Kenya: Top Athlete Turns to Jiko-Making to Beat Pandemic

26 November 2020

They say a man must do what a man must do.

This idiom has become a reality to Dominic Samson Ndigiti, the reigning Africa U20 10,000 metres walk race champion and former World U17 10,000 metres walk race bronze medalist during the Covid-19 times.

Ndigiti, who has won Kenya a gold medal at the Africa Under-20 Championships held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, has been crisscrossing the country, doing what he now loves to do most: Making affordable, energy-saving jikos - charcoal cooking stoves.

Coronavirus pandemic

Though the walking race champion learnt the skills of making this particular kind of jiko in 2018 when in Finland where he had gone for a competition, he did not put them to use until when coronavirus hit the world, putting a break on most sporting activities.

"I saw the whites making the jikos in 2018 when we had gone to Finland for Under20 competitions. It took a week for me to learn. But I started being serious when coronavirus hit us. The jikos now earn me a living," he said.

The 20-year-old says the modern jikos use charcoal or firewood.

"It uses less firewood and it has a chimney, which helps keep smoke out of the house. It is not a complicated jiko and long after cooking is done, it conserves heat because of the clay bricks used," he said.

The jikos are of different sizes and can fit in any kind of house be it permanent, temporary or semi-permanent.

"I do not discriminate for which house to make my jikos. Charges vary according to sizes. A one-stoned jiko goes for Sh3,000, two 4,500, three 6,000 and four and above goes for Sh10,000," said Ndigiti.

He says that materials needed include cement, clay bricks, fireproof and red-oxide paint.

Different work

Ndigiti says many people see him as a successful person owing to his record in the walking race, but the tough times have forced him to work differently.

"I am grateful because Kenyans have responded very well to my venture. I have visited many counties in the past few months, making jikos. Before coronavirus, I did not know my home county of Kisii well, though I have was born and brought up here, but making jikos has made me a tourist," he said.

Ndigiti, who hails from Marani sub-county in Kisii County, schooled at Kiandega High School in Nyamira county and developed a passion for the walking race while in Standard Six.

He says he was inspired by his teachers.

"I am glad for the achievement I have made in walking race. That is another gift in addition to walking that God has given me. Many people in Kenya do not know this kind of sporting activity. China, Spain and Japan top the competitions," he said.

The IAAF World U18 Championships is an international event bringing together athletes from all over the world who are 17 or younger.

"Coronavirus brought a lot of problems in the world and we couldn't go out to compete. I hope this will end soon. But this pandemic has made me learn the hard way. Talents are to be exploited, no matter how much little income they bring," said Ndigiti.

He is hopeful that after the pandemic, he will represent Kenya in the Olympics and will bring home a gold medal.

Ndigiti comes from a humble family and his success in the walking race has not taken away his humility.

"We live life easy. Living well with people has taught me a lot during this coronavirus time. The requests to make more jikos is overwhelming," he said, adding that Elgeyo Marakwet Woman Rep Jane Kiptoo has already asked for his help in making more than 100 jikos for women groups.

He says most of his clients are women. "They have embraced my idea of making our kitchens look better."

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