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February 16, 2012

Women in Kenyan Dump Use Garbage to Create Money-Making Art


A women’s group living in a Kenyan trash dump is on the verge of setting up a European market to sell the crafts they produce from mounds of steaming, stinking garbage.

The Menyore Women’s Group has been performing magic for 16 years by turning garbage into works of art. And the proceeds have opened the door to education for their children.

Chairwoman Lucy Wambui Mwangi says It is an honorable life that she highly recommends. “We are very happy to recycle. Some of the women wait for their husbands to support them and some women go to the bar, drink, and do immoral things. I raised five children and have grandchildren -- I am so happy when they visit me. In society, we are recycling -- we are turning bad things into good things, and we thank God for that,” she said.

Mwangi and her 29 colleagues live in this sprawling garbage dump on the outskirts of the Kenyan town of Nakuru.

This morning, she and her team pick out nuggets of gold: mostly polythene bags and detergent packages.

They return to their compound and begin scrubbing the materials they will use to make their various curios.

The women then fold, twist, cut, roll, knot and weave the cleaned trash into a wide variety of shapes and colors.

Chairwoman Mwangi describes their creative process. “We work based on colors most of the time. We choose colors that white people from abroad like, so we base everything on color. White people like certain colors. We choose things that are very beautiful, that we think they can like.”

The women sell most of their products in their compound to tourists who visit the dumpsite. There are also outlets in Nakuru and South Africa.

Mike Brawan is a nominated councilor in Nakuru and founder of a church here. He worked with the women to launch the group in 1995. “The place has a lot of diseases and sicknesses and the life span over there is very, very short. So I thought we can do something with them that can bring some income rather than them just being there and being beggars.”

He says the next step is for the women to go international. “When I go to Britain I can carry a bag full of necklaces, and now we are getting a market over there, that is willing to open a small market, which we can start selling those necklaces and those bags, and the money can come straight-away to the women and change their life,” Brawan stated.

Brawan says the business has funded hundreds of dumpsite children to attend primary school. Almost 40 study in secondary schools and one is a student at the University of Nairobi, a feat Brawan calls a “big, big blessing.”