Joseph Nyaranga Kitale, Kenya

“I came from nothing, but now I’m something.”

Started His First Business in March 2016

It’s the second week of a new semester of school. Your child is sitting in class learning about conjugations until the headmaster arrives and tells every child who isn’t wearing the school uniform to stand up and exit the building. In that moment, the hope you had for your child to learn how to count and spell and aspire to be the next great innovator of the century are cut short. Because of a uniform. