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Turning Trash Into Treasure; Jewellery Made From Bones. 

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Bangle and ring made from bones.

Turning Trash Into Treasure; Jewellery Made From Bones                                                                                   

The next time you enjoy the bone marrow, do not discard the bones. What you could consider as waste can be modified and made into something precious like a ring or a bangle.

Meet Tenancy Self Help Group based in Hawkers Place, Kibera, a group of innovators that have specialized in converting bones into jewellery to earn a living. The group focuses on designing stunning accessories out of bones.

Bangle and ring made from bones.

First collecting bones from different butcheries and hotels, the group then delivers their precious commodity to the workshop where they cut, shape and polish them into ornaments.

After they are cut, sharpened and smoothened, they are then boiled using hydrogen peroxide to remove fat stuck on the bones for easier painting.

Candle wax is applied to the boiled bones. The waxed part will maintain its ivory white colour while the other part will become black when the bones are dyed.

Finally, the bones are put in a container filled with dye for at least an hour to allow them to maintain the long-lasting shade.

The ornaments are of different sizes and designs, with pieces ranging from rings, bangles, necklaces and bracelets sold locally and internationally.

Established in 1993 and gaining a foothold in 2010, Tenacy Self help Group does not see trash as waste.

TSHG Chairperson, Wycliffe Pete says he has worked in the industry for 20 years. Pete says the undertaking is his main hustle and has seen more people join the group. “At the moment we have 50 registered members and we expect more. This work only requires one to learn how to apply the skill.” Says the father of five.

In the past, a hand drill machine was used which was tiresome and time-consuming. But it is now better times thanks to Safaricom Foundation through Ndoto Zetu Initiative, which has supported the group to acquire jewellery cutting machines.

Safaricom Foundation through Ndoto Zetu Initiative has supported the group with jewellery cutting machines.

Kennedy Ainga, a father of four says he dropped out of school in form two and left Nyanza for Nairobi in search of greener pastures afterlife failed to present him with even lemons. He says his friend introduced him to the art of making jewellery out of bones in 2001 for a small fee.

After two years, he was now able to work it out and earn a living. Ainga says his fortunes were transformed in 2020 after Ndoto Zetu Initiative came through during the pandemic and helped them out to enhance production.

“We work both day and night shifts as one machine can now be used by two people.” Says Ainga.

If you thought there are no women in this industry, then you are mistaken. Angeline Atieno, a mother of four and a widow, has worked here for 10 years. Atieno says she leaves her 23-year-old daughter at home to take care of her siblings which makes it easier for her to work.

Angeline Atieno, a mother of four and a widow, has worked here for 10 years. Photo Courtesy

“I always believe in hard work. I pay school fees and make sure my children do not lack a meal. My hope is that Ndoto Zetu Initiative will continue building our capacity to enhance our productivity.” Quips Atieno.

When asked if the dust from refining bones affects them, Atieno smiles and says “Cow and goat bones dust is not a problem and does not cause any health problem. After work, most of us take a cup of milk and this helps us maintain our health”                                                                                                                                                  

What are the Challenges?

Like any other industry, this too has its fair share of challenges. Members of the group say the main challenge remains the availability of market and finances.

Their dream engraved in hard work, team spirit and support from partners such as Safaricom Foundation which they say has been the critical ingredient to their success. Photo Courtesy

But it is the coronavirus pandemic that they say has rubbed salt into their wounds. They depend so much on tourists but the measures put in place by the government to combat the pandemic has adversely affected their business.

Their plans to expand their business they say has been affected by lack of capital with savings and credit Cooperative organizations only able to offer limited boost through their loans.

The infiltration of their business by middlemen has also not helped matters. Bernard Mua, a father of four says “When brokers come in, this means we will sell our jewellery at a low price.”

The support they would need

Samuel Owiti a father of six and a member of TSHG lauds Safaricom Foundation through Ndoto Zetu initiative for the machines at their disposal. He however says an exhibition store where they would showcase their goods would add value to their trade.

Samuel Owiti a father of six and a member of TSHG lauds Safaricom Foundation through Ndoto Zetu initiative for the machines at their disposal. Photo Courtesy

They also would be thankful if they were supported with more machines as their membership, is fast rising.

TSHG also want the government to help them export their goods directly rather than use intermediaries.

In the next five years, TSHG says, they would want to be the number one jewellery producing company in the country. Their dream engraved in hard work, team spirit and support from partners such as Safaricom Foundation which they say has been the critical ingredient to their success.

Felicity Gitonga

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