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How a woman in Kangemi slums turns wastes into charcoal

By Tebby Otieno

In the interior part of Kangemi, at the shoreline of River Nairobi settles a home fenced using trees that has green well trimmed leaves. It is inside this compound that a lady, whose enthusiasm to environment stays. She was born and brought up here several years back.

Ruth Wangari Githaika says the idea of how wastes could be reused is something that kept on crossing her mind for several years. At some point she decided to research around waste management. In 2011, she learnt of how other countries had been taking care of environment. That gave her an idea of how to make briquettes. Briquettes are compressed blocks of coal dust or other combustible biomass material used for fuel. The term briquette derives from the French word brique, meaning brick.


Ms. Githaika with Mtaani radio reporter Tebby Otieno, during an interview at their home in Kangemi on February 28, 2020

`I just happened to be thinking so much about environment but my main concern was the issue of there is a lot of logging, there is a lot of deforestation and the cry was the logging is not about timber, it is about charcoal. And I was wondering, now if this is the case when I go through books, charcoal can be made from so many things, why don`t we start this.` Ms. Githaika recalls .

When she decided to put her research into practice, Ms. Githaika who is now a mother and a grandmother, thought of how her work could create employment not only for her but also to others in her community that is in the Kangemi informal settlement, without having to rub shoulders with the government.

Ms. Githaika carrying two pieces of briquettes in her hand. She is inside a store of sacks of briquette in her Kangemi home on February 28, 2020

`We are not fighting with the government and all that about deforestation because of charcoal, that one we`ll have eliminated. Unfortunately, it is not a two or three months fight. I have always said it takes all of us to move this world. As we are talking that we want to preserve our forest/trees then somebody else somewhere needs to be saying instead of this, this is what we are going to be doing. And of course in every place anywhere we live in our country or anywhere in the world there is waste that can be turned into use or waste that can create energy in my household/neighborhood, in the next hotel near me`  Ms. Githaika narrates

Ms. Githaika in the briquette production room on February 28, 2020

Briquettes making

Briquettes are made from various agricultural or biogas wastes. This includes cattle wastes, waste food from kitchen, and grass among others. This is contrary to the commonly known charcoal that is burnt from trees. They can either be made using hands or machines

`After we have collected cow dung, we have an open place to dry it. After which we smoke them without producing flames to remove dioxide in them. What you get is black and can burn. There are machines that we make and use to produce briquettes. However, it is not a must one gets machine to produce briquette. What you got after smoking the waste which is now black dust, is what you mix with water making it very light then place it in a machine that will produce for you a particular compressed shape, very solid which when you dry in the sun for two days will burn like charcoal or much better than charcoal burnt from fire wood` She explains


A burning jiko of briquettes in an energy saving jiko on February 29, 2020

Unlike charcoal burnt from wood, briquettes burn very slowly to about three consecutive hours. This is because of how they  are compressed during production. They are also cheaper and less in the market. The value is best experienced by the person using them

` The briquette is more economical than ordinary charcoal because briquette will take much longer. It is going to save you a lot of time and a lot of money in terms of resources because briquettes do not burn very first. The combustion rate of briquette is controlled by the producer or whoever is making it. If you take briquettes to the current charcoal venders whom we have everywhere in the streets , they will never appreciate your product because ordinary charcoal, you might realize that I have bought a bag right now and within the next few minutes I need another one. Which is so different with the briquettes? Briquettes are there to serve you` She assures briquette consumers.

Apart from making briquettes, Ruth Wangari Githaika has also trained a number of women in different parts of Nairobi. She is the founder of Alfa Star Group, whose motto is Turning Waste to Fuel. Through this group that she registered in 2015, Ms. Githaika has been training organized women groups in Kangemi, Dagoretti, Kasarani, and Embakassi parts of Nairobi. These women have been trained on making of alternative Bio-fuels, Briquetting Machines, Training in skills development among others. She looks forward to a time that the whole country will be using briquettes that she will never satisfy the demand. Through that, she says she shall have created job opportunities to many. She wants to be link to people.

Kamadi Amata
I am a digital content creator with niche in Health, politics, and Human Interest Features.

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