Meet Jane Muthoni, a middle-aged woman in Kitale town who has defied odds to become one of the few women shoe shiners in the town.
In an interview with KNA, Muthoni, a mother of two says that she began shoe shining in January this year.
“I decided to take up a new challenge so as to make a few extra coins for myself. I had been hawking porridge daily to make a living but decided to try shoe shining,” reveals a smiling Muthoni.
She still sells porridge between 7 am and 9:30 am before she settles down to do her shoe shining business next to Bongo Hotel where she operates from.
“Selling porridge is something I have done for a long time and whatever little money I get from my shoe shining business supplements whatever amount of money I get from selling porridge,” Muthoni points out.
Muthoni says she makes an average of between Sh.300 to Sh.500 per day in the new shoe shining business where she also repairs clients’ shoes. “I receive about 15 to 30 customers at this joint every day,” she adds.
She says that the money she makes is enough to educate her child, pay her rent as well as cater for her other needs.
While hawking porridge, some of her customers were shoe shiners where she used to spend the rest of the day after selling off her porridge. With time, she became interested in the industry.
“I became inquisitive and the men here had no option but to teach me the art of shoe shining,” Ms Muthoni jokingly reveals.
Ms. Muthoni is so determined and hardworking and she urged more women to join the shoe shining industry because it offers good monetary returns in the long run.
“Women should not just sit at home and simply complain about lack of jobs as they await support from their husbands,” she notes.
The chairman of the Trans Nzoia Shoe Shiners Association, Isaac Mwai says Muthoni is one of the three women who has joined the industry that is dominated by more than 270 men.
He points out that the association is making the environment conducive for willing women to perform their tasks under minimal disturbance.
“We are glad that women are showing interest and their presence will make the industry flourish,” he points out.
He, however, regrets that despite the shoe shining industry being one of the sectors in the county; it receives little support from the Trans Nzoia county government.
“The county government does not recognize us to allocate us a place where we can operate from because we are taxed heavily and harassed by county enforcement officers occasionally for operating along the streets,” he adds.
He says that with the assistance from the Trans Nzoia County Women Representative, Janet Nangabo, they acquired five containers that they intended to develop into cubes where shoe shiners could operate from.
“These containers are safe and will really be useful to shoe shiners against the scorching sun. So we still request the county government to give us a designated place where we can put the containers and operate from,” Mwai observes.
He also notes that the aim of bringing the containers is meant to improve the cleanliness of their industry and attract more customers.
Speaking to KNA on phone, the County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Trade, Simon Kisigei said that the county government recognizes the shoe shining industry as a key player in Trans Nzoia County.
He says shoe shiners were classified under the Jua Kali sector which injects more revenue to the county government.
Kisigei pointed out that the county government was in the process of planning Kitale town afresh where they would designate spaces that all sectors would operate from including that of the shoe shining.
“That is when they will be allowed to bring in their containers to operate within the town. We shall give them enough space to put up their containers,” he notes.
Kisigei also urged members of the Trans Nzoia Shoe Shiners Association to visit the department of trade and submit proposals of what they wanted the county government to do for them.
“Let them visit us and share with us their ideas. We have a kitty that we have set aside under the Jua Kali sector which they are part of and which we hope they will immensely benefit from for their empowerment,” he pointed out.
By Emmanuel Amunala/Sammy Bor