A few weeks ago one of the youth members from the Shauri Moyo branch of YMCA asked if he could take me on a trip to see a project he was involved in. I’m always keen to get out of the office and actually see what is happening in the real world so I said yes quick as anything! And I’m not just justifying when I say it makes fundraising a LOT easier when you can write genuinely about the challenges your project is trying tackle from seeing something for yourself.
I wasn’t 100% sure what the visit was going to entail but as we set off at a quick pace I learned we were going to Kamukunji Jua Kali – one of the largest metal work and artisan quarters in East Africa. I have to admit I still had no real idea what to expect!
My guide was Quinton, a confident and assertive young man who I had seen speak impressively and passionately at the youth committees at the YMCA. I knew he organised a group of young people who sold art and craft products as a collective. And as we walked I learned that before all this he had worked at the Jua Kali himself.
Quinton explained to me the structures and unions that had been put in place to protect these informal sector workers and explained his particular focus was on helping the young people among them. He explained to me the particular health issues facing the labourers including the impact the noise had on his own hearing and the long years it took to recover. So when we actually arrived there I was gobsmacked. The Jua Kali is yet another labyrinthine quarter of the city I had no idea existed, covered by tin roofs protecting thousands upon thousands of (almost exclusively male) labourers making every metal object you could imagine. The noise was deafening as the workers pound metal into whatever shape they desired of it.
The public face of the Jua Kali is a long line of shops selling the products made in the depths within. Pots, pans, jikos (a charcoal cooking stove), suitcases, wheelbarrows, spades, knives, you name it. I’d gone past these shops many times on the bus home but I had never guessed where the products were actually made. I have to admit neither had I given it much thought but, I suppose, rather naively I had presumed perhaps some factory in China produced them…as would have been the case if these were shops in the UK…
As for the name “Jua Kali”, that means “hot sun”. Which is what, until only about 20 years ago, these men toiled under before President Moi drove past one day and decreed that the metal roofs should be put up to provide a modicum of shelter for what is undeniably an incredibly tough job.