Chicks and Computers.

Moses Mwangi is a college educated gentlemen living in Ongata Rongai, Kenya. Moses earned his degree in networking and repair maintenance. He is quite skilled with computers and programming. Moses runs a poultry business raising chickens for resale. Moses started his business because he identified a consumer trend that is moving away from red meat.

Recently Moses met with our in country Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai. Here is what Achintya said about their recent encounter:

Hello lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s current client relationship intern for Kenya. I recently met Moses Mwangi at his home and had the chance to see his poultry business and talk to him and his mother Esther Kimemia.

Moses went to college after finishing his schooling to do a diploma in networking and repair maintenance and is a skilled computer technician. He is an expert in repair and maintenance of computers and is also well versed with programming. Apart from looking after his poultry business, he also works as a part time technician in the Multimedia University nearby and also helps in the business of his friend and another Zidisha client Samuel Njoroge. 

Moses used his Zidisha loan to buy one day old chicks. These were 5 days old when I visited him and were very cute to look at. I think there were about 70 of them. They had just started changing color from yellow and each had a small white spot.

The poultry business is mostly taken care of by Moses’ mother Esther who is one of the wittiest persons I have met in Kenya. She kept coming up with one-liners the whole time I was there. The first thing she did after shaking hands with me was chastising Moses for not offering me water. When I asked Moses how old he was, he turned to Esther who remarked- “how would I know?” When I asked Moses if he had any plans to get married, he said “soon” and Esther added “but not tomorrow!”

With the next loan they plan to buy rabbits. Esther told me that there are many breeds of rabbits available in the market but the ones she will buy will be the largest ones because she likes “big big things”.

Moses says that he’s a farmer at heart and will buy a shamba (farm) as soon as he can. His immediate plan is to start his own repair business, which he plans to begin within a few months. While walking back I asked him why doesn’t he start a small hardware training school. He could provide short-term training to other students, who would PAY HIM to work in his shop. This made him laugh and he said he’s seriously going to consider the idea.

I had a very interesting time with Moses and Esther and I wish them the best for their future (which I have no doubt will be great, because that’s how it always is for people with such positive outlooks to life)

22nd March 2012
Nairobi, Kenya

“Zidisha will start giving milk from next month”

More updates from our Client Relationship Manager, Achintya:

On 9th Feb 2012 I paid a visit to Serah Wanjiku Mukuriah at her home and Shamba (farm). Serah works at the Mugaa Secondary School as a secretary (many people affectionately call her ‘Madam Secretary’) and also takes care of her farm and animals.

I was a little startled when she said to me “Zidisha will start giving milk from next month”. I later found out that Zidisha is the name of her cow. With her first Zidisha loan Serah started a photocopying business. The business didn’t do too well so she sold the machine and bought Zidisha. With her current loan she has bought a plot near the highway. She intends to build on this plot and rent out the premises.

I am always curious about the ages of people here, because they never look their age, but I avoided asking Serah about hers because she’s a lady. Then she told me that she has only four years left to retire and that she will shift to her new plot after retirement. I couldn’t resist asking her age and was surprised to find that she is 52. Serah is a little bundle of energy. We walked from her home to the school together (it’s a 40 minute up and downhill walk) and she literally floated. She is also one of the pleasantest persons I have met here. She is always smiling (I think what helps is that she is not a teacher in the school and thus doesn’t need to scare the children) and comes across as very warm and generous (on the way back she kept asking me if she were walking too fast for me).

Two of Serah’s daughters stay with her with their children and Serah takes care of them and the children’s school fees. Serah has studied till form four but her daughters have only finished primary school due to certain constraints. Serah understands the importance of education and wants her grand children to finish their education.

It is a sort of tradition that Serah hosts all Zidisha interns at her home and I am happy that I could pay her a visit. I wish her all the luck and happiness. 

On Sunday (19th Feb 2012) I went to Rongai to meet Samuel Njoroge Njenga. Samuel runs a guesthouse in Rongai. He currently has 13 rentable rooms. He charges 300 to 400 Kenyan Shillings per night (depending on the day of the week and size of the room) for his rooms. He used his Zidisha loan to buy- a water tank, PVC flooring for the rooms, tables, bed sheets and mosquito nets. He also painted his rooms and bought plywood that he will use in the future to prepare more rooms to rent. 

