• The History of Zingira Nyanza
  • Evance Odhiambo – My Story

    My dream was to be a computer engineer. After my O-Levels in 1998 I enrolled in a local college to take the course I wanted. I had no money for the course but was offered manual work as a gardener. I desperately wanted to go to college, so took the job. The wage was ksh100 per day and I was working a 5 day week – 8am to 5pm. My monthly salary was ksh2000 ($25)
    After 6 months I had managed to save half my monthly salary to put towards my collage fees. I had ksh6000 in savings. My father added me 3000 and my mom gave me 2000, so in total I had 11,000. My collage fee was ksh45,000. I needed to find another way of earning money.

    Whilst employed as a gardener I first started my paper business after work, collecting waste paper and recycling it to sell on a small scale to individual friends. After a while I was approached with an offer of a paper order of about ksh15,000. The deal involved no advanced payment and was based solely on trust. I was using small size lifters (A4), a small trough. This process was slow and cumbersome; I knew even working full-time I would not be able to complete the order on time. Using this technique I was only able to make 15 A4 sheets a day. The system was slow because there was only one lifter for all the papers, and with every paper I lifted, I was removing the excess water using a sponge.

    I took a huge sacrifice and stopped working as a gardener. I used money from my savings to invest in materials, and designed a larger machine which would enable me to complete the order. Because this was my first big order, I didn’t want to disappoint my first client. I replaced everything.

    Paper Making Equipment


    1. Left and immediate left top – the original paper making setup
    2. Immediate Left bottom – the new A1 lifters
    3. The motorised pulping machine
    4. Using the new system

    After changing to my new system I was able to make 50 A1 sheets in a day. In this system every paper has its lifter and there is no scotching. I completed the order in a week and delivered it to the address I was given. I knew delivering the order before payment was a risk, but I took it. It paid off. I was paid immediately and the client was so happy another order was placed at once.

    From this point on I never thought again of wanting to work in computer science. I learnt a lot developing my paper making, and I wanted to share my experience with others, starting with the people around me. When I was struggling to make a living, my mother told me one thing that would never leave my mind…`my son I wish I went to school, if I had done so I would have a well paid job, and would be able to afford your collage fee.’ When I asked her why she never went to school, she told me that during their time, ladies were only allowed to house work and not go to school. She told me if I ever have a daughter someday, never to make her feel inferior as she had been treated. I decided I wanted to help women overcome these inequalities.

    Apollo joined me and learnt the trade, and we worked for three months training Celestine and Caroline. Caroline was a teenage mother staying in my neighborhood. She was the sole provider to her young child. Every time she met me she was asking me for money to buy milk for her little girl. Giving her money everyday was not going to solve her problem in the long term, so I asked her if I could train her in the art of paper making, so that she could make paper for which I would pay her a fair wage, and she could learn a trade and a more sustainable means of supporting her child. She agreed and underwent training for three weeks. Caroline introduced Celestine into paper making and passed on her training knowledge to her.

    By 2002 the paper business was doing well but we could not get enough money to pay the four of us a reasonable wage. I realized that paper making alone was not enough, so decided to branch out. Clients were using our paper to create cards, books, and picture frames, generating a far greater profit; I wanted to see if we could do the same. Our first products were sold at a craft fair exhibition; I devised some designs for cards like the dancing boy and girl which sold well. At the exhibition we got so many card orders that we needed more people to help us. The four of us decided to mobilize youths to come and work with us. Each of us was to bring ten youths to be trained. We managed only 20 whom we trained, but not all made it to the end, at the end of training we only had 5 people (3 boys and 2 girls) to work with.

    Zingira has been expanding yearly having new members coming in and introducing new ideas.
    In 2003 I introduced hyacinth weaving. Previously we were using hyacinth pulp and mixing it with waste paper to make our handmade paper. We were lifting off the soft pulp to use in paper and discarding the fiber. Our workplace was in my small rented house, and my neighbor used to complain that the discarded hyacinth fiber was littering the compound. I was reluctant to throw it away so thought about how we could make use of it. Hyacinth fiber has similarities with banana fiber, which is used to make rope, so I experimented with creating rope from hyacinth. When we tried a sample of rope it came out strong. We then began experimenting with weaving the water hyacinth. Below is the first basket that we did out of water hyacinth.

    Our First Water Hyacinth Basket

image047When we took this to the market everyone loved it, the first order for the baskets was so big I had to train more people to produce the amount required. Those who were making paper were developing into skilled artisans, and had come to specialize in their craft. I didn’t want to make them start from scratch again learning something from new. Weaving is not a traditional skill associated with out area, but I needed to find some people who would be interested in learning how to weave. All the water hyacinth we use comes from the abundant supplies spreading over Lake Victoria. I decided it would be best if I could train people who had easy access to hyacinth, so they could use their local resources. I began camping along the shores of the lake looking for people who could weave. Initially no-one was interested because the fishing industry dominated the area and was far more lucrative, but I was left my contact details with every group I visited. To complete our first basket weaving order I had to rely on the help of our paper makers.

A month later I got a call from one of the groups I had visited, asking me if I could train them on how to use hyacinth. The fishing industry was being decimated by the hyacinth, and everyone had lost their jobs. This group (Nyakach Koguta) consisted of about 15 women who were interested in weaving. I took them for a three week free training course, and we are still working with this group today.

In 2005 I introduced a polythene bag made out of recycled plastic bags. This was our first product using plastic. Again we trained another group of young ladies of about 10 to create the bags.

In 2006 I started a programme working with local orphanages and rehabilitation centers training kids on craft production. They are doing well and we are helping them sell their products to cater for their school fees and some of their needs.

Every day I have something driving my heart. I have seen how by working together we can help to bridge the inequalities between men and women, pay people a fair wage for their work to help them lift themselves out of poverty, whilst respecting and helping to clean our local environment.