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Olendu elders earn a living from saw milling

Older people are an asset to their families, communities and society at large. Their contribution as care-givers, advisers, mediators, mentors and breadwinners are invaluable, but frequently unrecognised.

Harnessing and nurturing such capacities through older people’s associations has proven to be a decisive contribution to development.

Olendu cooperative is an innovative community-based organisation of older people, aimed at improving the living conditions for older people and for developing their communities. They utilise the unique resources and skills older people have, to provide effective social support, to facilitate activities and deliver services.

Olendu Cooperative Elders at their agro vet in Nabkoi, Kesses Constituency. Photo by Hassan Adan Ali

The Community elders in Nabkoi, Kesses Constituency have come together to start a cooperative known as Olendu cooperative which started in 2017 and has been operational all along despite several challenges experienced.

The old folks decided to form an alliance and create an economic avenue to sustain themselves which will see them improve their living standards. They together contributed a sum of Sh20,000 for the registration of the cooperative licence.

The elders were given Sh2 million by the county government of Uasin Gishu in the name of grants but later as the cooperative operationalized, they had to pay back the amount advanced. They purchased a single Roller bench machine which has over the last three years generated a sustainable income and the profit generated has enabled them to expand by buying a wood mazer, a tractor, developing a tree nursery and they have accumulated an increase in its membership from 54 to 109.

The cooperative has been running smoothly but due to government stern action to mitigate nature and halt climate catastrophe and covid-19 complications the Kenya Forest Services closed the forestry thus no trees were available from them. It left the KFS Nandi County owing the cooperative a sum of Sh700,000 due to licence challenges.

With a strong commitment to environmental responsibility, all timber is sourced as locally as possible from sustainable forests. A zero-waste policy is in place, which sees all offcuts being used – even the sawdust is used by farmers.

“We applied for the licences before which were manual and then KFS converted to a digital application which we have done and we hope God willing we will have the licence and continue with our work. This is what we do for a living as community Elders. We have no salary from the government, it’s just we love working and helping our communities,” said Julius sirma Olendu Chairman.

The Chairman indicated they had no space but applied for community space around the area to make use of it through their saw milling business and Micro and small enterprise authority (MSEA) assisted them build a structure which they are using as an office.

“What we are now doing is to assist our customers who have trees that need saw milling and charge them Sh5,000 as service fee, this is what is sustaining us and again its minimal to sustain the activities of Olendu activities,” Sirma added.

Olendu Chairman Mr Julius Sirma operating one of the machines the wood Mizer machine used in cutting wood beams in different sizes. Photo by Hassan Adan Ali

Their hope is to get a land of their own to improve on their operations effectively, the land they are operating currently on is contractual and something might happen that might render them jobless at this critical age.

Mr Sirma indicated they always conduct their annual auditing and are filing their returns as responsible citizens; they pay taxes as required and the biggest challenge they are currently facing is acquisition of Forestry licence from KFS and the land where they will be operating their business from without any challenges.

The cooperative is well perceived in their larger Nabkoi area with their assistance to locals as Community Social responsibility (CSR). They have so far donated more than 20,000 seedlings and assist in ceremonies such as wedding and burial by availing firewood free of charge.

So far, they have donated 250 metric tonnes of firewood and accumulated assets such as a water tank, a machine which will be able to produce 200 doors daily and established an agrovet within the area to assist farmers from travelling to Eldoret to get the goods.

The community elders in unison have urged the youths to stop lazing around in the pretext that there is no job in Kenya and come together as a youth group and start small business and eventually they will achieve big enterprises they desire to have.

This is a success story to see elders as old as 60 years and above toiling to improve on their lives. They started small and through hard work and patience they are running a saw milling cooperative that will in future impact them and their generations positively.

By Hassan Adan Ali and Kelvin Kiprop

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