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April 3, 2001

Kenyan start-up sells 'akala' through the Net
By Standard Correspondent

Six years ago a young American and a young Kenyan established a small community-owned project attempting to address the poverty faced by the residents of Korogocho, one of the poorest slum areas on planet earth.

The project, through the training of young adults, the production and sale of enhanced used-tyre akala sandals, attempts to provide jobs and raise capital for the Korogocho community. Last month, Ecosandals.com went online, selling the Korogocho products worldwide.

Three weeks later, the Wikyo Akala Project has plans to double in size as Ecosandals.com has sold over $1,500 in sandals throughout North America.

On five different continents around the world, over 2,000 Internet users have visited Ecosandals.com. and the site has accomplished such a volume of sales and web site visits without spending a single dollar on advertising. "The valuable oppor- tunity the Internet provides to sell local products worldwide has largely not been tapped," Patrick Mukoya, the Wikyo Akala Project director said in Nairobi. "Locally many people do not believe that we export tyre sandals but thanks to the Internet the sandals are selling internationally." With successful online marketing, Mukoya added, the sandals could become popular internationally and the Korogocho life that residents are used to - unemployment, illiteracy, inadequate health care, and dilapidated shelter - could be revolutionised. The most fortunate of Korogocho families make about 2500 Kenyan shillings monthly, which is about one dollar daily. "The first three weeks are just a start," Mukoya stated, "but it has been a good start."

The Wikyo Akala Project was started as the Akala Project in 1995 by Matthew Meyer, a current University of Michigan Law School student, and Benson Wikyo with funding from the Samuel Huntington Fund of Westborough, Massachusetts. Unfortunately Benson passed away in 1998 but the project was reconstituted and named in his memory, Over the past six years, through both local and international sales, the project has revenues of over $7,000.

The akala sandal, a used-tyre sandal similar to those used in developing countries across the globe, has been enhanced with leather finishing and beading. The sandal makers recruited from Korogocho are between 15 and 25 years old. Without the project they could be idle, left either doing antisocial activities or in the neighbouring Dandora dumping site, where thousands pick through trash heaps for old metal scraps or rubber to be resold for Sh10 or Sh15 in addition to sandal training, trainees are offered English, Math, and Computer training in an informal school in Korogocho.

Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ecosandals.com is a nonprofit importer and reseller of products produced by the Wikyo Akala Project.

Everyone involved with Ecosandals.com is a volunteer, enabling an extraordinary level of profits to go directly to Korogocho. The site can be visited on http://www.ecosandals.com.

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I am Kwamboka, an Ecosandals shareholder and sandal-maker. Please hear my story (and don't forget to friend me on Facebook).

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