For the past decade, Soin Self Help Youth Group has been making and selling ‘mkunjo’ chairs and this has seen their fortunes change tremendously.
The name mkunjo is derived from the Swahili word ‘kunja’ which means to bend.
Traveling along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, one can spot a group of more than 10 youths busy by the roadside. Some can be seen smoking long pieces of wood, others peel the wood - removing the smoked bark while yet put the pieces together to make the unique chairs. Then there are the chairs arranged in the most appealing manner to attract the attention of those using the route.
The group, now operated by a section of youths from Soin area in Sachangwan, Molo Sub-County started in 2004 as an initiated by a group of old men who have since retired.
David Njunge, a veteran with over five years’ experience, said he joined the group at a time when getting wood was no joke.
Njunge said they had to seek a go ahead from the Koibatek Forest department in order to be allowed to prune young cypress trees. This was after forming a group and writing a proposal which they presented to the forest officers.
The arrangement worked out as a win-win solution with the forest department getting labour and the group being able to grow their business. “Pruning the trees enables them to grow tall and we do this under very strict supervision from forest officials. We have to do it well failure to which we go back and redo the areas we messed up,” Njunge said.
Besides the pruning, the group has to pay Sh300 as levy fee to the forest department and ferry the wood to their destination using a motorcycle.
Shadrack Cheruiyot, who has for over a year earned from sale of the chairs, said it has really helped him and being involved in the activity has lifted his standards of living.
John Mwangi shares his colleague’s sentiments and referred to the job as a gift, something he enjoys doing and has no intention of retiring from any time soon.
The youth begin their work as early as 6am. The smoking and peeling takes the better part of their day. Joining the pieces of wood, to having a complete chair takes one at most 20 minutes.
A well-sharpened panga, a tape measure and a hammer to drive in nails are their tools of trade. Although they have a tape measure, the team relies heavily on their eyes to ensure they get the angels just right and surprisingly, no wood is thrown away. Their accuracy is spot on.
The team sells an average of 15 to 20 seats each day at between Sh500 and 600 each.
They say the Christmas season was favourable to them as they made great sales and no chair could be seen prompting those interested to give an order in advance.
They say working with their hands is very fulfilling and encourage their fellow youth to stop idling around, roll up their sleeves and make a meaningful living.
Their wish is to have the President and his deputy make a stop-over at their station to look at and or even just sit on their chairs.
“The choice to buy or not is entirely his. We would be happy just seeing him seated on our choices,” Njunge said