Inside a walled compound in Mamboleo estate in Kisumu stands a water bowser its new blue paint sparkling in the midday sunlight. The undercarriage has a fresh coat of black paint. The bowser looks like a new delivery from a factory. The difference is that this particular bowser has been built from scratch by 2jiajiri beneficiary Salome Malala, who is trailblazing her way through a world that has previously been male dominated.
Salome is among the few women in the country who has ventured into the world of welding and fabrication. In the last one year, she has assembled and sold four water bowsers each selling at KShs. 650,000.
Her story is remarkable. Barely two years ago, Salome had resigned herself to a life that alternated between being a housegirl and roaming urban centres washing clothes to earn a living. This uncertain existence had been her life for seven years since leaving Mung’ang’a High School in Mumias in 2009. “Working as a house girl is a tough job. In most cases I’d be up before five in the morning and retire at midnight for little pay. Washing clothes in the estates puts you at the risk of many physical dangers. But since I had siblings and parents to support I persevered,” she says.
The kind of work she was doing had exposed her to contemptuous treatment by various employers to the extent that she suffered low self-esteem, believing being a domestic servant was her destiny. Her ego had been battered so badly that when a teacher who was her neighbor brought her forms for scholarships under the KCB Foundation and GIZ’s E4D/SOGA – Employment and Skills for Eastern Africa Programme in 2018, she never gave it a thought. Instead, she telephoned her younger brother in Mumias, telling him to urgently travel to Kisumu. In her mind, dreams of going for training in a national institution like Kisumu National Polytechnic were long past her.
“I had simply given up on life. I did not expect anything better than washing clothes and taking care of other people’s families. I thought my brother stood a better chance of securing the KCB 2jiajiri scholarship,” says Salome.
By a twist of fate, her brother did not know his way around Kisumu. So on the morning of the interview, she had to accompany him to Kisumu Polytechnic. While they were waiting for the interview, Salome got into a conversation with a teacher at the polytechnic. When he learnt she had brought her brother, he wondered why she too wasn’t trying her luck.
“I actually laughed and told him I was way past joining college. He asked me my age and when he learnt I was 32 years old, he convinced me that I still had a lot of life left to live. I agreed to do the interview not because I believed in myself but because I didn’t want to disappoint this stranger who had taken interest in my welfare,” she says.
Salome was shocked when she passed the interview, one she wasn’t even prepared forwhile her brother unfortunately was not successful. It was just the boost she needed to regain faith in herself.
Once she was admitted to study welding and fabrication, she put her body, mind and soul into learning everything she could. After six months at the polytechnic, she did three months internship with Farm Engineering Company before graduating with a certificate in welding and fabrication.
“In college and while on attachment, I interacted with people who treated me with respect, people who admired me for what I could do with my hands. This helped me build self-confidence and by the time I finished training, I was ready to face the world on my own terms.”
Salome says that when people train in fabrication, they only think about gates. She wanted to cut an unbeaten path. After registering Birunji General Works, she concentrated on making bowsers and fabricating farm implements such as ploughs.
Being a woman in a man’s world, she has had to work extra hard to win over customers.
A fast learner, Salome learnt to repair stone crushers during her attachment at Farm Engineering. As far as she knows, she is the only woman doing this job and the fame of her expertise is growing fast. The job takes her throughout Kisumu County and sometimes as far as Trans- Mara and Narok. In her first year of operation, Salome handled business worth KShs.1.3 million.
Salome currently makes an average of KShs. 50,000 per month from her undertakings. At any one time, Salome has 10 to 15 people working for her. She pays them KShs. 300 per day; creating more opportunities for fellow youth. She says her plan is to one day own the biggest fabrications company in East and Central Africa. Going by how far she has come in a space of one and a half years, this is clearly no idle dream. Her delivery has been boosted by the toolkits and protective gear she received from KCB Foundation / E4D/SOGA in October last year.
Salome lauds the KCB Foundation 2jiajiri programme for empowering women like herself but for her, it is more than just a trade.
“For me, the 2jiajiri programme gave me something more than a trade. For a timid girl who used to wash clothes in estates in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu, it has been a journey in self-discovery, a fresh lease on life.”