If you Google the phrase, “From rags to riches Kenya” you will get very few legit stories of people who really made it from the humblest of backgrounds.
Most Kenyan celebrities say that they came from humble backgrounds and that they had to brace all odds to be where they are today. This reminds me of my ‘village gurus’ who always narrate how they walked many kilometers barefooted to school and how they lacked school fees.
Sometimes, we get down in the valleys of life and we just need a little inspiration. During my talks, I often tell my audience that sometimes we may not need that person who will come to our rescue in a mighty way, we just need that hand on our shoulders that will tell us, “It is okay” or “I was once here, you can also make it.” Most of the time, we need people to walk with.
Now, to our list:
Nyota Ndogo – From A Househelp To A Successful Artist
Mwanaisha Abdalla, popularly known as Nyota Ndogo, is a class seven drop out. She comes from a family of seven. They lived in Majengo slum in Mombasa. Her father was a drunkard who played in a live band in one of the bars in the slum and her mother was a fishmonger.
In 1997, at the age of 15, Nyota decided to take on menial jobs in order to make ends meet.
“I often walked from Makande, within Majengo slum, to the central business district – about 3km away – in search of greener pastures. There were times when my heart ached and I longed to disappear from the face of the earth after being rejected by many people who saw me as a ‘baby’ with little or no experience as far as house chores go,” she told The Standard.
She secured a job as a house girl in one of her friend’s houses in Nyali estate. The couple had just had a baby.
“Although initially, they were not too sure if I would make it considering my young age and inexperience, I proved them wrong by working well for two years during which I earned Sh1,500 a month,” she says.
During her free time, Nyota would watch television and listen to music on the radio.
“I watched artistes such Sheila Mwanyigha (Nikki), Mercy Myra, Suzanne Kibukosya, Nazizi and Kalamashaka hoping to be like them someday,” she says.
With time, Nyota composed more than 15 songs but was not sure how to go about recording because she didn’t have the money. Once again, she was lucky. A fellow house girl, who had heard her sing, introduced her to a producer.
The man, Andrew Burchell – then a producer at Jikoni Studio – was impressed by the fact that she was able to compose and as well as sing and he decided to record Nyota’s first album Chereko. She was still a house girl at the time.
“The album received immense airplay on radio stations within Mombasa and I went on to record more songs at Jikoni Studio. And like they say, the rest is history.
“To date, I thank God for having brought me this far. I now realize that nothing is impossible as long as you have what it takes and are determined to go for it,” says Nyota who recently concluded a tour in Denmark where she performed at a grand concert in memory of reggae legend Bob Marley.
Steve Thuita – Making Something Out Of Joblessness
Steve Thuita has built one of the most successful commercial cleaning businesses in Nairobi. He completed high school in 2003. “I scored a grade of C+ though I qualified for diploma studies, I missed the ultimate goal of joining a public university, I was crushed,” he told Bizna Kenya.
As fate would have it, he did not even pursue a diploma course as his mother could not afford his college fees. She ran a small groceries and vegetables stall in Limuru which made it difficult for her to provide for her young family. As a firstborn, Steve decided to move out and look for a job to support his mother provide for the family. “All I wanted was to find something that would pay me so that I could change my life and that of my mother and my siblings,” he says.
Getting a job was tough. “I tarmacked for months without success. I began to look out for casual jobs that he could not find. Finally, out of desperation, he decided to start a business. After careful analysis, the only business he could start was a cleaning services company.
He borrowed 2,000 from his mother which was the capital he invested in his start-up which he named ‘Clean to Gleam’ and later bought cleaning materials for cleaning cars, homes, carpets and sofa sets. With consistency and hard work, he has seen his profits soar to between Sh. 80,000 and Sh. 100,000 per month.
“Since then, I have maintained an online presence by marketing my services and interacting with my customers through social media networks,” he says. His cleaning charges range from Sh. 200 to Sh. 30,000, for cleaning office and dining seats, matatu seats, mattresses, car interiors, floors, home, and office general cleaning.
Steve’s dream is to create more jobs for jobless young people in Kenya and in the region. He plans to set up operations in all major cities in Kenya (Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret) in the next 12 months and at least 1 city in the East African Community with his eyes set on Kigali, Rwanda.
Chris Kirubi – The Orphan Who Made A Billion Worth Empire
Almost everyone knows or has heard of Chris Kirubi, the business mogul who owns several industries in Kenya but very few know that he was an orphan who built his KES 30 Billion empire from nothing.
