As the global energy prices hit an all-time high partly due to the ongoing Russian –Ukraine crisis and rise in landing costs for crude oil, a group of 50 young people in Nyeri have decided to make lemonade out of the ongoing crisis.
Based in King’ong’o trading center four kilometers from Nyeri town, the team which identifies itself as County 019 group, says they decided to take up the venture after failing to secure meaningful formal employment.
This is notwithstanding the fact that all went through college education and graduated with certificates in various fields. This all-male group decided to share a glimpse of their charcoal briquette making project, which began a decade ago as a simple idea.
Today, their products which retail from as little as Sh50 per packing, have transformed not only the lives of many residents of the area, but also salvaged them from the ravages of joblessness.
To begin with, Abdul Mwangi, a member of the group explains to us what it takes to make a single charcoal briquette.
“Well, I must admit that this is an interesting process. The raw materials needed are waste charcoal dust, quarry sand and water. The first step we undertake is to thoroughly mix the materials, then feed the sludge into the compressing machine which will then run it into the final briquette. The finished briquettes are thereafter put out in the sun to dry for two to three days before they can be ready for sale,” narrates Mwangi.
As a member of the group, Saidi Abdallah says he feels satisfied that his professional skills as a mechanical engineer are now and then put to test while working at the site.
He says his help is always crucial during the process due to the fact that the molding equipment needs constant attention to ensure it is in good working condition.
“I am grateful that I found a place where I can utilize my skills and in the process showcase engineering and welding skills. Our equipment often requires a lot of maintenance to produce high quality products and therefore the need to have a professional expert at hand to keep them running,” explains Abdallah.
Abdallah is also encouraging young people to embrace blue collar jobs since they can make a positive impact in their lives as long as their determination and dedication are the driving force.
Local County Director for Youth Affairs Mr. John Kariuki underlines that blue collar jobs are more beneficial compared to white collar jobs in terms of exploring one’s full potential.
The officer therefore roots for more emphasis and input into training of more young people to venture into the informal sector as a mitigation measure against unemployment levels in the country.
“White collar jobs have a lifespan unlike blue collar jobs which are not time bound. I believe that a blue collar economy is the way to go especially in the wake of unemployment challenges facing the country. Besides there is always the prospect of creating additional job opportunities for other people as the venture expands,” he noted.
This view is also supported by Hassan Yakub, County 019 Youth Group chairman. “This charcoal briquette business is worth a lot. Young people can earn a living from it especially during the cold season due to high demand of fuel in cooking, warming houses and poultry rearing. Besides, since we use charcoal waste, our initiative on the other hand helps in environmental conservation,” he says.
Kariuki has also underscored the government’s effort in terms of reaching out to empower the young people majority of whom have completed their education, but cannot find any useful income generating activity.
Among such interventions include the Ajira Digital training sessions that have opened a large window where young people can earn a decent living through online work.
“Based on data from the 2019 census, Kenya had 14 million youths with at least 5 million of them being jobless. To address this glaring challenge, the government initiated various programs geared towards empowering the youth. For instance, in Nyeri we have opened Central Youth Empowerment centers, where the young people can benefit through Ajira digital training. Such centers are based in Othaya, Kieni, Mukurwe-ini and Mathira constituencies,” he explains.
Moreover, the government through the Youth Enterprise Development Fund loans money to youth groups such as County 019 to enable them to venture or expand their income generating activities.
Yakub hopes that such funds could be increased in future to ensure such resources are available to many youths in the county and country at large.
In the meantime, Yakub has promised to forge ahead in extending his skills and experience to other young people interested in delving into the blue collar economy.
Yet, just like any project, the group is not devoid of challenges. Among the daily hurdles the group encounters is accessing ready markets for their products owing to stiff competition from conventional energy sources such as gas, kerosene, firewood and electricity.
Then there is the challenge of unpredictable weather patterns that affect the rate at which they can dry their products in time for the market. This means they end up losing out on opportunities where they could have earned that crucial shilling which is vital to their cause.
“As an informal sector, we are limited as far as space from where to work is concerned. The current chilly weather in Nyeri is also a challenge and hinders us from producing our products promptly. But be as it may, we are proud we got this idea and put it into practice at a time when jobs are hard to come by. And as long as what you undertake is legit, you have nothing to be worried about since such an undertaking is assured of God’s blessings,” says Yakub.
By Samuel Maina and Grace Muuru