WHILE youth unemployment in Kenya is a grim reality, but one group of young people is turning wastes into wealth.
The Eldoret-based group ventured into environment conservation six years ago through garbage collection. Little they did know they would one day turn the wastes into useful products like soap and fertiliser.
They have now created create employment for more than 15 members of the group - called the Art Youth Research Centre - and earned an international environmental award.
Kenyatta University and the Kings College in London are now conducting a research on the environmental projects the group is working on.
The group, which has 15 members, was formed in the year 2006. "I sat down with my colleague Klaid Wanyama and decided to form the group since many youth were idle and we saw that we will be empowering ourselves as youth and this could open doors fro employment," says the secretary, Edwin Owino.
"Our vision was 'Clean environment, creative people in a peaceful society', which we have achieved through recycling garbage and making creative products," says Owino.
They began by moving round all the estates in Eldoret Town, collecting garbage as well as organising for clean up exercise and mobilising the communities to take part in them.
"We realised that we needed to be sustainable on service delivery and we approached the then municipal council, who gave us a five-year tender to collect wastes in estates by charging a fee of Sh30," Owino says.
"The job attracted more youth and we recruited more street children whom we transformed and we partnered with Moi University among other institutions who send their students to participate in the clean up exercises."
It then dawned on the group that the waste could be turned into something useful.
"We used to dump these wastes to the right place since we wanted to make the environment clean and get rid of diseases. We then saw it was good to make use of them and create something that will generate income for the group," Klaid Wanyama, the groups' treasurer, says.
They then started collecting used plastics including bottles and selling them to manufacturing companies.
"We made a lot of money by just washing the plastic bottles and selling them. People never realised that the plastics they were throwing was money," he says.
After that, they also decided to make roofing tiles, toys, beads, charcoal briquettes and soaps.
Beads, toys and roofing tiles are made from the nylon bags and plastics, which are heated and then molded.
They also mix soda ash,aloe vera and salt among other components to make a soap. Charcoal dust, cow dung, soil and water are mixed to make the charcoal briquettes.
"Our products have been selling well and a car toy could go for as little as Sh200. They are selling well because of the high demand for toys and beads in town. The tiles have also been selling and we make money through the dumped wastes," Klaid says.
"The use of charcoal briquettes has reduced over reliance on trees as a source of energy and this will in turn reduce cutting down of the tree hence conserve the environment."
They also make organic fertiliser using red worms to decompose the waste.
Kitchen garbage such as vegetables, maize cobs among others act as raw materials and once worms decompose them, they become organic fertiliser in a process called vermicomposting.
This is a process of turning organic wastes into high quality compost using the various species of worms.
Owino says a small number of worms are enough to compost a good size of organic waste and the process takes about two months.
"Kenyatta University students heard about us and they came here. We taught them the process and it is now a course being offered at the university. We entered into an MoU with the university since we wanted to spread the idea how to improve soil nutrition through organic fertiliser. We got the idea from a European voluntary service group which was in Eldoret sensitising youth," Owino said.
They also taught a group in Bungoma and Kisii who have started making organic manure. They also sold them the red worms for Sh2,000 per one kilogramme.
In 2012, the group was visited by representatives from Kings College in London and together they did a research on waste management and recycling in Eldoret.
"They gave us recommendations after the research and we used it to adjust and improve they way we used to operate," Owino says.
That year they won Dubai International Award for best practices category in environmental management.
The members have been undergoing several trainings to improve their capacity including taking part in the 2008 Jitihada project, a Kenya's National Plan on business competition.
They have now received a Sh 6.3 million grant from Community Development Trust Fund under the function community environment facility.
"We are the lead group here and we will get a lion share of the amount to undertake our projects," Owino says.
He adds that the group will begin to produce their products in large scale.
They are now in the process of acquiring tools like tractors, wheelbarrows, Nema licences and insurance of the vehicles among other tools needed for the job.
He said they have done a feasibility study and a business plan.
The group has also registered a company to brand their products and enjoy other privileges which a self-help group may not enjoy.
"All these projects will be undertaken under Art Youth Research Centre but we have also registered a company called Eldoret Uasin Gishu Cleaners Ltd since we want to brand our products and engage in mass production and venture into micro-small enterprises which a company is needed to effect them," Klaid says.
They face challenges like lack of capacity and knowhow to make some products..
Lack of finances has also been a bottle-neck.
"We applied for loans from banks. Youth Enterprise Fund gave us some money but it took about a year to get Sh50,000, which was meagre for the projects. They should improve on their bureaucracy and the amount they are giving to youth. We are happy that we have received the grant. Many youth have also applied for jobs in our group since it is growing day by day," Klaid adds.