News / Africa

Kenya's Poor Make Art to Escape Slum Life

Artisans in Nairobi work at beading, painting and packing to fill international orders for their artwork
Artisans in Nairobi work at beading, painting and packing to fill international orders for their artwork

Multimedia

Joseph Muchina was a teenager living in a Kenyan slum in the early 1970s when a radical concept took shape: teach the poor skills to make them self-reliant rather than keep them eternally reliant on charity. Muchina was among the first wave of participants in a new program sponsored by a Kenyan church group. Later, he was among the first to join the international fair trade network. Some 40 years later, he is co-founder and co-owner of an international jewelry business that employs people living in Nairobi's teeming slums.

Beading, painting and packing to meet a deadline to ship a large order of jewelry to a distributor in Denmark.

A handful of artisans work in almost near silence to beat the clock. Workshop owner Joseph Muchina says he and his workers have the same goal:

"...creating beautiful things, and making sure also we maintain our culture, our African culture of the kind of jewelry we used to have, because it is dying, slowly and slowly," said Muchina.

Such is life at Trinity Jewelry Crafts, a small workshop in Nairobi's low-income area of Kariobangi.  But Trinity Jewelry Crafts is more than just a producer of bracelets, necklaces, earrings and other ornaments sold primarily overseas, mainly to customers in Canada and the United States.  It is a social experiment gone right.

In 1971, Joseph Muchina was one of a small group of slum-dwelling young people trained by the National Council of Churches of Kenya in a project with a radical new philosophy.

"The intention was, after you get training, then you have to be on your own: go and start your own business, with either your own family or join together as a partnership a number of you, and then start doing something for your own future," said Muchina.

He recalls how this way out of poverty contrasted with the more widespread notion of "charity."

"We were used to being given, given, given, given so many things," he added.  "Yes, the majority of us could maybe not take it well coming from that kind of life of being given so many things to, you know, going and standing on your own, doing things on your own, because it is really tough."

Muchina learned how to design and make jewelry, skills that he taught for 14 years within the National Council of Churches and a subsequent organization.    

In 1984, he and two others created Trinity Jewelry Crafts in the low-income area of Dandora, where they worked for about a decade before moving to Kariobangi.

Muchina achieved another feat: having one of the first Kenyan companies, and one of three in Africa, to join the World Fair Trade Organization in 1991.

As a fair trader, Muchina's company provides its employees with salaries, health benefits, a pension and savings plan, emergency loans, profit-sharing and group decision-making.

"We had to carry the same, old idea of working with poor people from the slums," explained Muchina.  "That is where we came from. We knew the problem, and of course we wanted to also help the same kind of people who had gone through the same problems that we had gone [through]."

Some two million people - about half of Nairobi's population - are estimated to live in 200 slums, or informal settlements.

Informal settlements are not included in city planning. Most residents do not receive basic services such as running water, sewage pipes and electricity. Only 24 percent of residents have access to toilet facilities at household level, with up to 200 people sharing a single latrine in some neighborhoods.

And, more than half of Kenya's population lives below the poverty line.

Muchina says his business, and others like it, produce a multiplier effect with the country's poor.

"After now, you learned and get out - go and start your own business - then others would come and be trained also," said Muchina.  "You create that space, give space for others to come be trained and also go out and do something."

All this, while immortalizing Africa's rich cultures.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces a Chaotic World and the Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid