It is 2 pm and as people go about their business, a group of children gathers in a compound in Kibera 42. Amidst the banter, the children who have been out of school since February when all learning institutions were closed to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, are doing some serious business.
This group of about 15 children is making ropes out of bottle top rings.
Caroline Ogada, 22, started the programme to keep the children engaged during the long holiday. Ogada a student at Gearbox Limited, an initiative that trains individuals to use modern digital fabrication tools to produce items, said she was concerned that many children were spending too much time at home with little to do while others were loitering the streets out of boredom. She is a beneficiary of the KCB Mastercard Foundation scholarship and started the project to give back to the community.
“Most parents usually leave for work in the morning and therefore children are left to their own devices. I felt the need come up with a project to keep the children busy and also generate a little income for the families to shield them from the effects of the pandemic,” she said.
The programme seeks to empower the young children with skills while at the same keeping the environment clean by collecting the bottle tops that litter the streets.
“Most people don’t dispose of the bottle tops in the right way. So we go around collecting them for the children to use to make the ropes,” she said.
In a day, they make between 15 and 20 ropes, with one retailing at Sh100. The ropes are cheaper than those made from reeds, which go for between Sh150 and Sh200. It takes about two to four hours for a child to complete one rope. The children are aged between eight and sixteen. They sell the ropes in the community and their main customers are parents of other children who are also stuck at home with little to do and they therefore help keep them busy and fit. They get most of their clients through referrals and each child can make up to Sh800 in a week.
“When we sell the ropes we share half of the proceeds with the parents of the children to help them supplement their income. This has really helped some families because some of the parents lost their jobs due to the pandemic. We refrain from giving the money directly to the children because they may end up misusing it,” said Ogada.
A similar project in Bahati, Nakuru made up of about 12 children is also involved in making ropes out of waste plastics and helping the children explore their creative talent.
The Kibera project has also helped keep the children out of mischief by ensuring that they don’t have time to get into bad company.
Over the last 10 months there has been rising concern over how children are spending their time during the long holiday.
In the last one month alone, police have arrested over 100 children in different parts of the country who were partying and taking illicit drugs. Some of the children were involved in pornographic activities, with the Director of Criminal investigations George Kinoti expressing concern over the rising cases of children engaging in such behavior in the last 10 months.
Catherine Achieng whose daughter Jacqueline Auma is part of the Kibera project, said she does not have to worry what her child is doing when she is at her second-hand stall because after doing her chores in the morning, she goes to the ropes project.
“The government should support such project because they are helping our children keep out of trouble. In an informal settlement such as Kibera it is easy for a child to get into bad company and end up in crime or drop out of school due to early pregnancies and such projects play a big role in protecting our children,” she said.
However, the project has faced more than its fair share of challenges. Initially parents were skeptically about it and some claimed that Ogada was engaging their children in child labour.
“As time went by they saw the impact of the project because the children were bringing home some money and those that were misbehaving have changed their ways and are now more focused in life. The work does look tedious, but we don’t engage the children throughout the week. We also give them time to play and about three days to rest,” said Ogada.
The fact they are operating in a small room also poses a challenge as Ogada cannot take in more children for fear of exposing them to the Covid-19 virus.
“We hope to get a hall to move into so that we can take in more children who have shown an interest in our work, she said.
The process of collecting the bottle tops isn’t easy, but they work with recycling centres in Kibera who collect them on their behalf.