In the vibrant and bustling landscape of Nairobi, Kenya, where the quest for innovative ways to earn a living never ceases, one man’s journey stands out as a testament to resilience and creativity. Meet Ken, a true jack-of-all-trades who, despite facing numerous challenges, has managed to carve a path that not only sustains him but also contributes to a greener, more sustainable future.
Ken’s diverse career portfolio is a testament to his relentless pursuit of financial stability. He’s dipped his toes in construction work, acrobatics, carwash business, waste management, carpentry, motorbike transport services, food vending, and even renting out projectors for events and meetings. Each endeavor was met with its own set of trials, but through it all, Ken persevered.
The carwash venture, for instance, took a hard hit from national water rationing. Like many motorbike riders in the city, he constantly had to deal with harassment from law enforcement. The projector he once rented out was damaged beyond repair. These obstacles could have easily deterred many, but not Ken. His unwavering zeal and passion shine through, and they’ve found a new outlet in his latest venture: artwork.
“In this life, everyone must be strong,” Ken asserts as he paints a striking tree silhouette, capturing the essence of his indomitable spirit.
The turning point in Ken’s journey came in June 2022 when he joined the youth group Tempo Arts Centre, which, in partnership with Ubunifu Hub, embarked on a six-week training program to enhance their skills and knowledge in climate justice. The group’s activities spanned performative arts, community waste management, and awareness campaigns on critical issues, including drug abuse. Ken became an active member, and it was during one of these training sessions that he stumbled upon a revolutionary idea within the circular economy: transforming waste paper into art.
The training illuminated the concept of leveraging waste as a resource for green businesses, providing hands-on experiences to transform discarded materials like bamboo, paper waste, and plastic into saleable products.
Ken, always the resourceful individual, began experimenting with the idea by collecting waste cardboard and shredding it. Though resources were limited, his persistent determination and guidance from his trainer, Robert at Ubunifu Hub, enabled him to create his initial art samples. Subsequently, in early 2023, Ken pitched his concept to the Ubunifu Hub team, who promptly offered their support and the required resources to kickstart his vision.
But why art? Ken’s answer is simple: “I have a passion for it, and I learn something new with every painting, so it keeps my interest high. I’m very hopeful about the future of this project, so I will focus on it.”
Ken recalls his previous life, where idle afternoons were common after finishing early at his casual work with Tempo Art Centre. When he discovered the craft of transforming waste into art, he knew it was a chance to turn a slow-paced endeavor into something substantial and meaningful.
Now, you can often find Ken at the Ubunifu Hub, diligently working on his latest creation. He has
crafted approximately 16 distinct art pieces, with four already finding eager buyers. With every piece, his skill grows, and his ambition swells.
“I love working at Ubunifu Hub,” Ken remarks. “There are no interruptions. I can focus all day and often work until evening.”
Beyond creating his masterpieces, Ken has utilized his presence at the Hub to inspire and guide others. Networking with fellow trainees and organizations, Ken has become a beacon of hope, motivating others to explore the circular economy and launch their initiatives. Already, four young people from different youth groups have reached out to Ken, seeking guidance in this transformative art form.
In May 2023, Ken had the opportunity to showcase his crafts to visitors at the Africa Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Conference, an exhibition organized by Ubunifu Hub. It was a pivotal moment that further fueled his dream of establishing his enterprise and continuing to train others. He firmly believes there are others like him who yearn to learn and prosper.
Ken’s journey is a testament to the growth potential within youth initiatives when met with adequate support and the unwavering determination of these young change-makers. His initiative alone has diverted up to 60 kg of paper waste from looming dumpsites, a small but significant step toward a greener future.
As Ken wisely puts it, “I knew this was a skill I couldn’t let go of.” For him, this journey has only just begun, and the future holds limitless possibilities. Ken’s story is one that resonates on a global scale, serving as a vivid example of how dedication and innovation can shape a brighter, more sustainable world.