- Beryl Zawadi said that she had never thought she would be a shoe shiner when she completed her university studies
- The 25-year-old disclosed that life demands and the need to be self-reliant made her settle for shoe shining
- The optimistic lady said she once travelled from her Homa Bay home to Kitale to search for employment opportunities
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Skillfully, with a precision that makes everything looks easy, she applies polish on the leather of a client’s shoe that in turn shines with every rubbing of the brush.
The revving and honks of passing cars and droves of people passing scarcely a metre from where her stand does not distract her from giving her customers the best.
Beryl Zawadi, 25, a graduate of Bachelors of Arts in Education, is a shoe shiner along Uganda Road in Eldoret.
The Moi University alumnus told TUKO.co.ke that shining people’s shoes, a job she had never thought she would do when she joined campus, is what puts food on her table.
Inside the wooden box where she keeps her tools of the trade are also her academic credentials.
Her undergraduate degree certificate indicates she attained Second Class Honours Upper-division.
“I carry the certificates with me with the expectation that one day I could meet someone in need of my professional skills,” she said.
According to Zawadi, life demands and the need to be self-reliant made her settle for shoe shining, a job that is not highly regarded, especially by graduates.
The optimistic lady said she travelled from her Homa Bay home to Kitale to search for employment opportunities.
“I trained as an English Literature teacher and as everyone would expect I should be teaching. With the high number of public and private schools, it is not easy for a trained teacher to say they are jobless,” Zawadi explained.
Things are different on the ground, they say, and Zawadi acknowledges this popular Kenyan adage.
“Upon graduation, I secured a volunteer job at a private school in Kitale after I graduated in 2018. Slightly over a year in 2020 COVID-19 pandemic happened, schools closed and we were automatically jobless,” she narrated.
Determined not to go back home and be self-reliant, Zawadi explained that she had to seek other means of generating income and moved to Eldoret.
“Out of several options that crossed my mind, I felt shoe shining was not very much affected by the COVID-19 protocols and told myself I would do it,” she disclosed.
Things were, however, not easy as she thought as other challenges came about when she had bought a brush, a variety of polishes and a stool ready for work.
“My first day at work was tough, clients would pass me and opt for men. The trade is dominated by men. I felt frustrated but decided to be patient until the business gradually picked. It’s now slightly over a year,” added Zawadi.
She said her first days at work left many tongues wagging as some passersby wondered such a young lady would opt for a “dirty” job.
Zawadi observed that she convinced many male shoe shiners who hardly believed she had what it takes to do the job to allow her to set up her workstation adjacent to them, to which they obliged after lengthy periods of thought.
“While I was on campus I hardly saw women cleaning shoes here and I knew there would be an unusual perception. I vowed to make a name and change the initial mindset that this is a job for men only,” she added.
Zawadi says her parents were at first perplexed to hear she had become a shoe shiner in the city miles away from home.
They, however, embraced her and offered support after realizing she was determined to sustain her livelihood through the trade.
Her typical day sees her arrive at the work station by 730am to clean shoes for people headed to offices and usually closes around 530pm on weekdays, making KSh 1000 on a good day.
Zawadi does not have a shed and thus has to close shop when it begins to rain, unable to put up a more decent structure due to county government protocols.
“We are currently working well with the county government enforcement officers. They always insist that we should not set up any structure until they offer us an alternative space where we can put up shades. More decent structures will ensure we work comfortably and even our clients get better services,” explained Zawadi.
The firstborn in a family of three, Zawadi is a role model to her siblings and even college mates, the latest being a fresh graduate working with her at her shoe shining spot.
“She recently completed her studies and now waiting for her graduation. Just like me, she insisted she could not just stay at home. She’s learning the ropes and soon she’ll be even better than me,” Zawadi said with a smile.
Even as she says she learnt and continued to learn a lot from established shoe shiners, most of whom are men, she hopes to one day secure a career in her professional line.
“I have been applying for numerous slots in the education sector in vain. I won’t lose hope because teaching is my passion and one day I will do it formally. Meanwhile, I am happy at my workplace. It’s this job that feeds and takes care of my needs which is better than money gotten from begging or opting for other unethical shortcuts,” she explained.
She challenged fresh graduates not to sit waiting for lucrative jobs but instead find something to do as they seek their dream jobs.
“It does not matter how much you will earn, always work hard to make an impact on your life and on those that matter to you,” she counselled.
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