Before one of her sons died in the Karai accident along the Nakuru- Naivasha highway four years ago, Julia Njeri was working as a peasant farmer and a grocery trader in Molo town.
Her late son, Francis Muinuri Ndung’u, owned and operated a furniture workshop at Mutirithia Estate in Molo town a few metres from Molo Post Office.
When Francis died, his brother took over the business. He quit shortly after realising carpentry wasn’t a good fit for him.
Julia decided to resuscitate the business in honour of her late son.
“My son was only 28 when he died on December 10, 2016. I watched him struggle to build this business from scratch. I felt a deep longing to keep the business going. Today, it pays me. I have learned so many things from it.”
When we met Julia, 60, at the workshop, she was busy joining pieces of wood for a bed with the assistance of one of her employees. She was racing against a tight deadline.
She passed the joined frame to her worker and then proceeded to a sliding table saw to split and smoothen more wood for other furniture. Her swift movements give away her expertise in carpentry. However, starting out wasn’t easy. She stuck with simple tasks such as smoothening wood for the more experienced carpenters in the workshop.
“I was determined to learn and watched closely as the others made various pieces of furniture. The more I attempted to make my own, the better I got at it. Every day gives me an opportunity to be creative and learn.”
The workshop earns Julia up to Sh200,000 per month. This has empowered her to care for her five children as well as improve living standards of the family. Thanks to the business, she has built a modern home for her family.
“I cannot compare my income now to what I used to make while selling groceries. In addition, I have three workers who I pay on commission ranging between Sh1,600 and Sh2,500 per piece of furniture.”
Julia sells her furniture in Molo, Keringet and Olenguruone. Most pieces are sold on order.
“The workshop helps me reach out to many youths in this area who are interested in carpentry. Some end up starting their own workshops after training here, it makes me so happy.”
Mr Salim Maina, 20, who completed his 2020 KCSE examinations recently, is one of the foreman and senior technicians who has benefited from Ms Njeri’s workshop.
“When Covid-19 struck in the country, I engaged myself in physical works at the workshop since we were not going to school as directed by the ministry of health.
“After learning more from Ms Njeri whom we call her “Shosh (grandmother)”, I can now be proud of my hard work because I make good money from this workshop,” said Mr Maina, adding that every work needs handwork and confidence.
Rising cost of timber following government’s moratorium on logging is one of the challenges Julia has had to adapt to. Also, some clients fail to pay up for the furniture leading to bad debts. Still, these challenges are simply thorns that don’t steal the shine of the rosy business.
Julia hopes to expand her business and buy more modern machines for carpentry in order to allow more youths get physical knowledge more on what they learn in technical institutions. She hopes the workshop benefits many young people and give them hope for a better tomorrow.