Experience Like No Other, Balloon Kenya hurrah!

How well can I capture all the changes which have really occurred in me and are still occurring on me since I joined the Balloon Kenya family? walking down the memory lane, did I ever think that this great change in my personality and perception would really occur? would I have thought that Africans are not half humans, when compared to people from western culture? would I ever have thought that a degree doesn’t mean a white colour job? and would I have had this once in life time experience if it were not for the Balloon Kenya volunteer program? did I ever have a thought of having a family friend from the coldest and farthest place of Kericho from my Machakos home? The simple answer to this questions is a loud and clear NOOO!!!!.Balloon Kenya experience has really awakened the greatness in me. I now see things differently and now I can proudly imagine anything against any imagination.


When I was bidding goodbye to my friends back in Nairobi on my way to Nakuru to join the program the chat and even the thoughts of all of them was that I only joined because I was unemployed……I cant totally refute that but its good to say that I was not fully unemployed….i e as a part-time lecturer two colleges in Nairobi and my wages were paid on daily basis so I had no much problems travelling here and there. I joined Balloon Kenya because I wanted to explore and learn. I wanted to meet the “mzungus” and know how it feels staying with them and even knowing how they perceived me and Kenya in general. I have achieved all this, thanks to balloon Kenya experience I even have friends all-over the world and can proudly say ‘I am 1 IN   10,000 agents of Change’ which the ICS program promotes.

The end of the program was fast approaching and I really knew that I had to have something in mind on how to survive after the programme. I embarked on sending numerous job application emails as the internet connection in quick service restaurant was free. I got invitations for interviews for some of the applications I made and thanks to John, the Program Coordinator for his understanding, I never missed any interview but its also worth noting that I also never got any post for the interviews I attended!! My fears came true as the end of the program came without me getting any formal employment contract. The final day of the program which was the debrief was spend in my Absentia as my host father in Kericho had organised an interview for me which was really urgent and I had to travel from Kericho overnight so as not to miss that golden chance. I will not provide a lot of details on what happened but the fact is that the interview was delayed and by the time it was over, I could not get a matatu to Naivasha to join the rest of volunteers. This means that I never bid goodbye to some of the ICVs who never came to Nairobi…but how could I fail to bid farewell to CHELLEY,KWAKU,JAIME,LINCOLN,SYLVIA,MARIE and SIMON who were all flying back to UK.

During the December holiday as it’s a tradition in my family, every one has to be at home for the family gathering and so all my brothers were around. As we were talking to one of my brothers who works in Mombasa and also owns a shop there I recognized that although he had been running his shop for the last one year, he had no records to show any of his transactions! he could not separate his business money from his personal money. I talked to him about how easy it was to start maintaining a cash in cash out records and keep the track of his stock. He was enthusiastic on practicing all that we had talked about. We have been in touch and he has put in place almost everything into practice except for some issues which are proving to be hard for him. We are organising on when I will visit and help sort out the issues he is having. He is very positive about the use of business records as he says they are helping him establish the profitability of his products.

On the same holiday, while at home I also talked to my brother who is a teacher and owns an MPESA and a “Mali Mali” retail on how he can use the BMC to improve the performance and also help him make new innovations. We talked on how he can do things differently. In attendance in the discussion was a lady who is a salonist and also a “mali mali” dealer just next to my brothers shop in our local town. She was equally moved by the discussion and suggested that we organise a forum for the local traders and talk on how they can improved their businesses . I would have been happy to lead such a forum but it never was due to logistical issues.

They call it “shamba la mawe” which directly translates to a farm of stones. the celebrations period was over in no time and it was time to go back to Nairobi for job hunting. I knew this was going to be tough but I braved myself for it as man is born to suffer. On 4th January I packed and left for Nairobi with no specific place to go. Luckily for me, I had a friend whom we were schooling together in the university who welcomed me into his house as I sort myself out. I used to spend my time knocking all the doors in the Nairobi industrial area and leaving my applications with them but trust you me I never was called to any interview. This came as a blow to me as all the resources I had were depleting fast. I had to think about things quickly. I visited one of my friends who works in Eastleigh, an area in Nairobi, and talked to him about what I was going through. He offered to make space in his stand so that I could bring my merchandise there. This became my turning point! All I had to look for was the start up capital.

It was at this same time that the return volunteer meeting was called. I had to travel to Nakuru to attend it as it is always good to go to Balloon events. Life seemed to change for me for the two days I was in Nakuru, meeting my friends again was a wonderful moment. Can’t fail to mention I met Doug again, not to mention that Elsie was there with the presents from Jaime.

Back in Nairobi, I used the fare refund and some of the little money to purchase 30 water bottles,10 pairs of slippers and 12 bathing napkins and headed to Eastleigh to make my first sale. It being on end month meant that the area was flooded by people as this is the most famous area in Nairobi for cloth and textile business so people from all walks of life throng the market to make their purchase. Its usually a good opportunity for the other kinds of business to make a killing too. On my first day I never knew what to do but my good friend was there to fight for me. The reason why I am talking about fight is because the new traders are always chased away by the established ones and I being new was not exceptional. People tried to chase me away but I hid under the feathers of my friend and he even claimed that the business was his. On the first day, I made sales totalling to ksh 1500 and wooow! I had made my first cash in Nairobi. was it not a good start for an amateur? Really it was! the next day was on a Sunday and its also a big day for hawkers in Eastleigh and so after church I rushed there and by the end of the day my sales amounted to ksh 2100.this motivated me more.

