While many youths dismiss knitting as an old fashioned venture, a group of teens in Nyandarua have embraced it with both hands, turning it into an enterprise that generates enough earnings to pay their own fees.
Lawrence Macharia, 19, Mary Nyambura, 18, and Ruth Wangui, 18, have had their lives transformed after deciding to take the challenge of paying their school fees head on.
Due to lack of fees, they lost hope of proceeding with their high school and university education to pursue their career dreams. However, with the knitting and quarrying ventures, their rosy dreams are back on track.
Ms Macharia and Ms Nyambura started by carving stones together with other 11 members of Gathundia Youth Self Help group led by Chairman Morgan Macharia, who had failed to get funds to pursue a diploma course in catering and hotel management after graduating with a certificate from Shammah Cornerstone College in Nakuru town.
Mr Morgan, therefore, championed the formation of the group to help young people faced by the same dilemma of lack of fees.
And now knitting is the mainstay of the group’s venture.
The group’s fortunes took a turn for the better last year when they received a modern knitting machine, which was a donation by the county government to mark the International Youth Day celebrations. Gathundia was among 15 groups that received knitting machines that day.
With the new machine, the group was able to general handsome income, enabling Mr Macharia and Ms Nyambura to go back to school, while Ms Wangui is investing her earnings in agriculture.
Ms Nyambura has also been investing in poultry farming and has about 30 improved Kuku kienyeji from stipends she earns working for the group during her holidays. The group also pays part of her school fees at Chuka University where she is studying economics and statistics.
“I joined the group after failing to join the university upon completing my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 2017,” he says adding that at the quarry it wasn’t a bed of roses as crashing stones is quite a difficult job.
“At the quarry, we skipped lunch. I crashed between four and five wheelbarrows of hardcore,” says Ms Nyambura.
The group paid her Sh250 daily while the rest went to the group savings. She needed Sh70,000 to join the university but her parents could only manage Sh30,000.
Mr Macharia also failed to join Jaramogi Odinga University in Siaya to study building and construction, until last year when the group members assisted him in paying part of the school fees and his upkeep. During the holidays, Mr Macharia works as the group’s farm manager and earns some cash for his upkeep while the group pays part of his college fee.
Ms Wangui, who dropped out of school altogether, is at the centre of the management of the knitting venture. Apart from knitting, she is also a trainer of other young people keen to join the enterprise. The venture has created direct job opportunities for two other youths engaged in marketing.
"From the salary, I pay school fees for my sister in secondary school and support three siblings, a brother and two sisters. My mother is today proud of me,” Ms Wangui tells Enterprise.
“I have leased a half-acre land where I planted Irish potato."
She plans to use profits from her potato farming to buy a dairy cow. Her ultimate goal is to own a farm for poultry and dairy activities. It is a dream she seeks to realise in two years.
Over the recent past, the business has been good for the group. It is contracted by primary and secondary schools as well as retail and wholesale outlets to supply uniform pullovers and knitted school caps. “We have a long list of orders from our clients. Most of our customers are in Nyandarua and Nakuru counties. But we have sent two of our salespeople to Nyeri and Eldoret towns to scout for markets,” says the chairman. The group is also seeking for capital to buy separate knitting equipment capable of fixing school logos. “We have big orders that we are unable to supply. Lack of logo fixing equipment is a major challenge that is making us lose customers. We have scouted and a modern machine retails at Sh500,000,” says Mr Morgan, adding the prospects are looking bright for the group that started in 2016 from a WhatsApp group.
“We formed the WhatsApp group and invited youths we thought might be interested. More than 40 were interested but vanished when we engaged in quarry activities to earn a living and support the group,” says Mr Morgan.
“The 14 that remained resolved that supporting members complete their education was the group's priority and objective number one.”
From the knitting business, the group makes a profit of between Sh40,000 and Sh60,000 every month not inclusive of salaries paid to the three fully employed members. Part of the earnings is shared among the members, while the balance is invested in farming activities where the members earn some dividend after harvest and sale. Currently, the members have leased about two-acre land planted with potato, where they anticipate to harvest about 200 bags of 100kgs each. “We hope to sell each bag at between Sh1,500 and Sh200,” he says, noting that they will sell when prices are good in the market. He appeals to the county and national government to ensure that the 50kg bag law is implemented saying it’s the only way to save the farmers from brokers. The group seeks to expand their business into baking cakes., and they plan to invest bout Sh100,000 in the new business.