Samuel feels that the better the facilities he provides, the more clients he will get. Business is good and he plans to pay off his loan in four months (instead of twelve) and apply for another one, which he will use to develop more rooms, improve the bathrooms and perhaps even develop some rooms with attached baths (the current setup has common bathrooms).

I found Samuel to be a very extrovert and charming person. When I met him he was dressed in loose jeans and a red sweatshirt. He is supremely confident and walks a little like a rapper. Samuel is 28 and is married. He’s the first person I have met in Kenya who is married and has just one kid, and I did not hide the fact that I was very happy to know this. His wife works for a private company and his two-year-old son will start going to school in a year or two. 

Samuel inherited the place from his father, who used to rent out the rooms. Samuel decided that the guesthouse business was better than giving out rooms for long term rent and improved the place and turned it into a guesthouse. He says that the returns from the property have doubled since he started this business. 

Samuel has a diploma in computer repairs and he does computer maintenance as a part time business. We talked about the importance of IT education in today’s world and Samuel told me he has a computer at home and intends to teach his son about computers from the very beginning. I feel very strongly that the level of education in Kenya is very good and there is a great potential for it to become an IT hub. I have great hopes for Shakur’s (Samuel’s son) future.

I also met Samuel’s 20-year-old brother who is studying Mass Communication and is a smart looking fellow with a great hairstyle. 

Donkeys, Goats, & "The Mattress Doctor"

Two more updates from Achintya, our intern in Kenya:

Edward Waithaka
On 8th Feb I went to meet Edward Waithaka at his home and Shamba (farm). Edward works as a watchman in Mugaa Secondary School where I was putting up. With his first Zidisha loan he bought a donkey. I asked him what the donkey’s name was and he said “Geneva”. I said “I’m sorry what?” He replied “Geneva, like the one in Europe”. Edward did not complete his schooling and has studied till form one.

During the 2007-08 post-election violence Edward had to sell most of his flock of sheep and goats at very low prices. He, like most people in the village, sent his wife and children away during the conflict. The Zidisha loan helped him get back on his feet. He uses the donkey to fetch water for his Shamba and his family. He also invested part of the loan to build the roof of his house.

With the second loan he bought a goat, which later gave birth to a little baby goat (called Toto, which means ‘a baby’). Edward has 11 children, 6 of whom stay with him. The youngest is 9 months old. The milk from the goat is just sufficient for his family but he intends to buy a cow with his next loan. He expects that by then he’d have 4 goats and sufficient milk to sell in the market. I learnt from him that goat’s milk is costlier than cow’s in Kenya. I remember reading that Gandhi called goat the “poor man’s cow”. Apparently not so in Kenya.

Edward works as a night watchman in the school and he was utterly fascinated by my torch, which does not need a battery but can be charged by rotating a small lever on its side. He told me that he spends on 4 batteries every month for his torch so I have promised to give him my torch before I left Kenya.

Ironically Geneva, as if realizing I was from Zidisha, was very happy to see me (he overturned like a beetle and gave himself a nice rub in the mud right in front of me) but Edward’s little son was not (he bawled and ran away from me)- pictures of both attached. I found Edward to be a very simple hearted and genuine person, free from any guile. I’d love to see him employ his Zidisha funds in gainful uses and improve his lot.
Read more about Edward here 

James Nuthu Mwangi Yesterday I went to meet James Nuthu Mwangi at his business premises. James runs a cleaning business, specializing in cleaning mattresses. His business is called ‘The Mattress Doctor’. He and his cousin, who is an insurance agent, share the premises to cut down on the rent. James found Zidisha on his own. He went to a bank for a loan but the bank asked for a guarantor, a running business with stable profits and an interest rate of 13% to 15%. He then searched online and found a famous lending organization that referred him to a local micro-finance organization (which the famous lending organization funded). This local organization asked him to open an account with them and other complicated formalities and demanded a MONTHLY interest rate of 2% for their loans. In simple interest terms, that totals to an interest rate of more than 26% per year. With the next loan James wants to buy a bigger vacuum cleaner because the one he has right now is, though good for cleaning mattresses and sofas, not very useful for general cleaning. James persevered in his search still, and he found Zidisha. 

