contract to launder uniforms for its 1,000-plus employees.
“The group approached us, and after telling us about what they do and convincing us that theirs was a good business idea, we agreed to spend Sh500,000 to establish a laundry room for them,” said Jungle Nuts CEO Patrick Wainaina.
“We have also trained them in good management practices, with a view to enhancing their sustainability and productivity.”
With the laundry room, which was set up in Kiboko estate, the group no longer needs to walk around factories and homes looking for business; the clients come to them.
Charges depend on the laundry load, and vary between Sh500 and Sh800. The women wash clothes, carpets and blankets.
“After washing the clothes and other materials, we iron them and deliver them to our clients’ houses or business premises,” said Wanjiru.
“We price the clothes per piece, but our charges are friendlier than what established dry cleaners ask for.”
Jungle Nuts Foundation also helped the group get registered and bring on board individuals who can offer capacity building.
The institution now plans to set up another laundry room in a different estate to support 15 more women.
“It is a delicate process convincing individuals within estates that they need to set up a physical location within their neighbourhood where laundry can be done,” said Mr Wainaina.
“Our approach is to ensure the women, through their groups, set up sustainable businesses so that they can also start other facilities out of their savings. Unlike other foundations that only offer handouts, our approach is to help beneficiaries make a living from the work they engage in.”
Wainaina added that to ensure society thrives, there is need to support untapped talent.
“We are ready to support any individual or group that is struggling to graduate to the next level. By supporting talent, it will be easier to tackle the ills facing the economy, such as unemployment and poverty.”