On a normal day, Julia Njoki a mother of 3 would have been working at her hotel deep in the Mathare slums a business she had run for many years. On other days, Julia who is also a human rights and environmental activist would either be teaching her neighbors about their rights or sweeping the streets of Mathare under the SHOFCO programme in a bid to keep the environment clean.

Julia is one person who has a firm conviction in making a change in her society for the better which has seen her participate in activities aimed at doing exactly that. At one time she even participated in a protest against the mistreatment of a lady who was chased from Olive Restaurant for breastfeeding her baby. During the protest, the mothers who had carried their babies with them actually breastfed outside Parliament to make their point before presenting a petition. It is safe to say that the said Restaurant won’t be repeating such shenanigans again.

Julia Njoki breastfeeding her baby at the protest

However, 2020 has been far from a normal year with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to a lockdown in a bid to try and contain it. The lockdown was intended to reduce the movement of people and as such slow down the spread of the virus. Sadly, in as much as the lockdown had an effect in slowing down the first wave of the virus, it had the unintended effect of slowing down the economy. This led to a  good number of people getting laid off due to the loss of business. For Julia, it meant that she had to close down her hotel as her clients could no longer afford to eat out and preferred to cook food in their homes instead. At the same time, the SHOFCO programme under which they were undertaking cleaning of Mathare which also acted as an additional source of income for her also folded courtesy of the outbreak.

As they say, a mother will do anything to ensure the welfare of her children, this sudden loss of her livelihood forced Julia to go back to the drawing board. She had two choices, either be patient and live on her savings as she waited for business to pick up, however, this plan was not fool proof as she had no way of knowing when the tide would change. The other option was to look for something that she could to make ends meet in a rapidly deteriorating economy. It was at this point that she remembered that PETCO in partnership with SHOFCO had taken them through training on PET bottle collection and recycling.

Julia then approached Kenya PET Recycling Company (PETCO) an affiliate of Coca Cola in regard to working together and that is how “Taka Ni Mali” was born. Under the partnership, Julia engages the youth and women in collecting plastic bottles in their neighborhood after which she pays them by the kilo. She thereafter accumulates the bottles and then sells the bottles to PETCO for a small profit which enables her to cater for her needs. Other than just enabling Julia to cater for her needs, this business has become a boon for her neighbors in that it has enabled them to get a source of income during tough times. This has had a positive effect in that there is a reduction in insecurity in the area as the young men are engaged in gainful employment. At the same time, it is helping to keep the environment clean so at the end everybody is happy.

All this is possible due to the Open Like Never Before campaign by Coca Cola that aims to support small businesses in its value chain recover from the effects of Covid-19. Under the campaign, Coca Cola has committed Ksh. 125 Million to support 18,000 traders, waste collectors, restaurants and kiosks weather the Covid-19 storm.

Towards this Coca Cola has partnered with Absa Kenya and Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) to provide the traders with financial capital. They have also partnered with Amref Health Kenya to provide the traders with Covid-19 health and safety training. PETCO on its part is providing training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to waste collectors like Julia to enable them to protect themselves against the virus other than providing a ready market for their goods.

According to Julia, Coca Cola and PETCO have changed her life for the better in that they have given her a means of not only fending for her family but also making a difference in her community during these tough economic times. So, if you have a small-scale trader in your neighborhood consider supporting them by buying from them during these difficult times.