My Day with Daniel November 8, 2013 by Nick Johnson
By: Nick Johnson, CFK Staff Associate
Walking around Kibera is treacherous and tough, both physically and mentally.
Physically, it’s almost an athletic feat. To get from here to there, you have to focus on your footing as you jump over drainage ditches running between houses. You have to watch out for children quickly cutting corners, lest you knock them over. You have to shield your eyes from dust blowing in your face. It’s impossible to navigate without someone who knows their way around.
Mentally, you have to try to process the fact that people live in tiny, ramshackle houses squashed end to end. You have to try to ignore the smell. It’s hard to understand how people have the patience to be courteous to you as you haphazardly stumble through their front yards. It’s hard to fathom how things could ever change or improve.
But things do change, and things can improve.
During my 12-day visit to CFK’s office, I spent a day traversing Kibera’s narrow corridors and visiting the small businesses that CFK sponsors. I went with Suzanne, CFK Organizational Consultant, and Daniel, a program assistant for CFK’s Economic & Entrepreneurship Department (EED). Daniel works with Trash Is Cash (Taka ni Pato), a community-based initiative to clean up Kibera that helps incentivize participation by supporting small businesses and youth groups that seek to make money from trash.
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Daniel took us to visit several youth groups who had started businesses to help manage waste in their community—but maybe not in ways that you might think. In case you aren’t familiar with some of these CFK-sponsored small businesses in Kibera, here are a few that I met:
- Victorious Youth Group, led by John (pictured right). They buy leftover bones from slaughterhouses, clean them, shape them, glaze them, and make them into jewelry and household items. Bracelets, rings, necklaces, hair pins, even bottle openers—they have a wide selection of beautiful, unique, and practical creations of all kinds.
- The Recycling Center, where workers gather piles of garbage and sort through them for items made of plastic. Then they run the materials through a machine which dices them into little pellets that are then sold back to factories for a fee. Batches of these pellets must be a whopping 4 tons before the factories will accept them.
- Fruitfull Talent Women’s Group, led by Beatrice (pictured at top). They make necklaces and bracelets from beads—some bought, some home-made from recycled paper—and sell them in the market downtown every Saturday. They also create collages of animals and tribal villages from organic materials like grass and banana fiber, and they help promote Victorious’ work by selling some of the group’s pieces and telling customers about CFK. Purchases go towards growing their business, but Fruitful Talent also gives back to their comunity by donating some proceeds to classes for preschool kids at the makeshift school next door.
- Zero Waste, a group whose name reflects the amount of waste they produce when making their products—zero. They collect plastic bags of all different colors from the street, clean them, and make them into purses, tote bags, coasters, rugs, and chairs. Among their selection, I saw a purse–amazingly and completely–made of the thread from discarded cassette tapes. Whoever said those were obsolete?
- Usafi, a group that makes briquettes using organic material (paper, sawdust, and coffee husks) as an eco-friendly alternative to charcoal. Not only do these briquettes burn less harmful smoke, but with the right recipe, they have the potential to be more long-lasting and therefore more cost-effective than the typical charcoal sold by roadside shops.
When I asked Daniel how these and other groups and businesses get started, he told me that they don’t begin with a mission to make money. Instead, they focus on how they can help their community. Youth first identify a problem specific to their village, then they devise a solution that is both financially and environmentally sustainable.
Where there’s a lot of recyclable plastic carelessly tossed to the ground, a recycling center is born. Where plastic bags line the streets, people start collecting them to make into accessories. Where burning trash and charcoal pollutes the air, youth make and sell eco-friendly briquettes. Where there’s a problem, creative and driven youth find a solution. The members of these CFK-endorsed youth groups are resourceful and environmentally-conscious, two qualities that help their businesses flourish and turn trash into cash.
But they frequently need assistance. “That’s where CFK comes in,” explained Daniel (pictured right). “We support them by offering trainings on entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and proper business models – and anything else they want to know to help grow their business.” These trainings help fortify and expand small businesses to make an even bigger impact, not just on the owners’ own lives but throughout their community as well. Daniel added, “Each person who starts a youth group knows the problem that most affects their neighborhood. Whatever it is, they find a way to make it better.”
While the environment of Kibera can be jarring for outsiders like me, residents living there can see opportunity in even the most unbecoming things. And with people like Beatrice, Jack, and Daniel leading these groups, change is happening, one piece of trash at a time.