Home Human Impact Making A Living From Waste – The Story Of Julia Njoki From Mathare

Making A Living From Waste – The Story Of Julia Njoki From Mathare

by Femme Staff
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I’ve worked in Nairobi’s informal areas a lot over the years through private sector and one thing that stands out on repeat when we talk to the residents is that they want things to get better and they want to participate in making them better. They do want to prosper and leave the harsh lives behind alright, but no one I’ve spoken to wants to completely uproot themselves never to go back and help those who are left behind.

Residents want to make it in life and come back to uplift not just the lives of individuals, but communities as well. To change the slums where they grew up and make them cleaner, more livable and free of societal problems like the hopelessness that carries with it a whole lot of other ills like crime, drug abuse and underage pregnancies.

This is an endearing common thread that I’ve come across any time I’m in these areas. Be it in Korogocho with Safaricom Jazz, Kangemi with Microsoft, Lunga Lunga with P&G, or Mathare with Absa for their empowerment program that supports youth through sports.

On Thursday last week, my colleagues and I were back in Mathare with PETCO, SHOFCO, and Coca-Cola. We had gone to meet the very passionate and charismatic Julia Njoki in her home turf and have a few words about her day to day efforts towards not only making her daily bread, but also benefiting the youth and other women in the area.

Njoki who was born and raised in Mathare is an entrepreneur and environmental enthusiast whose hustle is befittingly in recycling. She buys waste plastic bottles from collectors who are mostly the youth and women mentioned above, sorts them, compresses them, and sells them at a profit through the big role that PETCO plays in helping her find market.

Njoki has not always been in this business. Upto last year, she used to buy clothes from Uganda and re-sell. She also owned a small restaurant near her home. In January this year, she decided to try her hand at recycling since PETCO and SHOFCO had earlier gone to Mathare to train and sensitize people on keeping the environment free of PET, and the fact that there is money in waste. That ‘taka ni mali’

All her businesses, like many other businesses, were hit hard when Covid-19 came knocking and threatened to bring global economies to a halt. The mother of three suddenly found herself with no way to fend for herself and her children. It was not easy, but she survived the downtime and last month, she brought her recycling business back to life.

Julia is one among thousands of Kenyans who need support getting back on their feet. Small scale traders and businesses have been hit with unprecedented losses due to Covid-19 and yet in their resilience, they are the backbone of Kenya’s economy. If these businesses don’t rise, neither will bigger businesses or even global conglomerates. Look at it this way. When you want to buy a quick cold Coca-Cola, you don’t get it from the global headquarters. More often than not you get it from the small duka near you.

Well, support is available from many quarters, among them Coca-Cola’s global campaign ‘Open Like Never Before’. Through solid partnerships with like-minded players, the campaign whose goal is to refresh the world and increase optimism among the people aims to touch every sector of the company’s supply chain. That is small scale traders, eateries, restaurants and waste collectors like Julia Njoki.

The partners in Open Like Never Before are Absa Bank Kenya, Women Enterprise Fund, Amref Health Africa and PETCO who believe that PET plastic bottles are not destined to spending the rest of their time in landfills.

Absa Bank Kenya has set aside funds to offer businesses unsecured loans, LPO financing and invoice discounting. Women Enterprise Fund will provide over Ksh10 Billion in loans to support women traders across the country. Amref Health Africa will train traders on how to stay Covid-19 compliant, and to keep themselves and their customers safe. PETCO is providing further training and Personal Protective Equipment to enhance safety adherence among waste collectors. As mentioned earlier, PETCO will also help in getting market for waste plastic.

This multifaceted approach is a sure winner and entrepreneurs who take advantage are well on way to bringing their businesses back. Julia’s parting shot is that there is money in waste alright but it is a business like any other and it takes time, dedication and patience to grow.

What can you on your part? Support a small business near you. Everything counts.

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