Mary Mwendwa
August 10, 2012

A hub of economic empowerment is growing in Kibera slum through recycling some used garbage. Kibera slum is located in Nairobi, Kenya. It is the biggest and the poorest African slum

Shiriki Foundation, a Non – government organization founded by a group of Rastafarians, has tapped into unutilized Kibera’s garbage mostly used tyres.

Located in Kibera , one of the largest slums in Kenya with a population of 170,070 according to census report (2010) , Ministry of State for Planning National Development and Vision 2030.

Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya

In a slum, vegetation is scarcely seen; crowded narrow paths, dirty drainage and temporary sheet houses are common sceneries.

But at shiriki, things are different. Green vegetation, yellow, Green and red colored flag paintings by the roadside, are what meets my eye first, as I get to Shiriki Foundations art room in Kibera near, the Kibera Law courts next to Karanja estate.

Outside, I meet Ras Nganga, dressed in a black turban covering his long dreadlocks, wearing a necklace made of seeds with Rastafarian colors (red, yellow and green) added onto it. Next to him, nice sandals made of rubber from old tires, woven scurf, bracelets, sweaters and mosaic paintings dot the ground.

He is busy making the shoes chanting praises to Jah (God) and gluing a strap of Rasta colors on the sandal to make it more attractive. Am told the word Ras means mr,an adherent of the Rastafarism culture.

Arts and Crafts displayed for sell in Kibera Slum

I stretch my hand to greet him, and he folds his wrist, “Give thanks and praises, welcome sister, he greets me humbly.

He then leads me to the art room where I had earlier booked an appointment with Ras Beniah a member of Shiriki foundation. A narrow path of flowers and different types of trees lead me inside the room.

A huge portrait of Emperor Haile Selassie , wooden stools with three legs, different paintings hanged on the wall, cans of paint, dry seeds, painting brushes and threads are scattered in the room.

Ras Beniah welcomes me and next to him is a young man holding a brush and his cloths soiled with different colors paint.

He excuses himself to go upstairs where he is working on a mosaic painting for a client. I get to learn the organization is based at a former dumping site that they rehabilitated.
“This was a big dumping site just on the roadside; we had no land and decided to rehabilitate the site into something constructive,” Ras Beniah adds.

Next to the foundation is a natural well which has water that never dries. Car washing business booms here, the water is not fit for domestic consumption but for cleaning purposes which shiriki uses in their art work.

“This is just part of what Shiriki foundation is involved in , I and I (a chant of words that Rastafarians use) in these words we believe there is power and get spiritual uplifting when we chant them,” Ras Beniah tells me further noting that these words can also mean me and soul where the almighty Jah dwells.

We are joined by Ras Lojuron Nyabinghi, founder member of Shiriki. Inside the room, a beehive of activities goes on.

Ras Beniah starts by explaining different ministries within Shiriki foundation. First, spiritual ministry which believes in Haile Selassie the 1ST as their spiritual father. They follow the holy Sabbath teaching which falls on Saturdays. On this day they don’t involve themselves in any activities.

The second ministry is Agriculture; they have a project in Maragua, a town in central Kenya.

Rastafarians don’t eat any animal products, through farming organically; they are able to grow their own vegetables and fruits which form part of their daily meals.

In Maragua they have a group of youth who are involved in farming, all are volunteers and have projects like tree planting which they involve Maragua community. All members belong to the Rastafarian group of believers who believe in Rastafarians also believe in Emperor Haile Selassie who was the Savior sent by Jah to free the black people from colonialism and Racism just the same as Jesus was sent to free the Jews. This is the corner stone of The Rastafarian Faith. Jah being an active God who sympathizes with his Children who struggle to live in Babylon.

Ras Lojuron Jaden one of the founder members of Shiriki who is now based in Sudan believes through art, youths who come to the center, are able to connect with their nature.

He further explains the art work is of great benefit to the youth who most of the times find themselves in the world of less employment opportunities.

Kibera being a slum, many young people have struggled through thick and thin to make both ends meet. With lack of access to most basic needs like water and sanitation, many of them get into crime related activities.

Shiriki offers free training to all youth who come to the center. They also train children in schools and this helps them establish clubs where children collect seeds from various parts and in return they get bracelets from the team.

Ras Beniah echoes similar sentiments from his colleague; he tells me how all the youth who are trained in art work make a living from the art. Sandals made out of recycled tires go for a minimum of 300ksh and a maximum of 1500ksh depending on the material used for decorations and labor. Scarves from a minimum of 800ksh to 1000ksh, jeweler 200ksh -1500ksh. All these products are made from natural seeds which are collected and recycled material.

“Tires are a menace to the environment because they are not biodegradable, but now we use them hence making the environment cleaner,” says Ras Beniah.

Sandals made of recycled tires in Kibera slum

Ras Lojuron confirms to me that there is no proper drainage system in Kibera and old tire pieces block the existing ones making it impossible for dirty water to flow.

Ras Nganga is able to feed his family though the art of making sandals decorated with Rasta colors, he confirms to me. They are able to market their products both locally and internationally.

They use Agricultural Shows forums to showcase their products and creativity through art. Something that many appreciate in Kibera where they are based. Interestingly, Shiriki foundation never suffered post-election violence which hit Kenya in 2007.

Hand bags made in Kibera slum

Kibera was one of the hotspots, but due to what they had contributed to the community through free trainings and tree planting exercises, nobody attacked them.

The foundation is non-partisan, they welcome all youths who are willing to be trained and it is upon the trainees to decide whether they want to become members or leave after they have gained the skill. This has made them stand out among the youths in Kibera who many times have no money to train in art institutions which charge money for their trainings.

Kenyas Economic Pillars anchored on economic, social and political governance of Vision 2030 seeks to improve prosperity of all regions of the country and all Kenyans by achieving a 10% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate by 2012. This can only be achieved if many Kenyans are involved in incoming generating activities both in formal and informal sectors. Shiriki foundation is one trying to meet part of vision 2030 objectives.

However, they face some challenges, one of them being lack of access to clean water from the well that is just next to them. The water is polluted and therefore they are forced to buy water from the Nairobi water and Sewage suppliers who sell to them a 20 liters container at 5 ksh.

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  1. the foundation of rastafari and the basic tenets that govern it are trully workable and life changing if only we try and understand them from within rather than judging that which we don’t overstand.
    i have given thanks and praises with the youth of the foundation severally and i tell you trully that their is a natural mystic about hte gatheration

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