What were you doing when you were 21? Living it up going for parties? Well, MS. NINA SOILA KOSEN is of a different ilk. The Kenyan born girl is unwilling to let life pass her by just like that and is making waves with her organization, Eco Manyatta Afrika.
Eco Manyatta Afrika is a social enterprise aimed at improving the lives of the ever famous Kenyan pastoral community, the Maasai. They live in loaf-shaped huts called ‘manyatta’ which the organization is equipping with solar panels, biogas, harvested rainwater, eco-toilets among others. These initiatives are being driven by the goal to maintain the Maasai culture by providing them better lives using locally available resources.
Kosen who studies Tourism at the renowned Strathmore University thought up the idea for Eco Manyatta when she visited her grandmother in Nkiramiram, a Maasai village in Narok county. She spent two days living the life of a traditional Maasai woman and saw room for positive improvements that could be implemented within the society. But how to do it? It started with an innocent question to her father, “Dad, can you install a solar panel in a manyatta?” and the rest, as they say, is history.
About the receptiveness of the Maasai to the initiative, Kosen notes, “Initially, people thought the eco manyatta would affect their traditions and culture. This is not the case, thankfully and once you explain the ease of it and the world of benefits derived from the use of the eco manyatta to the community, they are super positive about it.” The first prototype house was launched on 9th June 2015 and has so far snagged the attention of other high profile organizations such as UN Habitat, UKAid, UN Environmental Program and the International Labour Organization. The British High Commissioner to Kenya 2012-2015, Dr Christian Turner, even visited the project in Narok county last year.
The over-achieving 21-year-old has not accomplished all this alone, however, and relies on her father as her business partner. “My friends have heard me rant and rave about this since it was an idea on a piece of paper. My family have supported me through the entire actualization process,” says Kosen. In addition to Eco Manyatta, her family and friends have supported a sister venture of the housing project, a book drive. “I saw the thirst for education where the current eco manyatta is, Narok County. Unfortunately, the resource of books does not meet this yearning for education. So I began a book drive, where you bring any book whatsoever and we will stock them in our upcoming free eco manyatta libraries.” They have managed 700 books so far.
The change she has the desire to bring about in Kenya and indeed Africa as a whole is green sustainable living and increased education standards, which Africa has been struggling with. One can see she is well on her way, being covered by prestigious local and international media such as K24, The Huffington Post, Masheable and MSNBC.
On juggling school and entrepreneurship, Kosen says that it is difficult but she’s making it work. “With time and a bunch of to do lists, reminders and sticky notes I have learned to make the two schedules harmonize,” she says jokingly.
As a parting shot she gives advice to other young people saying they should break down the walls of their one big barrier: fear. “It is overwhelming to have or own something that is bigger than you, intimidating even and a lot of personal sacrifice is involved. You will change and don’t be afraid of it.” She believes in the cliché of fighting for your dreams and what you believe in saying, “You will fight yourself, your thoughts, what you think you cannot do what you think you are capable of, what people tell you of yourself. You are capable and able of exponentially more. You can have your cake and eat it.”
In the future Kosen sees the organization spread to most of Pan Africa, Asia and even the Middle East. She hopes their libraries will inspire all the future photographers, actresses, models and educators that the dreams in those pages can be everyone’s reality. She also wishes to begin a mentorship or job shadowing program.