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Shortage of success cards with new exam dates

By Mercy Adhiambo | February 27th 2021

Success cards at a shelf in a city supermarket. [Samson Wire, Standard]

In three weeks, Class Eight and Form Four candidates will be sitting the national examinations. In normal times, the streets would have been awash with success cards of different shapes and sizes.

There are those with slow, melodious tunes, others that light up upon opening, artistic ones with words that pop up from the covers, and other trendy cards that have for decades been used to mark the start of examinations

Then there would be long lines at the post office to buy stamps to post the cards. But these are not ordinary times. Not with Covid-19.

The streets are devoid of card vendors and supermarket shelves are not laden with cards as might be expected. Many people who would be crowding around the shelves are not aware it’s exam time. After all, it’s February and not the traditional schools’ third term.

Thomas Odala, who has sold success cards in Nairobi for six years, says there is a shortage from suppliers. Most of the cards are imported from China, he says, and February is always a slow time for imports because the Chinese close most of their businesses to celebrate the beginning of their lunar calendar.

“We were used to ordering cards in August so that by September, you have already started sending to suppliers who sell to supermarkets and individual vendors,” he said, adding that most stockists are still trying to adjust to the rhythm of having exams a few months after the new year.

Cargo planes

That, added to the fact that there are fewer cargo planes flying into the country due to Covid-19 restrictions makes it difficult for people to import the cards, among other goods.

Victor Omollo, who runs a printing business in Nairobi, says even though there are artists and printers who make custom cards, business has been extremely low. “Things are not good. There are no orders. People were used to the routine of exams starting in third term so maybe that is why it is taking them longer,” he said.

Mariwa Mixed Secondary School deputy headteacher Christine Anditi says they have not seen students receiving success cards through their post office address. “It is exciting when you watch the students’ faces lighting up as they receive the cards. This time, I have not seen even a single one.”

Ms Anditi says the pandemic, coupled with digitisation that has slowly been shifting people’s interest from physical cards to electronic ones, means more people choose to send messages through mobile phones.

“Now people are finding it acceptable to send a long message on WhatsApp to wish candidates success instead of going to the post office to send a card. It is sad, but it is a reality we are now seeing.”

Walter Odhiambo, whose daughter is sitting for the KCSE exams, says he promised to send her a card even if he is the only one doing it. He calls himself an ‘old-fashioned father’ who believes that there is something magical about receiving a handwritten success card. 

“It is more personal. A success card shows that someone thought of you, went out of their way to buy you the card, and they really want you to perform well,” he said, adding that he bought one at a supermarket although there was not much variety to choose from.

“The cards were basic. I had gone with the plan to buy a huge card for my family members to sign, but I could not get any,” he said.

He reveals that he still has some of the cards he received when he was sitting for his secondary school exams more than 20 years ago. “It stamped the reality that exams were around the corner and people needed to study harder. I never want handwritten cards to go out of style.”

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