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09 - 16 August 2006 
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Beating All Odds

Joel Kirimi, a 24 year old Kenyan national, could not complete his secondary school education due to lack of school fees. While in form two, he lost his parents and had to struggle to meet the basic needs and take care of his two siblings. This week The African Executive caught up with him and he shares some of his ups and downs.

Q. What happened after you dropped out of school?

A. Left with three acres of land, I could not sit down and watch it go to waste. I grew vegetables and cereals like maize and beans which I sold whenever there was bumper harvest. I used the money in meeting necessities such as clothes, medicine and supporting my dependants.

Q. Give an account of your experience in farming

A. When I turned eleven, my father never used to leave me in the house when he went to the farm. During the weekends and holidays, I spent more hours in the farm. From him I learnt basic farm practices from land preparation, planting, harvesting to storage of the yields. He developed confidence in me and could travel and leave my mother and I to take care of the farm without any worrying.   

Q. Does that mean you have solely dedicated your time to farming since then?

A. No. After farming for around four years, I had saved enough money to start a car wash station by a river on the way to town, from my home. As there were few car wash stations then, the business picked up so fast. I had to look for two people to assist me.

Q. Anything else? 

A. No, I only manage the farm and run the car wash. 

Q. How do you manage the farm and car wash station? 

A. In most cases I go to the car wash station by six o’clock in the morning till ten o’clock, and then I go work on the farm up to around three o’clock. I attend to the station afterwards where I stay till I am done with all customers. My employees always report to work at six o’clock and leave at eight o’clock in the evening. 

Q. What about your siblings, do they assist? 

A. Yes. How will they know what business is all about? They assist both in the farm and car wash. If I am not around, I leave them in charge.

Q. How much do you make from farming and the car wash? 

A. I make a minimum of Ksh. 50,000, after excluding all my expenses. With this, I am able to pay my two sisters’ school fees and provide the basic needs. 

Q. What challenges do you face with the car wash station? 

A. The major challenge is competition. So many car wash stations have been established in the last three years. I have limited space that cannot accommodate all the cars. I am currently sharing this station with two other people hence all our customers’ vehicles cannot fit. We are forced to ask them to park elsewhere, a fact that most of them are not pleased with it. 

Q. Why are you sharing with others?

A. Because this land has been lying idle and people decided to make use of it.  What we do is pay the county council a fee of Ksh. 200 on daily basis. 

Q. How do you fight your competitors?

A. I have a part time mechanic, who checks on their vehicles hence saving the customer time from going back looking for a mechanic to fix his car. Once in a month I offer my services at a subsidized rate. This has made me retain my customers. 

Q. Any challenges in farming? 

A. The major one is lack of rains that leaves me with no yield in that season. Such times I am forced to buy food.

Q. What plans do you have?

A. I have enrolled for part time classes in mechanical engineering, so that in future I give a comprehensive package to my clients. I also plan to start selling second hand cars. As for farming, I want to diversify and start planting grafted mangoes and oranges. I know I can get good market for them. For my siblings, I encourage them to work hard. I want them to enroll in colleges and further their education. From the knowledge they acquire and the skills they will have acquired they can now open their own businesses. I will fund and advice them where necessary.  

Q. What has been your greatest motivation? 

A. My uncle's advice that I can be whatever I want to be as long as I work hard at achieving it.

By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer

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