Young Kenyan crating car models from upcycled material

Felix Ochieng is a young boy from Kibera, Nairobi. From a tender age, Felix’s passion for automotive engineering has ignited his imagination and fueled his drive to create. Armed with nothing but second-hand materials, he has been meticulously crafting intricate car models, showcasing his talent and ingenuity. He speaks to our reporter Christabel Adhiambo on his captivating journey through his remarkable life, exploring how his unwavering dedication and resourcefulness have shaped his path towards a future filled with endless possibilities.

Who is Felix?
My name is Felix Ochieng, a resident of Kisumu Ndogo in Kibera. I am a first-year student at St. Charles Lwanga Vocational Training College, where I am studying Automotive Engineering. When I am not in school, I showcase my artistic talents through fine and creative art. I am good at drawing and have a knack for crafting toy vehicles and houses. At the moment I am exploring my passion for both engineering and the arts, and discovering how my skills are will shape my future.

When did you start doing art?
My artistic journey began during my primary school years when I discovered my passion for drawing. I was inspired by the newly launched Akamba buses and immediately I started crafting toy cars. Initially it was for personal enjoyment and playtime with friends. However, as word spread about my exceptional skills, people began to appreciate and admire my creations. After recognizing the potential in my creative abilities, I turned my passion into a business, earning a modest income. My talent has caught the attention of companies like Ena Coach and Dreamline, who sought my expertise in designing their model buses. I used to display my models for sale, but nowadays I primarily creates them on orders.

What materials do you use for your work?

The raw materials I use for making the toy vehicles include boxes, Iron sheets, batteries, bulbs, wires, motor, slippers or woods to add a complete touch of the vehicle.

For the body of the vehicle, I use boxes and iron sheets, with the sheet acting as a cover. Instead of an engine, I incorporate a motor. To bring the vehicle to life, I use wires and batteries to illuminate small bulbs. Depending on the type of vehicle, I use either slippers or wood to create the tires. Finally, I add the finishing touch by painting the vehicles in desired colors.

What are some of the challenges you encounter?

Dealing with unpaid debts and unreliable customers has proven to be a significant challenge. There are instances where I fabricate the vehicles, only for the customer to fail to pay as agreed. This becomes particularly problematic since I also offer credit delivery services. Additionally, there are rare occasions when I am forced to deliver products to customers’ locations far from my workplace. For example, I may receive an order to be delivered in Mombasa, despite operating in Nairobi. This poses a challenge as the customers often do not reimburse my transportation expenses. Moreover, I occasionally sustain cuts from the iron sheets or blades I use, leading to additional costs for medical treatment. Despite these challenges, I remain resilient in pursuing my passion for creating toy vehicles.

What are some of the achievements you’ve encountered so far?
In 2017, during my time in primary school, I was honored with the prestigious award for the best creative artist in Kenya. It all began when I designed a remarkable model of a bus for a creative art competition in Kisumu County. The school selected my creation to represent it, and it turned out to be a resounding success. However, despite my talent and achievements, I faced challenging circumstances that led me to drop out of school twice. I found myself on the streets, but even in those difficult times, I never stopped creating my toy vehicles.

So did you ever go back to school?

It was during this period that a kind-hearted individual noticed my work and offered to help me return to school, generously covering my primary school fees. Thus, I acknowledge that I went to school because of my talent. Currently, I am fortunate to be on a partial scholarship at college, as someone was deeply impressed by my work and graciously offered to support my education financially. Through my toy vehicle creations, I have been able to earn a substantial income, which allows me to pay the remaining fees at school and even contribute to my family’s needs.

One of my notable achievements was designing a model car that can be controlled by a remote. I am
grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, and I am determined to continue pursuing my
passion and making a difference through my artistic endeavors.

How long does it take you to complete one vehicle model?
When I create the box vehicles, it usually takes me approximately two days to complete each piece.
However, when it comes to crafting the metal vehicles, the process is more intricate and time- consuming, often requiring close to a week to finish. This extended duration is necessary to ensure that every detail is meticulously executed, resulting in a truly remarkable and high-quality final product.

How much do the toy vehicles cost?
The prices for the box vehicles range from Kshs1000 to Kshs2000, depending on the intricacy of the design. On the other hand, the metal vehicles have a wider price range, starting from Kshs 2000 up to 10,000. The final price depends on factors such as the quality, design, and size of the vehicle. Each piece is carefully crafted to ensure its uniqueness and appeal to collectors.

What is your advice to fellow innovators?

Someone’s story motivated me and changed my life to a better one. I do believe that I also have a story
to tell and that is what I have been telling other people hoping it will also transform their lives and set
the rolling ball of their lives. Lastly, a dream does not become reality by magic thus, if you give patience
your best shot, while taking your dreams to a reality by working both hard and smart then things will
surely be accomplished in due time.

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