Artisan ekes a living from scrap aluminum

Counties Editor's Pick Kakamega Social

While many youths prefer to idle or wait for white-collar jobs, an artisan from Kakamega County is making hay while the sun shines from discarded scrap metals.

Joseph Ndunde Ambetsa has set up his own workshop just outside his main house at Shimanyiro on the outskirts of Kakamega town and makes cookware that are in high demand locally.

“I buy discarded aluminum motor vehicle parts like the engines, cylinder heads and pistons from garages and put them in a hot furnace where I melt them and produce the shape of a product I want,” he told Kenya News Agency (KNA).

From this, Ambetsa is able to eke a living and provide for his family by producing and selling sufurias, saucepans, spoons, cooking pots among many other items.

“I use a steel container which is heated using charcoal. Given that the boiling point of steel is higher than that of aluminum, the aluminum in the steel container melts and molds it into different containers, most of which are sufurias,” he says.

The artisan is supported by his two sons who aid him in fanning the charcoal fire and molding sand using specially designed wooden boxes according to different sizes and shapes of the cooking pans he wants.

The aluminum is put into a steel gas cylinder and fanned until its molten red hot. He then pours a small portion of it into the molded piece of fine sand of the shape of the container he wants.

It is left to spread out for some time until it’s full. He does this very carefully since it’s very hot and gives it a few minutes to form.

After this is done, he separates soil from the new container. The sand is used to shape the containers and spread the aluminum.

“The sand which I buy from neighbouring Uganda is not ordinary sand but fine sand which contains starch. We recycle for about six months and replace it,” he adds.

Ambetsa, who dropped out of school in form three for lack of school fees, says he went to Kariobangi light industries in Nairobi where he used to repair weighing scales.

“While there, one of my customers, a Ugandan national, asked me if I could relocate to Uganda,” he says.

Ambetsa says he agreed and he immediately went to Soroti (Uganda) where he continued to repair weighing scales.

But due to his curiosity, he noticed good works of cookware in a nearby workshop and got interested.

“I noticed the good work being done and that’s when I switched from repairing weighing scales to molding of cookware by learning through apprenticeship, ” he says.

On a good day, the self-employed artisan says he can make up to 50 sufurias in a day.

The prices of the sufurias range from the smallest at Sh350 to Sh20,000, which can cook food to feed up to 400 people.

Ambetsa says there is a very high demand for the sufurias especially to institutions of learning and food caterers.

“At the moment, I have an order to supply the big sufurias to Kakamega Primary Muslim Primary school” he said.

He says he buys a kilogram of scrap metals either from Kakamega town or Nairobi at around Sh170 and to produce 35 sufurias of varied sizes.

Ambetsa says sometimes he faces challenges in securing the scrap metal in the wake of stringent measures put in place by the government to regulate the sector.

“At times, you can buy materials that have been procured through illegal means, so one must be very careful,” he adds.

Through this enterprise, Ambetsa observes that he cannot sleep hungry and has been able to take his children to school and he is now passing on his skills to them to become self-employed in future.

His son, Ian Shikovale says he has now learnt the art of making the pots in the last three years and challenges his peers not to idle but find some work to do.

His parting shot is to the youth to stop wanting quick fixes in life.

“I have tried to engage and train young people in my workshop but they work for a few days and leave since they want quick money,” he notes.

By George Kaiga

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