In many African cultures, every part of a slaughtered cow is used. Nothing goes to waste, not even the bones.
Following this tradition, a youth group in Nairobi’s Kibera slum is making beautiful jewelry out of discarded bones from cows and goats. Under their brand name “Victorious Bones” the group has an innovative way of making a living by dealing with waste management — a huge problem in urban areas.
“If you walk around here you will see the garbage is thrown almost everywhere,” says Jack Nyawanga, founder of Victorious Bones. “As a team we play a big role in waste management in terms of creating a clean environment.
“Through collecting (bones) and recycling them, we are able to form something very nice and also to keep the environment clean.”
Nyawanga buys discarded bones for his workshop once a month at a restaurant in the neighboring slum.
He cuts and sharpens the bones using a circular blade and then smooths them down with sand paper. The next step is boiling the bones using hydrogen peroxide to remove the oil on the bone and to make it easier for the paint to sink in.
He then applies candle wax to the boiled bones — the waxed part will remain white and the other part will become black when the bones are dyed.
In the final stage, Nyawanga puts the bones in a container filled with dye for an hour to enable them to have a long-lasting color.
The jewelry is of different sizes and designs, with pieces ranging from earrings and necklaces to bracelets and rings. Depending on the
complexity of design, a piece of jewelry can take from six to 20 hours to complete.
The group has the capacity of making 400 earrings and 150 to 200 necklaces a day depending on the order.
“This business is very competitive,” says Nyawanga. “If you go to the market you will see people are really competing in terms of creativity.”
Currently the group works very closely with local NGOs to bring in tourists who buy their pieces. It also exports its jewelry to clients in Canada.
And it provides a much-needed source of local employment, with Victorious Bones currently employing more than 40 young people drawn from Kibera — the largest slum in Kenya.
“Some of the youths who were trained here have been employed in other companies,” says Nyawanga. “Some have been able to open their small businesses where they supply their customers with jewelry.
“Some of the workers here are able to pay school fees for their children, they are able to put food on the table, they are also able to pay house rent. These are some of the achievements they have gone through,” he adds.
In the next five years, Victorious Bones sees itself as a major supplier of crafts made from bones to different markets both locally and internationally.
“In life you have to choose between two things: you either submit to degradations of poverty, hopelessness or start your own walk,” says Nyawanga.