Business is highly affected by seasons and mine was not an exceptional. in early February, my sales started declining day after day. there were days I could only make a sale of ksh 400. This is when I realised that business has ups and downs. i knew very well that I had to change or else I become irrelevant in the business. I talked to my brother who granted me ksh 2000. With this money, I purchased sun glasses and displayed them on a stand I had improvised. I still maintained my original business as all I wanted was diversification. on the first day of the sun glasses I only sold three of them making a profit of ksh 200. However,this was a wrong type of business to enter into as its slow moving and at some days you never make a sale at all. Am not planning to add more stock for the sun glasses for this case. Its worth to note that since then, am slowly phasing out slippers, napkins and bottles and replacing the with men’s socks and vests. This is actually the best moments of my business. If I get enough capital, am planning to start selling men’s and ladies underwear.

For the time I have been in Eastleigh, my perceptions about hawkers has totally changed, this is because I have come to understand the better than I used to. I used to think that this are people who work for only food alone but I have come to realize that this is a business worth doing for those fellows claiming to be unemployed and living in towns under the mercy of the relatives in town. In Kenya there is a street saying which goes like this “give a Luo fish for the first day, the next day teach him how to fish for himself”. you may disagree with this fact but I will tell you that hawkers make up to ksh 30,000 a day depending on how accurate you choose your merchandise and also the strategic position of your business. Aggressiveness to sell is also another determining factor not forgetting how you talk to your customers.

I have been talking to my neighbours on how to make business records and the criteria to use so as not to overprice their merchandise which may scare away customers. Am currently teaching them how to use tally system to capture their daily sales.

Hawking is not a silver cloud and it comes with its unlimited challenges ranging from changes in weather to harassment by the city council askaris to changes in daily weather. Rain for an hawker means stop of business unless you are selling umbrellas. During a normal day and as the business starts to pick, you are usually distracted by a loud whistle which fills the air. This notifies your that the hawkers devil(kanju) is around and so you have to be quick tying your things together and running for refuge otherwise your goods will be confiscated and you will pay a hefty bribe to have them released. Am now used to this running if its what it means to make a sale. Am learning what people in different walks of life usually go through.

As I talk with my fellow hawkers, they are humbled by the fact that I have all the qualifications and am still doing a noble business for the sake of being financially stable. They say that most of graduates wouldn’t do such a business as they consider it cheap and for the hopeless. am now used to being called a teacher by fellow hawkers a title I always try to shrug off but all in vain.

My hawking comes as a lesson to those graduates who always complain of lack of jobs and yet they have all it takes to start an income generating venture. Your success in life will not be measured by the humbleness of your beginning but by the greatness of your end. My entrepreneurship lecturer told me that entrepreneurs start “from zero to hero, from grass to grace and from rags to riches”..Balloon Kenya tells me to start small and grow big. waiting for formal employment is not bad but remember things may come for those who wait but only the things left by those who hustle. I no longer have the stress of thinking of what to eat and my daily expenses, God has been gracious enough and my business supports me. I usually do not consider myself as unemployed. When chatting with my friends I usually tell them that I am no longer unemployed and that am an equal opportunity employer. Recently, I joined a group of twelve graduates called ‘save and invest’. We save 1000 monthly with an aim of raising ksh 300000 by the end of the year and invest in a good business. Our dreams are valid, I believe.

I believe that I am a catalyst of change as I am helping to change the mindset of my fellow graduates that you can make money by being only employed in a formal sector and in a white collar job. hawkers are also beginning to give me a break as they are now becoming aware that even graduates can do what they are doing better. Graduates can change the face of the hawking in Kenya by bringing some new skills and maybe even some order!

All that I am doing now, I owe it to Balloon Kenya experience as I would not have had the thought of starting my own business. I have since then vowed that even if I get into formal employment, I will still run a business, as I was talking to Julius when he visited me in my work place, we saw many missed opportunities while we were in Kericho. We should have started our own business and by now we would be far away. Bygones are bygones we are currently focused on today not yesterday. Mistakes are the best teachers.

I have to give an update on the progress with jobs application before I sign off. I have been attending interviews like every week but I have been turning down some offers as they give me less than what I get from my business in the long run. I am sure that by the start of march I may start somewhere but let me not disclose the details as at this time.

Balloon have been the best people to work with and for so far. thumbs up for Douglas, Elsie, Gibu the Project Manager, John the Kericho Team Coordinator, Agatha the Nakuru Team Coordinator, Team Leaders from both Kericho and Nakuru ,all the UKVs and ICVs and not forgetting the entrepreneurs and the host parents but being biased to my host parents Mr. and Mrs. Paul Koech of Keongo village in Kericho. John you must tell them am grateful and I adore them. All of you I say thank you. You really have changed lives and the multiplier effect is higher than you can imagine.

Due time I have to sign off and say byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee till next time.

Written by Martin, ICS:E Balloon In Country Volunteer 2015.