MY STORY: Beautiful beginnings

Mukuhi Karimi, 29, worked her way out of poverty and joblessness to start Blessings Beauty College in Kangemi and Kawangware, Nairobi, where she helps other women find business footing. PHOTO| MARTIN MUKANGU

What you need to know:

  • Stuck at home with two children barely a year apart, Karimi did a lot of thinking.
  • When she looked around at her neighbours in their lower income neighbourhood, she didn’t like what she saw.
  • There were a lot of women, some who had been married in the village and brought here straight after Standard Eight.

Mukuhi Karimi was just 17 years old when she got married. She had just sat for her Form Four examinations when she met George Mwangi, a dashing mechanic in Kangemi. He was very kind to her and she met him at a time when she was seeking someone or something to call her own – a sense of belonging.

“For more than a decade up to the point I met George, I hadn’t really had a family to call my own,” she recalls the feelings that motivated her into accepting this marriage proposal despite her young age.

It hadn’t always been like this for her. The first five years of her life were happy. Magical, even. Her earliest memories are of watching football matches with her father at Nyayo Stadium on the weekends. He was a single father. They didn’t have much but he was a very happy man. He loved her. When he died when she was five, everything changed.

“After he died, I was taken in by a children’s home in Majengo area of Nairobi where we lived. I was there for six months before my paternal grandmother came for me,” she recalls.

From here, she was moved around a lot, staying at each relative’s home for only a few months before she had to move onto the next. Everyone seemed to have their own responsibilities to take care of.

Following her marriage to George, she had her two children in as many years. “I was so naïve. I knew so little about family planning. I got pregnant with my second born three months after delivering my first,” she recalls.

GETTING RESTLESS

Stuck at home with two children barely a year apart, Karimi did a lot of thinking. When she looked around at her neighbours in their lower income neighbourhood, she didn’t like what she saw. There were a lot of women, some who had been married in the village and brought here straight after Standard Eight. While Karimi spent a great chunk of her day thinking and scribbling her hopes and dreams in note books in her house, she noticed that many of the others spent their days just chatting with each other as they waited for their husbands to come home with the food. That powerlessness terrified her.

“They didn’t have dreams and if they had any, they were not actively chasing them. They were merely existing, not living. I was terrified of ending up like this,” she says.

As soon as her second born turned three months old, Karimi began looking for casual cleaning gigs. She got one which would pay her Sh500 three times a week. A few weeks in, she began studying hair dressing at the Nice and Lovely Hair and Beauty College in Kawangware.

“Even when I graduated and got a certificate, it was still hard getting a job. So I continued washing clothes until I could raise the Sh4,000 I needed to set up a small salon.”

It was in this salon, which was set up in a small mabati shack, that she started dreaming of changing the lives around her. Now that she had something going for her, she couldn’t forget those that she had left behind.

“I knew that I had to do something but my income was too little. A short training that I got from Youth Burner Group, an NGO teaching youths in the slums, was what opened my eyes to the possibilities,” she says.

With a renewed flame burning in her belly, Karimi took in six women to train for free in her salon. The year was 2014.

GROWING A DREAM

“It felt very good but it was strenuous. I couldn’t do it alone so I decided to register my college as a CBO so that I could reach out to the community around me,” she explains.

Her first class, which she gives for free is a life skills one where women are taught self-awareness and a little business management. She deems this important because she doesn’t want to just give them certificates. She is trying to prep them for the real business world.

Her first class graduated this April. Currently she has 48 ongoing students in her two colleges who she trains at a small fee.

“Even the small fee I charge is still a challenge sometimes. It’s very hard to demand money from someone who tells you that they didn’t have a meal last night.” Recently, Karimi reconnected with her half siblings and while their relationship isn’t totally mended, she is hopeful.

“I am happy that I am helping women live – that I am actually making a change in my community,” she says.

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