Kenya: How the JRS Mikono shop helps refugees become self-reliant
12 February 2010

Young refugees in Nairobi who sustain themselves by producing different kinds of bead work. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
In an urban setting like Nairobi, sustainable livelihoods are particularly important to enhance the standard of living and help refugees cope with their situation.

Nairobi, 12 February 2010 Refugees and asylum seekers who had to leave all their belongings behind when they fled their countries still have their skills which they can use once they are in exile. Those supported by JRS in Nairobi produce a variety of crafts such as wood carvings, batiks and post cards made of banana fiber, baskets, bags, dolls, table mats, necklaces, nativity scenes as well as clothes.

Since 1993 the JRS Mikono shop markets and sells these crafts both locally and internationally thus helping them to become self-reliant and to develop sustainable livelihoods. In 2009, the programme supported 65 refugees of which almost half were women. “The refugees are so creative and innovative, they keep producing new crafts always hoping to attract more customers,” says Merci Muchai who coordinates the JRS Income Generating Activities Programme in Nairobi.

At the beginning of this year Mikono shop received an order for 12,000 post cards made of banana fiber. The cards will be produced by 12 refugees who will earn 27,000 KSh (256 Euro) each. The order was placed by the Methodist Church who will sell the cards in the US to generate funds that in turn will be used to help street children in Kenya and to run the church.

In an urban setting like Nairobi, sustainable livelihoods are particularly important to enhance the standard of living and help refugees cope with their situation. It also enables them to become integrated into the local community. Eventually, selling their products through Mikono shop protects refugees from exploitation through middle men and from unhealthy competition.

Faida* a Congolese refugee who has five children, sells patch work bags and jewelry through Mikono shop since 2008. From her earnings, she is able to meet her basic needs, pay for her children’s education and support her siblings without relying on assistance from other agencies.

To improve sales the JRS Mikono Shops regularly attends exhibitions and bazaars, attracting new customers everywhere. Last year, the shop earned almost 240,000 KSh (over 2,250 Euro) at such exhibitions.

“We are extremely grateful for the energy and team spirit our suppliers show year after year,” says Ms Muchai. “But we also need the support of new networks and partnerships in order to meet their needs and those of our customers,” she adds.

To see the products and for more information about Mikono shop visit: www.jrs.net/mikono

*Name changed to protect identity.







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