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Innovative ecologist

Tell us about yourself

My name is Rahmina Paulette. I am 12 years old and in Class Seven at Hekima School. I am the first-born in a family of three siblings, and live in Kisumu. When I grow up, I would like to be an engineer.

You recycle water hyacinth. Why this venture?

Since l was a little girl, l loved the beauty of Lake Victoria. I can recall going to the shore and playing around with my friends. We would throw stones in turns to see who could reach the end of the lake.

These plants, whose name l later came to know as water hyacinth, abruptly changed the beautiful scenery of the lake. We could no longer visit our spot, and our Saturday afternoon activities had to be changed.

What happened next?

I have always wanted to get water hyacinth out of the lake, not only because we did not have somewhere to play, but also because l felt it was affecting the aquatic life, but, I did not know what I would do with it or where l would take it.

In 2015, l met Mike of Takawiri Initiative, who was making bags using water hyacinth. He offered to mentor me through the whole process of making the bags.

I took it up with passion, to help getting rid of water hyacinth in Lake Victoria. After learning to make bags, l innovated a way to make birthday cards using the same method.

How did your parents take it?

At first, they could not understand my interest, but they later came to terms with it, as l was not slowing down. My parents finance all the activities, from footing the cost of my mentorship to paying a few employees that l have.

They have also given me working space in our compound, where all the production takes place. They now support me fully, in fact, my clients are my mother’s friends, to whom l sell the gift bags and birthday cards at Sh150 and Sh50 respectively.

How do you get the raw materials from the lake?

I have few casual employees who harvest and transport them to my small workshop. I use natural processes to remove the fibre from the plants, which l dry using special plates designed in different sizes. My products are eco-friendly and no chemicals are added. I use nontoxic colours to dye.

What are some of the challenges you have been facing?

Getting the raw materials has been the main problem, because the casual employees sometimes don’t take my work seriously. They do not attend to me when they get some other work to do. This slows down production, and sometimes l fail to meet the demand.

How do you balance school and business?

I carry out my work during weekends and school holidays. The production capacity is a bit low, however, l put more effort into it when l have orders, working on daily a basis after l finish my homework.

I am also planning to train one permanent employee on how to make the products, so as to increase my production, as my community has started recognising my work.

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