What you need to know:
- A group of 50 Maasai girls, have defied the ‘norm’ by coming together to venture into a male-dominated occupation to earn a living – shining shoes.
- They are made up of school drop-outs and university graduates.
- They have changed the face of Narok town as well as the mindsets of residents.
- ‘Maasai Girls’ started two months ago, has attracted huge clientele since they started operations.
In the Maasai community, early marriages are prevalent. Although illegal, young girls are often pulled out of school, bride price paid by the old men in a hurry and the girls quickly married off. This is preceded by female genital mutilation (FGM), a violation of their rights.
But a group of 50 Maasai girls, have defied the ‘norm’ by coming together to venture into a male-dominated occupation to earn a living – shining shoes.
With the dust and muddy pathways one has to follow before getting to the tarmacked roads in Narok town, residents spent longer time sourcing for a shoe- shiner before they could embark on their errands. But this group of women have since addressed this challenge.
The 50 Maasai women shoe-shiners, made up of school drop-outs and university graduates have changed the face of Narok town as well as the mindsets of residents.
The ‘Eselengei Ee Maa’, which means ‘Maasai Girls’ , have joined the fray of hardworking young Kenyans as their business, started two months ago, has attracted huge clientele since they started operations. When I met them for the interview, I had to wait for slightly over half an hour because the chairlady of the group, Grace Nakola and her two colleagues were serving customers.
“We are now two months old and so far so good. We enjoy the work and we are mastering the art as we go along. Today, we are able to pay our bills as well as make savings as a group,” says Ms Nakola.
On a good day, she says, they earn between Sh2,000 and Sh3,000, where they pay the 11 women working there according to how many customers they have served and the remaining cash is deposited in their group account.
Ms Nakola, who dropped out of a Human Resource Management course at the Maasai Mara University due to lack of fees, says their mission is driven by a need to create employment for themselves in informal employment.
“As Maasai Girls, we have said no to getting married to older men, some who are as old as our fathers. We are determined to work hard and make a future for ourselves,” she says. She adds that they also plan to start a Sacco and later a cooperative for women in the county.
Ms Nakola says it is unfortunate that most girls who drop out of school for lack of fees or early pregnancies end up becoming dependent on well-wishers for survival. She adds that this has made them determined to work hard and be independent.
“We have bought two executive shoe shining stalls each with a capacity to serve four people at a time. We are planning to buy more booths to expand our business,” she adds.
“Some of us were not lucky to get formal education that is required for a white collar job. So we have engaged in this shoe shining job with a hope of earning some income.”
The 26-year-old says she decided to venture into the business because of the low cost of operation, which was favourable and profitable for the group.
“We know that this is a male dominated industry but we will work hard to fit in the business as we are passionate in it,” she says.
She acknowledged Narok Woman Representative Ms Soipan Tuya and Labour Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Patrick Ntutu for their support.
“The Woman Representative and CAS Ntutu acknowledged our proposal and gave us some money to begin our business. We also request the county government to chip in and help us expand our business,” says Ms Nakola.
Most of their customers are men and according to Ms Nakola, they have been receptive to their services.
“This is a service business so my customers have to feel welcomed. I have to receive them with a smile and make sure they are comfortable as I serve them so that they can come again,” she says.
Ms Betty Ngotiek, 22, treasurer of the group, says the new initiative is a big relief for her because she is now keeping herself busy.
Ms Ngotiek who is to join Mount Kenya University when universities reopen after the Coronavirus pandemic said their driving force is to make money and break the cycle of relying on men for money.
“I have just sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations and was idle in the village so I decided join this group and make some money for myself and the family back at home,” she says.
She adds that the high rate of unemployment and underemployment among the youth who are desperate to live beyond their means, is pushing young women into immoral behaviour.
A customer, Mr Samuel Naikumi, lauds the young women for the venture saying despite being unbelievable for the Maasai community to see women shining shoes, it is better than the sex trade done by many girls in urban centres.
“We want the girls to add more booths in town and dominate this market. We will promote them since they are our own,” says Ole Naikumi.
He adds that when it started, men could not believe the initiative was by the young women alone, which challenged men in the town.
“I like their services because they are very thorough,” he adds.
Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) data shows that Narok County stands at 40 per cent teenage pregnancy, a high prevalence of infant, maternal and child mortality rates in 2018.
According to statistics from last year’s census report, about 39 per cent of Kenyans youth are unemployed.
This means a third of Kenyan youths have no jobs in an environment that is widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
The situation becomes more complex when the youth lack formal education after having dropped out of school.