Today James is one of the strongest advocates of Zidisha and volunteers for us. He is also the de-facto coordinator of Zidisha activities in Nairobi. James used his first Zidisha loan to buy a steam machine and to design and print flyers that he used for marketing his business. When I asked him how he learnt to clean, he said “through the internet!” and proceeded to show me a bundle of downloaded literature on cleaning. When one of my professors said that Internet would democratize information (this was in 1999-2000), I did not expect it to manifest like this. After finishing school James did a course in programming and later used these skills to design his business website which I found to be quite interesting, informative and easy to maneuver.

Bright green is a color that Zidisha clients seem to prefer. The bicycle that James uses to commute to nearby areas for his business is the same bright green color as the pickup truck of another client I met recently. His bike is also the first geared bicycle I’ve seen in Kenya (the gears don’t work anymore though).

Check out James’ Zidisha page to learn more

Photographs & Farmers

To keep interest rates low for borrowers, Zidisha eliminates the middleman and relies on hardworking volunteers and interns. To find out about opening positions, click here. Our Client Relationship Interns work diligently to connect with borrowers and bring lenders up-to-date about them. Here are more posts from Achintya in Kenya:

Andrew Mbugua 
I visited the business premises of Andrew Chege Mbugua.
Andrew runs the business of instant pictures. He has a desktop computer, a digital camera, a printer and also a small photocopying machine. Most of his clients come to him to get instant passport sized photographs, which they had to get from Nakuru earlier. Andrew’s printer cannot print beyond small sized photographs and he feels that there is a potential demand in Kiptangwanyi and nearby areas for larger photographs (family photographs for example)

He wants to invest the loan money in either buying a bigger printer, or replacing the old one before it breaks down (last time it broke down, it was three months before he could get a new one). He also wants to buy what he calls a “state of the art” camera. This would cost him 20,000 to 25,000 shillings. Always a businessman, Andrew offered to exchange his camera with mine (which has lesser megapixels than his, but is green and sits in a red cover which perhaps made him think it was better than his). I said “sure, as soon as you get your state of the art camera”. There was general laughter at this (there were many people who had collected to watch the discussion/interview)

Of all the people I have met here, Andrew is the first one who has been to college (even though I must add that the general level of education in rural Kenya is exceptionally good). His wife is a teacher. He wants his kids to study even further than him and do well in their lives.

As a last note I’d like to add that it is hard to believe that Andrew is 35 and has 2 kids. He doesn’t look a day beyond 25 (when I told him this, he was quite delighted-I guess a little vanity finds us all some time or the other) 

To read more about Andrew, check out his profile page!   

Paul Ngugi   

Two things I observed about Paul- first, Paul is truly ambitious (this seems true for many Zidisha clients). He wants to go places, and looking at his energy (he starts his day at 6 in the morning, working on his piece of land till noon, whereafter he takes care of his shop, while also finding time to graze his animals, visit Miti-Mingi or Nakuru to buy supplies and act as a de facto Zidisha coordinator), I have no doubt he will.

Second- Paul has practical, doable ideas about how he wants to go there. He used his Zidisha loans for his shop and to buy large quantities of grains from farmers, which he sells to traders from the towns. He was also able to buy a piece of land and construct rooms, which he now rents. 

His plan now is to make a cattle-shed where he can provide food to his animals in the enclosure, without the hassle of taking them grazing. He wants to use his next Zidisha loan to buy ‘high quality’ cows. Not speculating and trying to exploit season shifts in grain prices, he appears to have solid plans based on data. For example, he plans to sell the milk to the Milk Cooperatives who pay a better price (around 4 shillings more per liter) and also guarantee purchase.

I was able to meet his three sons, his mother (who is also a Zidisha client), his aunt and his two donkeys (Toto and Kijana). Everyone smiled for the camera (except the two donkeys, who turned their faces away in disdain at human frivolities) 

To read comments from Paul and older reports from interns, head over to his page!