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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More