Community laundry lifts women out of poverty

Women do laundry inside Kiboko Estate in Thika.
Women do laundry inside Kiboko Estate in Thika. PHOTO | SIMON CIURI | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

For over two decades, Caroline Nduta, a mother of five, earned a meagre Sh200 daily that hardly sustained her livelihood. Today, she is among a group of 15 women who have benefited from the growing number of gated communities.

What started off as a simple chore, knocking on every door looking for a cleaning job has now turned into a thriving venture as demand for cleaning services from the middle class surge.

“We started off by hanging around the estates looking for people who wanted their laundry done, but most didn’t trust us. Most of the time we went home with nothing. After some time, we started looking for work in factories,” Ms Nduta told Business Daily.

Their next destination was Jungle Nuts, a nut processing firm in Thika. Unable to secure jobs, they talked to Patrick Wainaina, the founder of Jungle Nuts to fund their laundry business. Mr Wainaina gave the women Sh500,000 to set up a structure within the Kiboko gated estate, offering laundry services to over 200 residents.

“We clean the clothes, iron them and package them and later deliver on customers’ doorsteps. We also do laundry for people outside our physical location. The charges are based on the bulk of the clothes to be washed,” said Silvia Mumbua, a beneficiary of the project.


“It was a delicate decision convincing the residents within the neighbourhood of the need to set up a physical location where their laundry could be done,” said Mr Wainaina during the launch of Jungle Nuts Foundation Initiatives.

“The first step involved lobbying for their registration and getting individuals who could vet them to know their background. We wanted to only work with individuals who had national identity cards for security reasons,” said Mr Wainaina.

Started six months ago, the laundry business has grown and the women each earn Sh500 on a bad day, and Sh800 when they have many clothes to wash.

Ms Mumbua said their main challenge is the high water and power bills. Despite the challenges, the laundry business has become a source of income for many single mothers. The women also do laundry for about 1,000 Jungle Nuts workers.

“Starting with Jungle Nuts employees was a good entry point given that we were assured of getting some money at the end of the day. This motivated us to stick around as the number of new customers grew,” said Ruth Wambui, a beneficiary of the project.

The women entrepreneurs are now eyeing more workers in manufacturing companies around Thika and students from institutions of higher learning with new laundry rooms.

They are also looking to enter into partnerships with companies in Thika to open up food outlets to serve the large population of casual and permanent employees who struggle to get affordable meals for lunch.

“Our main focus is to open more outlets and give more women jobs. We have identified the need for teamwork and we are ready to open more subsidiaries that can help scale up our profits,’’ said Lucy Waithira.

The business has a marketing manager and a secretary who oversee all transactions and divide revenue equally amongst the members. Mr Wainaina said there is a lot of potential in Kenya that can be actualised through financial support.

‘‘The profit factor should not be the backbone of any business, but helping when you can is key achievement any person should strive to pursue,” said Mr Wainaina.

As companies, we should focus on identifying talents and ideas that can be turned into businesses, he said. ‘‘This calls for collaborations that not only benefits individuals, but also help create positive change no matter how small it is.’’