THE BLOG
11/30/2012 08:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Turning Trash Into Holiday Treasures

Alamy

Life is cheap where hope is scarce. And here in Nairobi's Haruma slum, you have to look hard to find any hope. So much is discarded here; bottles, cans, tires and plastic, but mostly people.

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Muchero, Project Manager, Zakale Creations

John Muchero Kangara, who is 42 years old, knows this. He's lived in Haruma all his life. But Muchero looks for use in everything. The word Zakale means "re-use" in Swahili, the cultural language of Kenya. And that's exactly what he's done with bottles, cans, tires and plastic, but mostly people.

People like 28-year-old Milton Obote. Ten years ago, Milton was playing pick-up soccer, smoking marijuana and burglarizing homes. Until he met Muchero. While watching a Humura pick-up soccer game Milton and his friends were playing, Muchero noticed the artistry with which Milton played the game. "Futbol (soccer) is what I eat", says Obote. But Muchero didn't like the company Obote kept. He saw something special in the teenager that everyone else had overlooked. If they even looked at all.

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Milton Obote, Zakale Creations

The two started talking. Muchero challenged Milton to do something with that artistic side. He gave the teen a piece of wire and asked him to "design something." Obote brought back a beautifully created hand. Soon, John invited Milton to work for him at Zakale Creations, based right here in Haruma. He knew Milton and didn't like to see boys like him waste their lives. Perhaps he saw a little bit of himself.

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On right Muchero, Zakale Project Manager and on left David, Zakale staffer

Muchero used to be involved in gangs, petty theft and some robbery. "It wasn't my wish", says Muchero. "I had no alternative." In a place like Haruma you do anything to survive. Something happens to a person when you're packed into a place of extreme poverty with 60,000 others. The word Haruma in Swahili (one of Kenya's official languages) means, sympathy. Some who live here think Haruma is just another word for "madhouse."

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Haruma Slum

Muchero doesn't remember anything good about Christmas as a child. No fond memories. "I never got a Christmas present. I was orphaned when both my parents died when I was three." Today, Muchero is turning that around. Today, the ornaments his young men and women at Zakale Creations make are sold to a company called Heavenly Treasures. That company, in turn, sells them to World Vision where they are offered in the charity's Gift Catalog.

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Haruma, Nairobi

Now each Christmas, Muchero throws a big party for hundreds of his neighbors in Haruma. "Christmas is a time for sharing what you have with those who have nothing," says Muchero. His young men and women welcome visitors with a ceremonial dance.

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Ornament Set, World Vision Gift Catalog

They are energetic, happy and appear full of hope. And today, Milton Ndege is married with a young daughter and hopeful he can land more design work.

"Zakale Creations," Muchero says, "is about creating new life." What better time of year to find that new life in the discarded bottles, cans, tires and plastic, but mostly people. Here in the maddening heart of despair, Muchero has found a way to deliver a tiny piece of hope.

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Zakale Creations, Welcoming Ceremony

This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.