Prior to setting off on my 6 week trip to Kenya with Balloon Ventures, I promised my family and friends that I would write a blog full of my insights and experiences of what I was sure would be an incredible trip. But it’s taken me just over 2 weeks to finally sit down at the keyboard and start my blog! Trust me, I have a good excuse. I’ve adjusted to what we here call ‘Kenyan time’ and everything I do now is done ‘Pole-pole’ (the key Swahili catch-phrase inferring to the mindset that things should be done slowly and life should be chilled).
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Kenya was the incredibly relaxed attitude of the Kenyan people. After waiting for the Matatu (bus) to take us from Nairobi to Nakuru on the first day, I now know that in Kenya, a promise to arrive in 20 minutes really means 2 hours! But don’t get me wrong, whilst the waiting can at times be infuriating, the relaxed ‘hakuna matata’ (no worries) mindset is a welcome break from the stress and rush of everyday life in the UK. It’s been so nice to get away to somewhere so culturally different, yet to begin to feel like it’s becoming my home away from home.
The people are relaxed yes, but that’s not to say they aren’t determined. I’ve travelled to a large, growing town called Nakuru in Kenya to take part in a brilliant project called Balloon Kenya. 23 other fellows and I are spending 6 weeks learning about entrepreneurship and start-ups and applying our knowledge to work with bright, young entrepreneurs in Nakuru to help them create and innovate their businesses. I am working with 4 entrepreneurs with vastly different business ideas ranging from growing a property management business to setting up a cosmetics store and salon! But one thing all of the entrepreneurs have in common is their drive to expand their businesses and create a better life for themselves and their families.
Before I came to Kenya I had many preconceptions about the people I expected to meet here and the extreme difference in their lifestyles. We complain about the lack of job opportunities in the UK but we really have no idea. In Kenya 65% of those under 35 don’t have jobs and the largely corrupt politicians do little to improve the situation and often their excessive regulation makes it even harder for people to find jobs and start a formal, licensed business. This means that many young people become entrepreneurs in the informal sector but 92% of youth have no business training beyond schooling.
With this in mind I assumed that people would be cynical about the situation and lack motivation and vision, yet my entrepreneurs and most of the people I have met around Nakuru have completely proved me wrong. Whilst many need help sorting out their finances and understanding a business model, they without a doubt have entrepreneurial spirit. In many cases the harsh reality that unemployment and poverty is just around the corner for the people I have met has probably made them even more determined to prove themselves and grasp every opportunity they can get. One of my entrepreneurs, Miriam, is a single mother whose parents have both died, therefore she has to support her young child as well as her sisters and brothers through their education. Despite her lack of support, Miriam pushed herself through beauty school in Mombassa and now walks miles each day to sell her cosmetics such that she now has a customer base of nearly 200 and a respected reputation across a number of villages. Although I’ve only known her for 2 weeks I have found her a complete inspiration, and whilst she has a lot to learn, she has really taught me that with a strong vision, it is possible to turn a bad situation around.
So yes, the lifestyle and mindset is different to that in the UK and Kenyans will continue to take life ‘pole-pole’. However, the quickly growing business sector in Nakuru and the increasing number of young entrepreneurs keen to take part in Balloon and who are grateful for our support, is evidence that people here are determined to achieve their goals in life and with a little bit of help, can certainly succeed.
This post is also available at: http://safarinjemanakuru.blogspot.co.ke/