By Essete Fitha-amlak
I’m sitting in the car and it’s blazing hot. It feels like the sun is out with what could be possibly it’s siblings, and I’m stuck along Langata Road in traffic wondering how it is that I can shield myself from the sweltering rays of the sun.
In discomfort, I look out the window. I see this lady right by the fence of Uhuru Gardens, who is bent over what looks like a huge pile of firewood, which she is struggling to tie a rope round. The traffic is still at as standstill as I keep looking at her, tying, preparing the head cushion before she hoists the bundle up to her head.
It looks heavy. How far will she walk with that? I ask myself. Why is she fetching firewood? What is her story? The questions keep filing through my mind. Of course I do not get an answer, but as the traffic begins to snake its way through the highway, I can’t help thinking about this mysterious woman, and how her life is like.
Several days later she comes back to mind when I’m seated in a training for the 2016 Akili Dada fellows. I meet Shirley from Rongai, who makes briquettes from charcoal dust and paper.
Shirley Koriana is a mother of two who talks eloquently. It is easy to tell that her rough calloused hands are used to manual labour. She goes ahead to explain that she learned how to make briquettes when she was working at Giraffe Centre, where she would train community groups from across the country.
It is during her stint at the conservation center that she learned the advantages of briquettes and the disadvantages of using charcoal and kerosene as fuel for cooking. Inspired by the potential of this business vis-a-vis its environment friendly nature, Shirley decide to quit her job to fully concentrate on this project.
Her rough hands are caused by the use of a manual brick making machine, which costs considerably less than an electric one.
“The manual one is Ksh 10,000 (USD 100) while an electric one is Ksh 250,000 (USD 2500). The manual machine has a slow production, with the current output being at 250 kilogrammes per day, against a potential of one tonne per day if we had an electric machine,” says Shirley.
“The briquettes we make using charcoal dust and corn starch is very superior, in that it’s odourless, smokeless and sparkless. What’s more, it burns longer than those made of rice husks.”
Her target market is schools who still rely on charcoal as the main source of fuel for cooking and already has 10 schools which she supplies the briquettes to. The whole production process is at the moment being done right outside her house, but with a growth plan to have a designated production location.
Shirley smiles when she talks about applying for the Akili Dada fellowship.
‘It was a last minute thing. I did not even think I would be called in but I felt like it was a chance to materialize the idea that I have had for a while.’
In addition to making the products, her project will also focus on sharing her skills with other women by training them and creating employment opportunities for them while contributing to environmental conservation.