Gachie Kariuki hawks face masks and handkerchiefs at the busy Machakos bus park.
Donning a grey Marvin woolen cap, the soft-spoken university graduate may pass off as an ordinary school dropout who resigned to his fate after failing to make it in education.
But the decision by 23-year-old alumni of Machakos University who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Resources to venture into business was prompted by the vagaries of the Covid 19 pandemic that wiped his mother’s entire business in Nakuru county and the loss of job by his father, a long distance truck driver.
Karuiki says his idea to venture into hawking began in 2017, two years before he walked out of the university gates armed with a certificate that has so far failed to pull him and many of his ilk out of an unemployment bottomless pit.
Unemployment levels among youths in the country stood at 7.27 per cent in 2020 according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization.
“I decided to take over hawking after realizing the prospects of landing a job in Kenya was just a mere illusion. The subsequent outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic further worsened the situation after both my parents lost their jobs leaving me with no option but to take things head on,” narrated Kariuki.
He is particularly grateful for having earlier tried his hand in doing odd jobs, while still in college saying the gamble was a preparation to confront the real world where academic achievement matters little.
The constant hide and seek games with County Inspectorate Officers who are always on prowl, the hostile reception from unruly touts who see him as a distraction in their appetite for more travelers has nevertheless never dampened his spirit to plod on.
Armed with a zeal that defies all odds, the pusher proudly told us he is currently content with what he does every day as it has saved him from the vicious jaws of poverty that afflicts millions of graduates in Kenya today.
“I resolved never to sit back and empathize with my situation as many graduates do after attempts to seek paid up employment hits a snag. I did not want to sink into despondency that early or take to crime and substance abuse as many would do when they fail to secure a steady source of income,” he added.
Today, he is grateful to have taken the unfamiliar route many learned youths usually frown upon, as he has managed to fend for himself and also send some money to his elderly parents back at home.
On a normal day, he makes at least Sh1, 200, an amount he says is a tidy wage for daily upkeep. And in a good month, he can save as much as Sh25, 000 after paying off all his bills.
He now plans to move out of the streets and secure a permanent place where he can operate more freely and without the constant harassment from county authorities.
And towards this end, Kariuki says he has already applied for a loan from a local bank which he hopes will be approved soon.
Though quick to admit that hawking is not for the faint hearted, the young man is advising youths to find something worthwhile to do instead of idling their life way waiting for non-existent white collar jobs.
He explains that every young person has an innate capability to transform his life for the better regardless of the prevailing situation in the country.
He nevertheless challenges the government to do more in creating a conducive environment, where youths can be job creators rather than employment seekers, adding that it was meaningless for the state to sponsor their education only to abandon them after that.
“Youths should look for any opportunity they can get to save them from the prospects of living off someone else’s pocket, yet I feel it is the responsibility of the government to create opportunities for young people where they can earn a living immediately after they leave college.
There is no need for the government to sponsor hundreds of students through college and then leave them on their own once they are out of college,” he argues.
Meanwhile, Lydia Mueni, a Kiswahili and Communication graduate from Laikipia University also decided to take up a job as a security guard after she failed to find something else better to do.
Mueni who graduated in 2019 says she was informed about the opportunity by a colleague and after giving it a thought decided to take the offer.
She is now manning one of the government offices in Machakos town earning a paltry Sh8,000 a month. Besides the meagre earnings, she says the job has also come along with its fair share of challenges.
For instance, the earliest one can hope to receive a salary is weeks after many employees have already cleared their bank accounts.
The job is also energy sapping as one is required to work for twelve straight hours with little time to attend to personal needs.
However, Mueni hopes that one day she will realize her long cherished dream of working in a media house, where she can finally utilize the skills she attained while in college and earn a pay package that commensurate with the four years she spent in college.
But she challenges the government to do more in addressing the current plight of youth unemployment in the country.
“It’s too disheartening to see parents watch helplessly as the very children they spent their entire savings to educate continue idling at home with impressive certificates that cannot guarantee them any gainful engagement.
But be as it may, I am appealing to my colleagues still out there with nothing to do is to find something in life that can undertake to keep life going. As long as one is engaged, chances of better days are always a prayer away,” she advises.
The same sentiments are also echoed by Jessica Mbula who works as a supervisor for youth cohorts under the Kazi Mtaani government program.
Mbula who graduated with a diploma certificate in Journalism and Mass Communication from Jodan College in 2019 says the era when youths preferred white colour jobs over manual labour are becoming rare by the day thanks to the changing times.
She, like many others, has the government to thank for initiating the Kazi Mtaani programme which has literally turned out to be a lifeline for hundreds of youths around the country, but Mbula is appealing for the opening of more opportunities that can effectively help in addressing the challenge of unemployment countrywide.
“I thank the government for availing me this opportunity to work under the Kazi Mtaani initiative. My sincere appeal is for more lasting solutions that will address the soaring rates of youth unemployment in the country instead of short term stop gap measures,” pointed out Mbula who also sells second hand shoes during her free time.
by Samuel Maina/Damaris Mwendwa