Born in 1941 as Christopher John Kirubi, CK was the first child of a family that was struggling to make ends meet. Both his father and mother passed away a few months from each other leaving young Kirubi and his siblings to fend for themselves as orphans in abject poverty.
Instead of taking the great challenge of life as a knockout punch, Kirubi observed it as a motivation to work hard. It occurred to him that he was not up to live a life of pity soon after he accepted the reality of his parents’ demise and condition of the family.
Kirubi and his siblings spent months surviving at the mercy of neighbors and relatives. He then motivated himself to take odd jobs to make a living for himself and his siblings. At some points, he was engaged in multiple jobs and multiple shifts.
He not only focused on finding food but to see himself through school. Upon graduation from school, CK ripped the fruits of his labor when he landed his first job upon graduation at Shell, an oil and gas giant company.
The job position was of a salesman and his duties involved selling gas cylinders and fixing faulty ones.
He then landed another better paying job at Kenatco, a government transportation agency as reported by WeeTracker Media. At Kenatco, he worked as an administrator for several years as he lay the foundation for his next big move.
The big break came in 1971 when Kirubi, using his savings, bought a rundown property in Nairobi and gave it a facelift. He then sold it making a good profit. The former poor Nairobi boy simply launched his real estate business in that manner.
Kirubi continued with the signature move of buying ramshackle properties, renovating them and selling them. Some properties he opted not to sell but to rent them out. He soon found himself making huge sums of money than he had ever dreamt of.
The money and properties CK handled allowed him to secure loans from financial institutions, which enabled him to acquire strategic pieces of land in Nairobi’s affluent areas wherein he erected residential and commercial buildings for rent.
One of the major companies owned by Kirubi, International House Limited (IHL), focuses on real estate and is worth around Ksh20 Billion. Some of the most famous properties owned by the company are the Two Rivers Mall and the International House Building.
Ondiba Joseph – The Nairobi Boda Boda Landlord
Joseph Ondiba is a Boda Boda rider in Nairobi. He has been a Boda Boda rider since 2014. Over this period, the father of two has not only become financially independent but also built a residential plot in Choka area, along Kangundo Road. “I started my Boda Boda job in 2014. Although I didn’t have adequate capital, I was fortunate to find an investor who invested in my dream and helped me acquire my first motorbike at Sh. 87,000,” he told Bizna Kenya.
It was not easy for him to get customers when he first hit the road four years ago. He was new and unknown. To make matters worse, many customers appeared to have their “Boda”, whom they trusted and relied on for travel. “Many customers would insist on riders they were well acquainted with,” he says. “It took time to build trust and reliability, especially because Boda Bodas are widely associated with carelessness and disregard for traffic rules that sometimes end in fatalities.”
But Evans was determined to make it work. “I stuck to my guns, occasionally, I dug into my pocket to fuel my bike.” Three months later, his patience began to pay off. His daily income started rising from the average of Sh. 200 that he had been making on good days. “It hit Sh. 300, then Sh. 400, and by the end of that year, Sh. 500,” he says.
Within two years, he started making Sh. 1,000 per day. Today, he easily makes Sh. 50,000 in a month. Over this period, Evans has acquired four more commercial motorcycles and employed four young men. “They operate the motorcycles based on an agreement that each of them must remit Sh. 400 daily and keep what remains. My riders make Sh. 600 each on a bad day,” he says.
By 2016, Evans had saved Sh. 400,000. He bought a 50 by 50 plot near Choka, along Kangundo Road and in 2017, he started to build a stone-block residential plot. Today, he has set up five rooms on one side of the plot. “I have taken two rooms for my family, and rented out the remaining three,” he says. “I am now saving to build a few more on the other side of my plot.”
“I consider myself lucky to be a homeowner in Nairobi courtesy of my Boda Boda business. There are thousands of people who have good jobs and who work in big offices and yet they are still tenants.” He said.
Juma ‘Jay’ Khamis Mohammed – From Mitumba Hawker To Millionaire
When he was in Form Two, Juma dropped out of school due to lack of school fees.
He was forced into hawking second-hand clothes in Nairobi, a life he says was characterized by hardships that included arrests by City Council officers.
“You wouldn’t know what hardships are until you’ve lived the life of a hawker. But I thank God because that job gave me a ‘street degree’, which is much more valuable than any formal education I’ve ever received.”
Throughout his time as a hawker, Jay says he was always thinking of ways of improving his life. For one, he knew he wanted to have his own company.
Then he got an idea of starting an events company, which he registered under the name ‘Parrot Company’.
Luckily, the company required zero capital to establish.
