Emmanuel Mureithi typifies your Nairobi resident to boot. He was born and grew up in Kariobangi North, lives there with his family, and trades there. He has a relaxing demeanor of a man who takes a day at a time, literally.
He equally has tried many businesses and failed, which he smilingly says have all been worth it.
I meet him at a car wash that would ordinarily have been grabbed. It is a few meters from Margaret Kenyatta hospital in Kariobangi North, a size close to a full quarter. An unscrupulous businessman or politician from the area must have failed to spot it earlier on.
In 2002, they started Eagles Self Help Group, then as young people with a view to exploring opportunities that may come by. Their first business was handcarts (mkokoteni) where they would ferry timber for a carpenter. They also carried maize for a posho mill owner. These two assured them of business every day.
“At first, many friends said that is not something they can get into. With time, they started seeing how our lives were changing and joined us”, Emmanuel says.
During these days, they relax at the space having banter. In the evening, neighbors with vehicles parked there and would pick in the morning. These neighbors then started tipping them and the idea of parking there at a small fee was born.
In 2005 with the economic transformation that the late President Mwai Kibaki was instituting, they secured support from Ike Youth Initiative. They started rearing broiler chickens. They first lost their entire brood of chicken. They learnt the tough way.
They tried it again, with marginal success and gave up. He says their failure was largely because of the type of houses they had, the neighborhood and feeding was expensive to them.
It then hit them that the cars that parked at night can also be washed at a small fee. That is how their current business of washing vehicles started.
Armed with a small water tank, they started using buckets to draw water to wash the vehicles. At night, they would charge a parking fee of Ksh50. “Luckily, most people have been paying Ksh150, so the Ksh100 we wash their vehicles”, he adds.
Come last year, they saw Ndoto Zetu advert on the internet and decided to try it. They did not imagine they would merit since they have tried many other opportunities and failed.
Safaricom Foundation gifted them a car washing machine and water tank this year, which they are very grateful for. One challenge they face in the area is poor water supply and when they use buckets, they expend more water.
The machine was therefore timely since they use less water, which is scarce in the area. It is supplied by the City Council, which pumps water to the residents thrice a week. Considering their type of business, this is quite minimal and requires prudent use.
They have about 5,000 liters water tank capacity that they can use for 2-3 days. It means that in a week, at least one day or sometimes two, they have no water which means they cannot do their business. They have to fend through other means.
Over the years, they say their members have acquired one skill or another through studies and experience. For instance, their members were involved in building the Margaret Kenyatta Hospital, skills which they can exploit further with more opportunities.
As a group, they continue to grow their interests and diversify their sources of income. For instance, they have a hall that they hire to different people.
“As we speak, most of have are parents and because of this car wash, no one either lacks food, clothing or fees for their children. We have also deepened our engagements such that well all know our friends rural homes, parents and siblings”, Emmanuel adds.
Sundays are their jackpot days as there is a church opposite the car wash. On such days, they wash at least 30 vehicles.
The parking lot at night is also always full with a day not missing 25 vehicles.
They have become to go-to people for almost anything in the area including car hire, drivers, plumbing, paintwork and construction workers among others. They are interested in how they can own their own properties, like vehicles that they hire out for work, to grow their business.
Emmanuel reminisces about the Handcart days with nostalgia. He shares how although they still have two of them, they don’t use them. “Handcarts are a really good business. It is less demanding in terms of service, no fuel and maintenance costs. You just need the energy to pull and push. Hence, whatever money you make it from is yours”, he chimes.