By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer
Simeon Kisuya grew up in Bungoma County in far western Kenya. His father can read, write and speak English after a few years of primary school education. His mother can’t, as she never attended any school because her parents could only afford to educate their sons. Though Simeon was just one of seven children, he was so bright that his parents scraped together enough money for him to complete his first three years of high school. At that point, he took a year off to work and save enough money to finish his final year and KCSE (Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education). Simeon’s parents still work on their small farm, and he helps support them as well as assisting with school fees for his youngest siblings who are in Forms 2, 3 and 4 of high school.
Simeon runs the small Heshimatt Enterprises general store in Githurai in northeastern Nairobi. He previously ran a small electronics store while his wife, Shillah, ran a green grocer, but as these businesses were not as successful as they hoped, they closed them and now concentrate on jointly running the store selling basic food and household items such as bread, eggs, flour, sugar, salt, biscuits, cooking fat, soda, soap, washing powder and mobile phone airtime. Shillah also runs a small tailoring business from the store making and repairing clothes for customers. Simeon further supplements their income by working part time for a friend, fellow Zidisha member Albert Ondera, in his nearby electronics store. The family live in two rooms behind the store and, like many others in Kenya, share their toilet facilities with all the other families in the same complex.
Shillah, who is from Kitale just north of Bungoma, was orphaned at a young age. She and her five siblings were raised by their grandmother, who could only afford for her to complete her KCPE (Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education). As a teenager she was fortunate enough to be accepted into an NGO-run tailoring college where she studied for two years, as well as a further two years of fashion design which is her passion. Although quietly spoken, Shillah’s English is excellent due to exposure to some foreigners at the tailoring college.
Shillah repairing a dress
Simeon and Shillah’s five-year-old daughter Abigael is in Standard 1 while their two-year-old son James is a very happy, active little boy who attempted to hijack my discussion with his parents as much as possible. He climbed into and onto everything, with the store obviously just a giant play ground in his eyes. At one stage it seemed a bulk bag of toilet paper was going to be unravelled across the entire store. He also ate nonstop (no doubt to fuel all that activity) before eventually crashing out for an early afternoon nap.
Two-year-old James insisted on being in nearly every photo
Simeon and Shillah would ultimately like to increase their profits and run a small supermarket. To help them achieve this they are currently hoping to expand the M-PESA services they offer at their store. M-PESA (mobile money) is extremely popular in Kenya with people paying for a variety of goods and services and transferring money to and from friends and family through their mobile phones and/or small shops, such as Simeon and Shillah’s, without having to go to a bank or even having to open a bank account.
Simeon and his son James outside their shop
Like most Kenyans, Simeon and Shillah love football and there’s a healthy rivalry in the family, with Shillah supporting Arsenal and Simeon Manchester United in the English Premier League football completion. However, they seem united in supporting Brazil in the current World Cup. When they’re not working in their shop, which is open seven days a week, both Simeon and Shillah teach Sunday School to children at their local church.
Simeon recently raised a loan of $93 to increase his M-PESA “float,” or cash balance that allows his customers to withdraw funds from their M-PESA accounts. With a larger operating float he will be able to increase the number of M-PESA transactions he can service, earning a small profit on each transaction.
Turnover is so frequent that Simeon estimates that the additional $93 in float will allow him to earn an additional profit of $35 per month from the M-PESA service, in addition to the increase in business at his shop. He and Shillah plan to reinvest the profits in growing their business, so that it will generate sufficient cash to cover tuition by the time their children are old enough to attend high school and university.
“Many, many thanks indeed for the great people who contributed for my loan,” Simeon wrote in a recent profile post. “Thanks for your confidence in me, a person you have never met, for trusting that I will pay back your money. I promise I indeed will not let your down. Much more thanks you for volunteering to contribute to the success of my small business which actually is the success for me, Shillah my beloved queen, Abigael my daughter and my son James…”
You may read Simeon’s story in his own words at his Zidisha profile page.