“My job was to identify people who needed to hold an event and had no idea on how to do it. I would then come in by planning and supplying them with the necessary equipment. Once business picked up, I started being contracted to do big jobs.”
“The early days were difficult because this was something I had never done before. However, I had friends who were in the business who guided me.”
A branding job by Airtel Kenya gave Jay his big break. Then Stanbic Bank and Orange Telkom came on board.
“Parrot was given a contract to handle Orange’s branding during the promotion of the low-end ‘Kadunda’ mobile phone. That was really a milestone for us.”
Today, Jay has worked with several companies that include M-Kopa, Telkom Kenya, Lenovo and CMC Motors among others. His company has an annual turnover of Sh70 million with assets worth over Sh40 million. He also employs 21 people.
“I don’t know how to give up. Failure to me is not the end, it’s just a signal that I need to improve or do something differently.” He noted.
Gloria Muliro – The Househelp Who Never Gave Up
Gloria Muliro owed the high school she went to a lot of money and she couldn’t get her certificate. She then decided to work and raise the money. Eventually, she was able to clear her debt and retrieve her certificates.
The gospel songstress came from a humble background and had to work as a house girl in Nairobi’s Eastlands where she earned just Sh1,300 a month.
She then joined the International Teachers Training College in Dagoretti for a two-year teaching course where she performed with distinction.
Gloria released her first album ‘Omwami Aletsa’ (My God will Surely Come) in 2005. It did not do as well as she had anticipated as local music outlets were not willing to give it airplay. Undeterred, Gloria went on to record her second album Kibali (Mandate) in 2012 which contained the famous hit single Sitolia.
Gloria has also gone on to form the Gloria Muliro Foundation as her way of giving back to society. The foundation supports disadvantaged children and other needy persons in society.
These stories tell us of things we need to note. All these people had dreams and goals. Nyota Ndogo wanted to be a singer, Steve wanted to make something of himself and provide for his family, Chris Kirubi wanted to be a business mogul, Ondiba wanted to own his own home, Jay was passionate about events and Gloria followed her dream in music even when her first album received very small airplay.
We need to have something we can chase, something that will give us that motivation to wake up and GRIT. We need to visualize our future being so much better and bigger than our current situations. I tell my friends to have dreams so big and unrealistic such that when they share with others, they are left with mouths aghast and they only thing they can tell them is “You are dreaming”. If your dream is just realistic and small then you won’t achieve much out of this life. Who would have thought that a Boda Boda rider would one day be a landlord?
Another thing to learn is that these people started humbly and since they had big dreams, they knew that that was not their destination but simply a ladder to help them cross to the other level. They got all the experience and resources they needed and moved to the next step. These people also used available resources they had to make something off themselves. The sad thing with most people and mostly young people is that they would not accept humble beginnings.
They believe that the world owes them something because they have university degrees and they have an image to protect. It is sad that I have seen so many quit their jobs because it is not well paying for them to afford the fancy life, their boss was rude or the working conditions were not pleasant. This explains the many complaints on social media, the many depressed young fellows and the increasing number of suicides.
The final thing to learn is that everything takes time. Most young people are rushing through life; they want a well-paying job, a fancy car, an amazing family, a maisonette back at home and all the sweet things money can buy all at the same time. They curse life especially their family and relatives when things don’t go their way. Love and appreciate the process no matter how slow, how hard or how tiring it is. The Israelites stayed for 40 years in the desert before seeing the promised land.
The Google Dictionary defines patience as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
And this is how the Good Book says about patience.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”
Nyota Ndogo – https://www.sde.co.ke/article/2001265124/five-celebrities-you-won-t-believe-were-house-helps
Steve Thuita – https://biznakenya.com/cleaning-rags-to-riches-a-journey-of-determination-and-persistence/
Chris Kirubi – https://www.kenyans.co.ke/news/37440-intriguing-story-chris-kirubi-who-was-once-poor-orphan-boy
Joseph Ondiba – https://biznakenya.com/how-i-built-my-own-home-using-my-boda-boda-job-earnings/
Juma ‘Jay’ Muhammed – https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/business/2017/07/how-a-nairobi-second-hand-clothes-hawker-became-a-millionaire/
Gloria Muliro – https://www.sde.co.ke/article/2001265124/five-celebrities-you-won-t-believe-were-house-helps
Have you read my e-book, “I Long To Be Their Househelp”? You can purchase it here on Amazon Kindle – https://www.amazon.com/I-Longed-Be-Their-Househelp-ebook/dp/B01M28HIV2
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