The story of Thomas Okanga – Bone Craft Artist, Kibera

Starting a business is like climbing a mountain, where the peak is your success. A start up business is bound to face many challenges. For Thomas Okanga, a bone artisan in Kibera, capital was one of the major challenges he faced while trying to start his business.

I am a bone craft artist and my business deals with recycling of waste bones. We use these bones to produce jewellery such as necklaces, bangles, earrings and other artifacts.” Says Thomas.


In the year 2002, Thomas attended the technical training on bone craft. After he acquired the skills, he decided to start a business and was faced with the challenge of lack of capital to start. “I wanted to start a bone craft business but I did not have enough money. I went and got employed as a casual worker in a clothes export processing zone in Ruaraka. After working for 8 months, the company needed to downsize the number of employees and I was retrenched. This woke me up! At that time I only had 10,000 shillings. I tried to think of what I could do with the money,” explains Thomas.


In his quest to find a solution, Thomas happened to meet The Youth Banner trainers who were sensitizing the public on the BEEP training sessions around his home area of Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement. “I came to know about The Youth Banner in the year 2013. The Youth Banner trainers came to our area to look for young people to train on entrepreneurship. I later joined The Youth Banner training sessions and that is where I was trained on various aspects of business.” says Thomas.


Like many start up business owners, Thomas had the will to start a business but lacked the basic knowledge on running one successfully. He had an idea but never had an actual plan of how he would like to run his business.


“During the training sessions, I was taught on the importance of record keeping and financial management in the business. I also learnt on how to write a business plan, how to market my business and how to develop a good customer relationship.”


Thomas underwent the training sessions in his home area and was able to start his own bone craft workshop. He says over time his business has transformed through the guidance he received from his trainers. Through the BEEP (Banner Economic Empowerment Program) classes, he learnt the importance of time management, record keeping and market research in a business. After the training he graduated and now manages his business and has employed young people in his workshop.


“My business has so far received two loans from Kiva Zip through The Youth Banner. I believe the reason why I have managed to repay these loans is because of record keeping in my business that has enabled me to pay in good time. the good thing about these loans is that they give you ample time to repay and it is interest free.” explains Thomas.


“This business has really improved my life. I am able to support my family and pay school fees for my children. This has been possible as I instilled financial discipline in my business. I put aside money for investing for the business and also for my personal needs. the only challenge I have faced in this business is the lack of sufficient market networks for my products. The market is dominated by middlemen who buy our products at a very cheap rate and later sell them at exorbitant prices to tourists.” he exclaims.


For Thomas, the future is bright as he now looks out to train and guide other young entrepreneurs on business management. “I urge The Youth Banner to continue helping young people and give them business knowledge through the training, to guide them even as they run their businesses like I did.” says Thomas.

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