By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer
The road heading to Mihango in eastern Nairobi is lined with buildings in varying stages of construction, piles of bricks and people welding gates and doors. Trucks ply the route in both directions carrying construction materials, equipment and workers. It’s clearly an area under development and the perfect place for Violet Karwimbo’s GHEMT (“God Has Extended My Territories”) Hardware & Electricals shop.
Violet has used Zidisha loans to increase the range of stock in her store, and given the size of the store it’s amazing the amount of different stock Violet manages to carry. She has recently added items as diverse as chicken feeders, plastics, meter boxes, more plumbing fittings and electrical wires. The loans have also allowed her to buy in bulk at cheaper prices, which has really boosted her profits. Violet appreciates how she can make her repayments “without a lot of stress because the interest is low.”
Violet credits the Zidisha community with providing her with much more than just capital for her business and says, “Because of Zidisha I also know about other businesses,” as she is active in Facebook discussions with other Zidisha borrowers in Kenya. Through such forums she learnt about chicken farming and now keeps twenty chickens at home, providing her family with fresh eggs and sometimes chicken meat, as well as some additional income from selling any surplus.
Violet also made contact with a potato supplier through Zidisha contacts, and she now also sells potatoes from her hardware store – which initially seemed a bit strange to me, but just shows her good business mind in recognising a need in the market as no one else nearby was selling potatoes – so this has added another profitable arm to her business.
Violet’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Jacinta, is currently studying hard in her final year of high school and hopes to commence studying medicine at university next year. Eleven-year-old Daniel is also apparently very bright and would like to be either a pilot (understandable since the family lives near the international airport) or a pastor.
Her Zidisha loans have really helped increase Violet’s business profit, which she has been able to use to support her family and reinvest in her business. Last year Violet was able to enroll Daniel in a better quality, but more expensive, school.
Violet also explains how her family is able to eat differently now and how previously it was “hard to put a good meal on the table.” The family used to eat a lot of githeri (beans and maize) and ugali (cooked ground maize), but they now eat a wider variety of foods, including more vegetables, meat and chapatti and Violet says “we don’t have to strain to eat well.”
The family can also afford to visit Violet’s parents more often (they live several hours away) and she has been able to save some money towards Jacinta’s university fees, and hopes to fund the remainder from her ongoing business profits.
Violet has completed professional training in Computer Technology, and hopes to continue her studies with an Upper Diploma and then Bachelors in Computer Programming. Next year she hopes to be able to hire an employee to assist her in the store while she studies part time, and we joke that she and Jacinta might be studying together at the same university.
Violet understands that not everyone in Kenya is as fortunate as she or her family, so at least once a month she takes her children to visit orphanages to distribute whatever they can spare or collect such as food, candy, clothes and charcoal. Violet says these visits “make you see life in a different view” and that her children “have learnt to accept what I give them.”
Violet usually opens her store from 8 AM until 7 PM six days a week, and she then has a half an hour walk home. On Sundays Violet attends church and spends time relaxing with her children. She also likes watching TV and movies. She recently separated from her husband so this has obviously been a difficult time for Violet and her children, but although softly spoken she remains a very positive, smiley person.
Violet has run her business for several years, but she moved to her current location on this busy road about a year ago. The move has proved very successful as she is now paying less rent and she has attracted many new customers.
Violet’s years of working in a hardware store before starting her own business mean she is very knowledgeable about the sector. Her short term plans include widening her range of electrical items (there is no other electrical goods supplier in the area) and installing hooks on her front door to display these items. She would also like to extend a shaded covering in front of the store to allow her to display larger items like mattresses and metal boxes which are popular in the area. The population growth in the area and therefore commencement of bus services from the closest main road which travel right past her front door mean she now has the transport facilities available to allow her to stock these popular, larger items.
In the longer term Violet hopes to work from home as a computer programmer and also run a wholesale hardware store supplying to retailers as she understands their challenges. She also has a plot of land she inherited in nearby Ruai, where she hopes to grow crops of beans and maize one day.