By Kuria Kimani
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” – Tim Notke.
Lucy Wangare Muchiri started from the very bottom and worked her way to owning a Sh80 million hotel in Kitale. Her story is a mixture of resilience, hardwork and business acumen in the face of adversity.
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Here is her story as told by WoK.
Early Life and Background
Lucy was born in Kiambu County’s Gethithia village where she spent her childhood and early teens. Her uncle, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, sponsored her high school education at Lari Secondary School, an institution she joined in 1982. When the award winning author went into exile, she had to quit the school because she lacked school fees and moved to her mother’s place. She told the Businessdaily of her predicament:
“When he went into exile, that financial assistance ended and I had to relocate to my mother’s place where I used to go to school on foot.”
With the increased distance between home and school, she would occasionally receive lifts taking her to school.
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Twist In Life
It is one of these lifts she took to school that marked the end of her education and marked the beginning of a life of difficulty. Lucy Wangare met a driver who did not let her alight at school but took her to Nairobi and where they began living together. She dropped out of school in 1983 and soon became pregnant with the man’s child. She was fifteen-years-old at the time. With the high cost of living in the city, the two relocated to Cherang’any in Trans Nzoia County seeking a more affordable life.
Later on, she set up a Mokimo business in Kitale town without the knowledge of her husband. This did not sit right with him as she recalls the incident saying, “There was a time when he beat me up when he learned that I had set up a Mokimo business in Kitale town.”
Lucy Wangare and her husband would try to establish and run a business together in Burnt Forest, Uasin Gishu but following ethnic clashes in the region, they were forced to relocate. Her husband would, unfortunately, pass away in 2000 after his health deteriorated.
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Back to Her Love
Lucy went back into the business she had always been passionate about – food. She loved preparing food during ceremonies and saw the potential of her business when a pastor paid her Ksh 800 after she offered her cooking services at an event. This became the seed capital she would use to grow her business to its status today. She then started selling food under a tree in Kitale town which was a violation of the Public Health Act.
She recalled how challenging this was, “Council Askaris and even the police were always on our case but we still managed to sell food. I used to buy three to four packets of flour to make Chapatis and in a day I could earn between Sh500 to Sh1, 200.”
Githeri was going for Ksh 5, chapati was Ksh 10, and tea went for Ksh10 with her client base being mostly low-income earners such as construction-site laborers. From the little she earned, she was able to diligently save raising Ksh 200,000 that she would use to establish a hotel in Kitale known as ‘Mama Njuguna Hotel’.
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Mama Njuguna Hotel
This hotel, according to Lucy, was an answered prayer after she made a covenant with God to diligently serve him and He would boost her business. Her business grew and she was able to create employment opportunities for the youth in the area. The hotel grew fast and soon she set up a Nyama Choma joint. This became the famous ‘Mama Njunguna Choma zone’ located along the Kitale-Eldoret road. Speaking on the success Mama Njuguna Hotel had attained, she said, “I currently have 40 employees. I have also mentored several of my employees. I have helped others continue with their education. I have assisted them to start their own businesses.”
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Ksh 80 Million Hotel
With business doing well, she was able to educate her four children and at the age of forty-eight went back to school. She said of this move, “I required knowledge on how to manage my business and how I can interact with others when in a formal gathering.” This would also be training for her to manage the big hotel she dreamed of owning from her early years in the business. With Ksh 3 million in savings and loans accumulating to Ksh 80 million, she has begun constructing a big hotel near Kitale Bus Park. She also bought the land on which construction is ongoing at Ksh 1 million.
Gender-based Violence Advocacy
Her experience of being mistreated by her late husband became the basis for her current advocacy against such experiences rallying up women to claim their rights and seek help before it is too late. Gender-based violence and domestic violence have recently become rampant especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a production by BBC Africa Eye titled Kenya’s Hidden Epidemic dated 24th January 2022, violence in Kenyan societies has been highlighted revealing chilling facts including the death of victims. She says, “Women are very critical in the growth of any society and they have the potential to achieve all of their dreams. I challenge every woman to be committed to her dream and to stop falling prey to abuses.” Lucy Wangare also mentors girls and women in running businesses.
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