Charles Abel Lepugoro, from Longopito village in Oldonyiro, Isiolo County, set out for Somalia four years ago in search of a job with the hope of lifting his family from biting poverty.
While he remains cagey about how he got there, his hope to land casual jobs and save enough money to support his parents and siblings back home was never to be.
At 28 years old, the desperate youth had earlier travelled to Garissa County to find a job but failed, deciding instead to try his luck in Somalia.
“It was challenging getting a well-paying job, making it hard for me to survive in Somalia,” he recalls.
Frustrated, he resolved to return home but with no exact idea on what he would do to put food on the table. But a group he and some of his village friends would form several months later offered him a lifeline.
“I was ready for anything, including setting out to the fields every day to graze our livestock,” Mr Lepugoro said.
The artisan group comprises 10 young men who previously worked in construction as casuals and masons. The group’s membership has doubled since 2019.
Bricks for sale
Lacking money to start a business, they resolved to start making bricks for sale using locally available free sand and water from the Longopito valley, about 300 metres from the village.
The young men make bricks using cement and sand, which are a cheaper alternative to the costly stones sourced from as far away as Thika in Kiambu County.
They prepare the bricks by wetting the mixture of sand and cement and then setting it into moulds using wooden blocks, which are then cured with water for seven days in an open area to harden them before they are ready for use.
Residents are slowly embracing the use of this kind of bricks because they are durable as they do not crack when rained on and have insulating properties that enable them to retain heat from the sun.
Each brick goes for Sh50 but clients must provide their own cement or pay an extra Sh10 for each brick. A 50kg bag of cement is needed to produce 30 bricks, Mr Lepugoro says.
Besides selling bricks, Mr Lepugoro says they also build houses for their clients.
“We are flexible and often prepare the bricks at a client’s home to save them transportation costs,” he said in a past interview with the Nation.
The group sells 2,000 bricks on a good day, each getting at least Sh4,000, part of which goes to their savings plan.
With his colleague Francis Lowale, they produce 200 bricks daily, making Sh10,000 in sales, which the two share equally, saving some of the money with the group.
Mr Lowale, who used to live in Nanyuki, Laikipia County, was on the brink of giving up but says his life has turned around after he joined the group a year ago.
“I came to this (Longopito) village to look for work. I am happy that I can now earn decent pay and sort out my bills without any strain,” Mr Lowale said.
The young men said their bricks will contribute to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s affordable housing plan in the Big Four agenda.
They appealed to the local community, which is predominantly pastoralist, to diversify into other income-generating activities as livestock rearing had become unsustainable due to the prolonged drought and ever-changing weather patterns.
Young people, they said, should shun relying on white-collar jobs but take advantage of available opportunities to earn money and support themselves and their families.
“There is no need to complain about joblessness when you can do something (like us),” Mr Lowale noted, urging the local community to take advantage of the cheap bricks to build decent houses.
They do everything manually and they have appealed for help to purchase a machine to aid in mixing materials.
“We appeal to the county government and local non-governmental organisations to assist us to buy a machine to ease the work and help us increase our productivity for improved income,” Mr Lepugoro said.