Investing in livelihood opportunities for refugees amidst COVID-19

30 April 2020

One of the main livelihood projects at JRS Kenya is the Mikono Craft Shop, which sells refugee-made handicrafts like handbags, wood sculptures, paintings, jewellery,  and peanut butter. The products are all handcrafted at the Nairobi JRS compound by refugees who took part in JRS vocational training or benefitted from a micro-loan to jumpstart an income generating activity. Selling their products at Mikono serves as an important source of income.

As most businesses, Mikono has suffered from the effects and restrictions caused by COVID-19. At JRS, we have been trying to find solutions to adapt to the new situation as well as possible. Our biggest challenge is finalizing the development of a stable and well-functioning online shop, that enables us to offer suppliers a platform to sell their items, even if the front-door is closed. An e-commerce site will open Mikono not just to Kenya, but to the whole world.

Teddy Salimo currently runs the Mikono Shop. Teddy and his team have been working hard and devote a lot of time and energy to bringing this project to the next level.

Teddy Salimo runs the JRS Mikono shop, which sells refugee-made handicrafts.
Teddy Salimo runs the JRS Mikono shop, which sells refugee-made handicrafts.

How did the Mikono Shop project start?

The project started in the early 90’s thanks to James Martin SJ, with the main goal to link the skills and the products of the refugees with the local market. And since then, it has become a key source of income for many of the refugees who sell their products there.

Why do you consider Mikono an important asset to accompany refugees?

Every item shelved at the shop is a positive indicator of viable livelihood JRS interventions. Mikono is a place where the promotion of refugees’ self-reliance is achieved. The shop has enabled refugees to turn their talents into a profession to earn a living. Refugees can get deserving prices for their products. Through frequent market studies conducted by JRS, we ensure that the price is fair for both the supplier and the customer.

Could you describe Mikono and its duty in some words?

Mikono is a source of resilience, it gives refugees access to the market and a means to support their families.  Its continuity proves the success of this project. It has engaged families for nearly 30 years, some of them since its beginning.

How has COVID affected the activity at Mikono?

We stopped accepting deliveries from suppliers and closed the shop, following the government recommendations. Because of this, we have not recorded any sales at the shop since March 20th. This negatively affects the living conditions of more than 60% of suppliers who depend on the shop as their only source of livelihood. Suppliers have eaten into their business capital, and the exploration of new physical marketplaces has ceased.

Where do you see the project in 5 years from now?

Having a fully successful e-commerce platform that will enable us to meet each client’s needs from any part of the world. The project will be self-reliant and open up doors for more refugee-made products!

What has brought Mikono to you?

Working with refugees has made me humbler. Working at Mikono has taught me to take everybody as they are, and learn to work with people with different capabilities, and with different needs and backgrounds.

Having the same space for so many different profiles of suppliers made me understand their limitations and their differences, and therefore learn how to be tolerant and do my best to ensure that they all have equal opportunities, and that no-one is left behind.

Despite always keeping a professional relationship, to give equal opportunities, I have developed closer relations with the suppliers. I learned about their possibilities, about the needs of their families, and about their challenges. I always try to keep a constant and close relationship with all of them, some of whom I have been working with for many years.