A Kenyan residing in Finland, Europe shared his inspiring story of how he rose from a mjengo worker back to home to doing odd jobs and owning property abroad.
Johnson Ngunju was one of the unemployed youths who kept shifting from one menial job to another in Kenya, hatching survival tactics and pondering on the future.
Mjengo and Barbershop jobs
Ngunju stated that he was hired by a barber and friend to work at a hair salon and laundry in Nairobi, immediately he completed his secondary education. The duo parted ways one year later as the business was struggling to pick up.
He later worked at a barbershop in Pangani and a wines and spirits shop in Nairobi West.Helsinki, FinlandFile
"The job was great but the lady owner's husband was an alcoholic who would quarrel a lot. I spent some nights in Langata police cells after being arrested several times at the shop," he recalled.
Circumstances forced him to juggle between upcountry and the city doing mjengo work. He also sought refuge at his friends' houses while in Nairobi.
Later on, he rented a single room with no electricity in Githurai Kimbo, bought a thin mattress, a blanket, a stove and two sufurias. The landlord used to charge him Ksh900.
Owing to his relationship with a number of foremen, Ngunju landed several jobs, from one construction site to another as he made ends meet. Sometimes he would go for three weeks without a job.
Support From Family
At one time, he relocated to his sister's house in the city and tried a hand in insurance policy selling. The job proved tedious as once was paid after selling seven life covers, and this could be after quite some days.
"It wasn't so hard getting back on the grind because I had my share of bad and good days. I felt better grinding than letting my sister carry my baggage. I went back to my usual mjengo days as I expanded my 'network'," he remembered.
Ngunju out of his savings opened a barbershop in Githurai 45 next to the one he had worked at. A few months later, his doors opened, paving the way for his relocation to Finland.
Scholarship to Finland
A hairdresser he had worked with at Tom Mboya street called and challenged him to apply for a scholarship to Finland. He settled on a degree in Tourism and sat his entrance exam in Parklands Visa Oshwal. His brother paid the Ksh3,000 exam fee. Two months later he was granted approval to travel to Finland.
"Remember, I don't have a passport, leave alone an air ticket. We conducted a fundraiser on top of my savings. I finally flew out a month after college studies had started. I caught up and settled in," he stated.Johnson Ngunju, A Kenyan residing in Finland
In Finland, Ngunju started collecting used cans of alcohol which he sold to bottle companies. He recruited his roommate and a Nigerian friend into the hustle.
"Beer, soft drink cans and bottles are cash out there (Finland). Every grocery store has an automated machine where one inserts them in exchange for a receipt. Inside the store, the receipt converts to cash.
Each can cost Kshs 26 (0.20€/20cnt). Events start on Wednesday evening to Sunday early morning. Student party/ clubbing happens on Wednesday evening with lots of alcohol and littering. We would go biking cleaning those cans off the streets, smiling face with open mouth and cold sweat," he recalled, stating that they dubbed the odd job as 'movement'.
The group complimented the hustle with a cleaning job at a supermarket. Ngunju further landed a job at a garage. This motivated the group to take driving lessons.
"Soon everyone was a driver, and sooner, car owners. Used cars are cheap. €600 (Ksh79,000) you are set. Not anything fancy but it's still a car. I used my car to advertise some of my works and deliver cans.
"What gives me going is I'm not alone. Kenyan and West African brothers are working hard. No one is backing down! Plus it's not like we have options," Ngunju detailed, adding that he learnt how to drive a truck and a bus and was later employed as a bus driver.An Audi A6: Audi, Volkswagen, Seat, Porsche and Bentley are under Volkswagen GroupFile
While working as a bus driver, Ngunju developed an interest in cars. He read about cars and learnt how to repair them through YouTube. He started purchasing broken down cars and fixing them with tutorials.
In 2020, he took a break from the bus driving job and enrolled into a vocational training institute for a 2 years course relating to automotive. He completed the online classes in eight months to the amusement of his lecturers.
Nguju proceed to his practical work and got a prefilled contract at Škoda Dealership as an intern in March 2020. Škoda is a sister company of Volkswagen Group alongside Audi, Volkswagen, Seat, Porsche and Bentley.
"I undertook my internship until December 2020. I graduated in a record eight months for a two years course. Before I graduated, I signed a job contract at the same place. I broke for Christmas and started my new job in Jan 2021," he stated.
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