Home to half a million people, the hundreds of thousands of shacks that skirt Nairobi make up the Kenyan capital's second largest shantytown. It’s amongst the rife poverty and scant landscape of Mathare that one man is devoting his time to making toys for children.

“He convinced a telecommunications company to buy some of his toys”

Paula runs WildlifeDirect, an animal protection NGO based in Nairobi. She visited Mathare and posted photos of the shanty town on the AfriGadget blog.

The slum is congested, polluted, dirty, and dangerous. We saw children playing in an open sewer and one small child was rummaging through garbage for something to eat.

Many children were without their parents on the jam-packed muddy streets and only a few of them had shoes. There were many drunk men loitering and every third or fourth building was an illegal Changaa den. Changaa [which literally translates to ‘kill me quick"] is a dangerous distilled drink that these people are addicted to. At first the place felt poor and hopeless.

But amid the squalor of one of Kenya's most depressing slums, there is a surprising amount of flashy colour and fun. It comes in the form of toys made by a man called Njugana.  

Njuguna makes these toys because he like to. He seems to allow the children to play freely with his toys. His clients are local people in the slum but he does sell well outside of that market too; he convinced [Kenyan telecommunications company] Safaricom to buy some of his micro toys [see photos below].

I was especially enthralled by this scrap metal motorbike [below] but the price was KES 2,500 [23 euros] which may have been a special price for visitors like me - I couldn't afford it!

Njuguna seems to be very much respected although all of his toys and gadgets were under very firm lock and key.

Scrap metal go-cart - boys in heaven!

He also fixes things such as household appliances, and makes practical gadgets including chicken cages and machines for mashing animal feeds.

Amongst all the toys were some other more serious gadgets that Njuguna had put together for no specific reason - a couple of free-standing windmills that rotate rapidly in the narrow streets to channel the wind. They stand there like artistic monuments, but Njuguna told me that he had made these constructions from parts taken from broken cars, had put them out and was then waiting for an idea to strike him regarding what to do with them. He called it his research experiment. ... Somewhere else lay another of his inventions, a water pump ....."