When Violet Mbiti’s contract ended in 2011, she thought she would get another job almost immediately. Three years later, she was still unemployed.
During that time, she knocked on many doors looking for a job. She even offered to volunteer at non-governmental organisations in the hope that they would employ her, but to no avail. She was frustrated.
In 2015 she decided to enroll for a master’s degree in project management. She hoped to meet someone in her postgraduate class who could offer her a job.
However, enrolling in that class became the turning point to her new path in life.
“I realised, I didn’t need to be employed after all. With my newly acquired skills, I started thinking critically about what I should do.”
One day while visiting her rural home in Machakos County, she came across a local community-based organisation (CBO). And she volunteered to help the CBO’s youth empowerment project by writing a project proposal for it.
Her idea was to introduce the making of energy saving cooking stoves which the youth could sell and earn a living. That was her first project with the CBO and its success led her to think of starting her own venture. She was still at the university during this project.
The traditional cooking stove would emit a lot of smoke. PHOTO| COURTESY
She started out with 42 young people who learnt how to make the improved cooking stoves. Within one week, they had made 119 jikos, earning between Sh3,000 to Sh5,000 per jiko.
By the end of one year, the project had rolled out to the entire Machakos County, leading to the production of 1,000 jikos.
Around that time, and after the success of the CBO project, Violet registered two organisations: the Violet Mbiti Foundation, an NGO, and the Vijana Network International, which is a limited company.
This improved cooking stove is energy saving and does not pollute the environment with smoke. PHOTO| COURTESY.
Encouraged by the great strides made by the jiko project, Violet approached the County Government of Machakos seeking to address a pressing problem in the community — water shortage.
She lobbied the county government to help solv ethis problem and the county is currently constructing a dam in Wamunyu Ward. The dam will benefit 25,000 households, putting to an end the perennial water shortage in the area.
Violet’s projects grew, expanding to all the 47 counties in Kenya.
However, a new challenge emerged. Due to the expansiveness of the project, Violet was not able to keep up with the milestones achieved by the youth across the counties.
“I was also frustrated with not getting news on time regarding proposed youth projects as well as information when youth events take place in the 47 counties in Kenya.”
To solve this, Violet started a blog — Youth County Projects Kenya — to highlight the youth projects and opportunities in the counties, and also partnerships with various stakeholders who share an interest of empowering the youth.
For instance, the youth project has started stretching beyond Kenya’s borders with a growing presence in Uganda.
Violet Mbiti critiquing some of the ideas at a young entrepreneurs competition. PHOTO| COURTESY.
Her work in the community has put her in the limelight in ways that she could not have imagined.
She initiates projects that empower the youth socially, economically and politically by collaborating with other organisations that work with youth.
Back in 2015, she had the opportunity to attend a convention hosted by International Monetary Fund where she interacted with delegates from 10 other like-minded organisations. She has since had the pleasure to attend several high-level delegation meetings and represent the youths.
She runs her organisations single-handedly but engages different youth groups on contractual basis. PHOTO| MESHACK OCHOLA
She runs her organisations single-handedly but engages various youth groups on contractual basis. Her undergraduate degree in journalism comes in handy in blogging and managing multiple social media accounts through which she communicates with the various youth projects.
Her empowerment initiatives extend to advising youths on effective living.
“Only you can take charge of the direction you want your life to take. Also, align yourself with the right people who will grow you.”
Violet, who is in her early 30s, hopes to join politics in the next election year to change the fortunes of the youth.
“Most youth are often locked out from opportunities by phrases such as ‘the law does not provide’. I believe with the right policies in place, a lot of doors will open.”