Abraham Khayule started Potter’s Briquettes in hopes of creating better lives for his family and fellow community members in Kibera. Abraham first moved to the area in 1994, leaving his rural home outside Nairobi. He slowly watched Kibera transform from “just a small village on the outskirts of Nairobi” to a massive town of over 250,000 people. “When I first got here,” Abraham explains, “there were many trees. Kibra means forest in Nubian after all.” But over time, Abraham watched people cut nearly all the trees down for fuel. Many Kiberans use charcoal as a fuel source within their homes as it is much cheaper than other options. However, the dramatic reduction of forest in the area has had many negative consequences, Abraham explains, including soil erosion and decline in air quality. “The smoke released by burning charcoal is also damaging to health,” he adds, “I know people who have serious lung conditions and have even died from breathing it within their home.”
At the same time, Abraham had difficulty finding a job in the area and knows many community members who were experiencing the same problem. “Over a 20 year stretch, I was probably only employed for about 4 years total,” he explains, “There were so few jobs available in the area.” Despite the difficulties of unemployment and poverty, Abraham found solace in his faith and volunteer work as a minister. In 2013, he decided to attend a theology school. “At the school, they taught us that spiritual leaders should have some sort of project to help the people they lead,” remembers Abraham. Thinking back on the struggles he witnessed in Kibera, Abraham realized he could create a business to help solve these issues. “I began praying for God’s help to show me how to help my family and the people I lead to escape this poverty.”
Then, at a local fair one day, Abraham saw a woman holding a strange substance in her hand. When he got closer, he realized it was sugarcane bagasse or sugarcane waste. “She was talking about how the bagasse could be used as a fuel source which is odorless, burns longer and is not detrimental to our health,” he remembers, “When I went home that night, I dreamed about making briquettes out of the bagasse.” He realized that making these briquettes could help solve many of his community’s issues-- from unemployment and deforestation to health issues caused by smoke inhalation. He then began to launch Potter’s Briquettes out of his home.
He worked for a few years producing briquettes for people in Kibera but because he could not afford much machinery, the process remained fairly slow. One day, when speaking to a friend about the difficulty of using a manual machine, the friend suggested Abraham go speak to Somo about joining their Entrepreneurship Bootcamp to learn more business skills and possibly earn a grant to help pay for a machine. He decided to apply and went through the training program in 2016. “Working with Somo opened my eyes by both improving my research and business skills and connecting me to the outside world,” notes Abraham. Upon graduating the Bootcamp, he won a grant from Somo which he used to purchase a carbonizer machine, drastically reducing his production time.
Today, Potter’s Briquettes sells to people all over Kibera and even some rural areas close to Nairobi. “The community is very happy about our product, especially those in rural areas because they often lack good sources of fuel,” he explains, “Someday, I hope to sell in these areas more frequently.” At the moment, however, he does not have enough employees to both sell outside Nairobi and still maintain his business in Kibera. He hopes to eventually hire more people so he can expand production and move his primary production site closer to sugarcane processing plants to more easily collect bagasse. As of right now, though, Abraham is focused on empowering local youth in Kibera by giving trainings on briquette production. “The goal of my business is to help others, not just myself,” he explains, “That’s why I am so passionate about giving these trainings to local schools, churches, and community members.”
Stop by Potter’s Briquettes near Southern Bypass today to pick up some briquettes and get a tour of his facility.