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Goodies from calabashes

A few years ago, James Mwoka’s monthly earnings as a mason in Kasarani were less than Sh1,000.

But all that changed when he ventured into calabash decoration. He can now pocket between Sh60,000 to Sh80,000 every month.

The 46-year-old father of seven is a proud man and he thinks luck is what led him to start the business in Mathare.

“I used to earn very little before this and it was not enough to sustain me or my family. Luckily, I met someone who introduced me to this business,” said Mr Mwoka.

Eleven emlployees

Mwoka gets materials from around Nairobi though most is transported from Kitui, Mwingi and Makueni counties.
When the calabashes arrive, he assigns women to clean them using soap and detergent.

“When they finish with the cleaning, I cut the calabashes using a hacksaw in order to remove the seeds. I then place them out to dry,” said Mr Mwako.

Painting starts immediately the calabashes dry. Different colours are mixed carefully to get satisfy customers’ various tastes.

Mwoka has a place at Maasai market in the City centre to sell his products.

“My calabashes are very popular with foreign tourists,” he said.

He also has customers who flock to his place in Mathare. They buy a few while others order in bulk to sell abroad.

“They have their own customers in Europe and America. I don’t know how they export the calabashes there,” said Mwoka.

The calabash painter has employed 11 workers.

He says he can handle any amount of work ordered by his customers and deliver it in good time.

A small decorated calabash goes for Sh60 and Mr Mwoka can make about 50 a day. 

The medium size requires more work and goes for Sh250 and he makes 20 each day. 

Lastly the large painted calabash is sold for Sh500 while the extra big one is sold for Sh800.

Mr Mwoka says he feels happy when he sees his workers doing something meaningful in their lives. 

“I am excited to see them busy. Most come from very poor backgrounds and would be wasting their lives away in drugs or crime. This business is keeping them engaged,” said Mr Mwoka. 

According to Mr Mwoka, trust and hard work are the key in the business. Besides, customers require quality products hence quality materials are needed.

He intends to expand and accommodate more young people.