How enterprising varsity students thrive amidst financial struggles

Daniah Marigiri, a student at Rongo University, packages omena at her stall. [File, Standard]

In the heart of the bustling university campus, where the pursuit of knowledge intertwines with the everyday struggles of student life, are budding young entrepreneurs.

At 6pm, as the sun begins its descent, casting a warm glow over the bustling Chief Centre of Kitere Hills, Rongo University, in Migori County, the aroma of sizzling smokies, hot chapatis and boiled eggs, pan samosas and the savoury scent of freshly grilled fish fill the air.

I expected to see a group of women engaging in these business activities at Chief Centre, but was dumbfounded to learn that it was a group of youths, most likely Gen Z, busy trying to make ends meet. The marketplace is just a few metres from Rongo University’s main campus.

The students I spoke to said they were pushed by necessity to start small businesses like selling smokies, boiled eggs, chapatis, samosa and fish to get some cash to survive on campus.

Their main customers are their colleagues (university students).

According to Evans Omondi, 23, a Communication and Media student at Rongo University, staying on campus is a tough experience, especially if one comes from a poor background.

“Those who think that campus life is like being in heaven and a walk in the park, believe me, they will be judged ruthlessly by facts,” says Omondi.

“I’m engaging in the business of selling samosa. It’s an idea I came up with in 2022 after my father, who was supporting me got fired. Everything became bad, I was even sleeping hungry here in school, and nobody was willing to pay my rent so I was forced to look for other means of survival.”

“From the small savings I had, I started selling smokies at first together with boiled eggs. Counting huge profits was evident but unfortunately, everything collapsed since I began incurring losses, but I didn’t give up. In the same year, I changed business and settled on selling samosa,”  he adds.

According to Omondi, from the little savings he kept after his initial business failed, he bought one packet of wheat flour at Sh150 by then plus two packets of green grams (ndengu) at Sh200 which produced 900 samosas.

He made a profit of Sh400 daily. “For a comrade, saving Sh400 daily is a lot of money. Early days, I was making a profit of Sh400 but I increased the packets of wheat flour and green grams. I can use three packets of flour plus three to four packets of green grams making a profit of Sh1500 every day, “ Omondi explains.

Omondi is among the students at Rongo University, together with other higher institutions, who are dependent on their businesses for survival.

He says it’s through his business, that he can pay rent, school fees and even basic needs.

 “Most university and college students suffer a lot especially due to financial constraints. Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) is just a spot of ink in the ocean and not all students get it. I always wake up at 4:00 am every morning and knead dough and boil green grams,” he explains.

Daniah Marigiri, 22, also a student at Rongo University studying Bachelors of Education degree, shares the same story.

Huge profit

Her business is her second ‘babe’. I met her at Chief Centre just a stone’s throw distance from Rongo University’s hostels, busy frying fresh fish.

Daniah Marigiri sells fish at the Chief Centre near Rongo University’s hostels. [File, Standard]

“I ventured into this business of selling fish one year ago. I chose this kind of business because of the huge profit I learned from my friend who was also in the same venture. I’m a girl and I need enough money to meet all my needs and because I was not ready to use other dark ways, fish business was my solution,” Daniah says.

 “Small cash I had saved from Helb, I went for a stock of Sh1,500 in our nearby town, Homabay. I was selling each fish at Sh150 or Sh100. I made a huge profit at the end of the day which almost turned me mad I can recall. So, this encouraged me, I brought another stock of Sh3,000 which also gave me good profit.” 

 She says she can go for a stock of between Sh7,000 to Sh13000 and in turn, get enough savings.

“I can pay rent and school fees, and sometimes I support my university friends who are finding it hard to access basic needs like food. I can dress myself and if time allows, I can have some picnics “.

“No other person desperately needs money like a campus student because it is in it that they will do their assignments, and fill their empty stomachs.”

She says, that in business, you must be ready to face challenges. She misses buyers and students when the semester is in the middle and students are broke or when they close at the end of the semester.

 Dismas Riechi, 22, is among more than 200 students who are trying to make ends meet by venturing into the business of selling smokies plus boiled eggs.

He started selling smokies and boiled eggs in 2022 after learning things were bad at home. 

“I’m not alone in business here at Rongo University, I have other friends who were forced by circumstances to engage in hustlers’ jobs that can earn income that sustains them while in school,” he says.

 “My initial capital was from the little savings I had and luckily my friend assisted me with his trolley. I started with two trays of eggs which cost Sh300 each by then and one packet of smokies that cost between Sh350 and Sh360. Together with other ingredients like onions, tomatoes, and chilli sums up to Sh1000,” Dismas says.

 “I made a profit of Sh500 the first day I introduced this business and this created a sense of motivation for me.” Since then, Dismas has been making good cash out of this business and at large capacity his life is not the same. 

Wheat flour

Joseph Kimani, 24, better known as ‘Spin Master’ is also a businessman around Rongo University. 

He spins chapatis for students who stay around Chief Centre.

Joseph is a third-year student in the School of Business and ventured into this business back in 2023.

“I did my research that, we have few people who cook chapatis here in Rongo University, more specifically Chief Center where a good number of students live,” Joseph says.

 “I bought one packet of wheat flour, cooked chapatis and strategically placed them on the roadside where many students pass by. After one hour of stay, I sold all the chapatis and after calculating my profit it stood at Sh400,” says Joseph.

He increased the number of packets used to prepare chapatis to four. He makes a profit of between Sh1,200 and Sh1,500 daily when business is good.  

“I usually open business late in the evening just from 6pm because this is the time you can get students to buy and you can now see no way my studies can be affected,” says Joseph.

The four students are just among the other students who have ventured into business - small restaurants and hawking in varsity hostels and pavements, especially in the evening hours.