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Maa girls thrive in shoe shining business

Six months after a group of Maa girls started a shoe shining business in Narok town, the business is thriving as it has attracted attention of the town dwellers.

The group chairlady Ms. Grace Nakola told Kenya News Agency that most of the girls come from poor backgrounds and failed to pursue high learning education because of lack of money.

“I had enrolled to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management at the Maasai Mara University but dropped due to lack of school fees. My parents could not afford to pay for me so I had to look for an alternative business,” said Nakola.

She explained that this forced her to look for girls from the pastoralist region with a common problem to look for an alternative source of income that would boost their livelihood.

“We wanted a business with cheap capital to begin yet it would earn us a living. The business of shoe shining came to our minds after a thorough research in the growing town that showed many people walk with dirty shoes because of the state of the roads in the town and its environs,” says Nakola.

Ms. Grace Nakola (L) attending to her customers in Narok town.

After benchmarking for a modern shoe shining booth in major cities like Nairobi, the group settled to purchase the booth at Sh100, 000.

Lucky enough, the young girls got the attention of the County Member of Parliament Ms. Soipan Kudate who helped them to purchase three shoe shining booths through the National Government Action Affirmative Fund (NGAAF).

In August 2020, Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry Public Service and Gender Ms. Rachel Shebesh and Narok County Governor’s wife Ms. Sarah Tunai launched the business.

At this time, the group had only six girls but the number has since increased to eleven girls who share common challenges.

Ms. Nakola says a time has come when a girl child in the Maa community should arise and do what a man can do.

“For a long time, girls in the Maa community have been viewed as instruments of bearing children and despite their age, the society looks at women as mere children who do not have a right to speak before men,” observed Ms. Nakola.

She reiterated that time was fast changing and girls should position themselves in jobs that were formerly dominated by men.

The movable shoe shining booths, according to Ms. Nakola are positioned in strategically populated places around the town.

“We charge Sh30 to clean a pair of shoes. On a good day, one person can attend to 50 customers making a total income of Sh1, 500. On a bad day, an individual can make between Sh300 and 450,” said Ms. Nakola.

Everything has its ups and downs and the business is not an exception. The girls lamented about being sidelined by men who preferred looking for services from their fellow men than girls.

“Some men are not comfortable being served by women and especially young ladies in open places. They would prefer to look for fellow men,” she added.

Nakola is optimistic that one day she will have made enough savings to enable her to go back to the university to complete her studies.

She encouraged young girls never to give up in life but to strive and do any job they are passionate about despite how challenging the situation may seem.

“It is unfortunate that many girls from my community give up in life when they accidentally become pregnant before completing school. This makes them to be forced to get married to elderly men who later mistreat hence end up miserably,” she observed.

Most of the businesspersons we spoke to in the town are happy with the initiative saying it has beautified the town and created a source of income for the young girls.

Ms. Glory Ngugi, a vegetable vendor lauded the young women for vigorously doing what many term as men business despite the challenges in the society.

“I am encouraged when I see these girls every morning wiping dust and mud from their customers’ shoes. I encourage many women who are still tarmacking looking for white collar jobs to follow their example,” she said.

“We want the girls to add more booths in town and dominate this market. We will promote them since they are our own,” said Mr. Bernard Torome, the area Member of County Assembly.

According to statistics from the 2019 census report, about 39 percent of Kenyans youth are unemployed.

This means a third of Kenyan youth have no jobs in a business environment widening the gap between the rich and the poor in the society.

The situation becomes more complex when the youth lack formal education after having dropped out of school without completing the primary or secondary school levels.

Recently, the Narok Governor Samuel Tunai said about 5, 000 girls in the county fell pregnant when schools closed in the month of March 2020 because of Covid-19 pandemic.

Tunai nevertheless encouraged the girls to take advantage of the free education programme and return to school.

But the area Director of Education Ms. Ann Njogu said the report of those who have not returned back to school is yet to be made public as they were in the process of compiling the list.

The initiative by the young Maasai girls is an encouragement to the girls in the community who lack formal education due to early marriages and teenage pregnancies that deny them education.

By Ann Salaton

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