In an area famed for violence, crime, prostitution and other social ills, a group of young people has chosen to create a name for themselves and give their community a new identity.
At 24 years, Ken Wami is an enthusiastic young man. His crafts business is booming. Despite challenges including low market share and high costs of raw material, Ken says his business is steadfastly growing - he will soon be able to engage more youth beyond the five (5) currently employed.
Ken’s parents struggled to get him to school when he was younger. He started his education in the Huruma slum of Nairobi, Kenya but due to financial constraints stopped at age 10 as his family relocated back to their village. Ken eventually resumed his schooling, but this time in Uganda where he completed high school.
“After school I moved back to Huruma, Nairobi to find work,” says Ken.
Life was hard and with no skills to be absorbed in the formal job sector, Ken became a casual labourer working alongside his cousin who had accommodated him in the city.
“Tulivuta mkokoteni na kupanda maua Runda (We pulled the cart and planted flowers in an upper class estate.).”
He pauses for a moment before he continues.
“An American lady we were working for in Runda (upscale Nairobi neighbourhood) once approached us with a magazine with artworks and asked if we would be willing to learn how to do the art.”
This, Ken says, was his golden opportunity. His employer was an art exhibitor and curator who introduced him to the art business. Ken worked for her for a year doing various art pieces for her clients.
As he mastered the skills, Ken moved on to start on his business and build a network of clients; his former employer remained one of his biggest. Business was booming, the clients were growing and so was demand: Clear Cut Arts was born.
In partnership with Ongoza (formally PAD), Clear Cut Arts has seized various opportunities to showcase their artwork. This Ken says has given him a platform of growth and an opportunity to meet new clients and network. Appreciating Ongoza's work, Ken mentions his hope that the work Ongoza is doing will help empower more youths like him and help them find opportunities for growth.
“PAD has given us a platform and connections,” says Ken.
Ken say’s the group has empowered its members to find sustainable livelihoods and kept them off the streets and crime.
“Were it not for this art I am doing, maybe I would be out there too,” says Ken reflectively.