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Janet Ngina’s tale of survival

By | April 12th 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Jeckonia Otieno

After the bungled 2007 elections, the country fell into a tailspin of violence. In Mathare North, Janet Ngina lost two sewing machines after a rioting mob broke into her workshop.

Ngina lost her livelihood in 2007, but through sheer hard work, she managed to restore what she had lost. [Photo:Jeckonia Otieno/Standard]

The machines were her mainstay, and she was forced to start from scratch in order to survive and take care of her family.

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At the time, the mother of one girl was at her rural home. She only discovered that her source of livelihood – the tailoring workshop – had been vandalised when she came back. She had only one sewing machine from the three that she owned.

"The remaining machine survived because I had carried it to the countryside before the elections. I therefore had to start afresh and earn a living," says Janet.

Right away, Janet diversified her products. She used all her savings, Sh6,000, to buy an assortment of plastic products that she begun selling by the roadside. And although it has not been easy, Janet says her consistency has paid off.

Roadside shop

"I would spread my wares in the open beside the road in the morning, sell for the whole day then close for the night," she says.

Janet would sell anything from plates, to other kitchenware. From these she kept going in the year 2008. As she attests, it was not easy because the road that links Mathare to Huruma is usually crowded and it never easy to for traders to sell.

When it rained, Janet would be forced to close down, which meant no business for the day. On the other hand during the dry season, she a lot of dust would be blown on the goods and this would make the plastic lose its luster.

In 2009, competition began building up. Life had normalised in Mathare, and Janet had to devise a way to survive or be pushed out of business altogether.

A friend told Janet about a vacant room where she could relocate her business. She quickly rented the small room just beside the road. The room, which sits under a staircase, suited Janet just fine for the business.

Currently paying a rent of Sh2, 500, Janet has managed to run her business successfully, and it puts food on her table, pays her rent, feeds her family and takes her child to school besides clothing her.

"I have been here for two years and so far I have managed to keep going," she says.

Household goods

Her stock has since grown and she sells more plastic household goods like utensil racks, jugs, cups, among others. She also sells plastic balls for children.

In any type of business, challenges abound. Janet like any other business lady has faced her own fair share of hiccups in business. First, she notes that the deterioration of the shilling to the dollar has really made business more difficult.

"Prices of goods rose, and we are forced to shift the burden to the consumer who in turn, might think we are being unfair yet these are circumstances beyond our control," she says.

These, she says, has made her lose some of her customers since product prices have gone way beyond what people can afford.

Moreover, sometimes the supply chain is interrupted, meaning that goods take very long before they reach Janet. This, she notes, is a potential minefield as it might lead to a loss in business.

And with Mathare being the volatile area especially during the electioneering period, Janet and other traders are a worried lot that the violence of 2007 might come back to haunt their businesses.

But despite these challenges, Janet says that she is optimistic that her business will continue growing.

And for those aspiring to enter the entrepreneurial world, Janet has a simple word of advice: "Find some capital and start your business. But make sure you are always there for your customers."

Janet Ngina business entrepreneurship vandalism
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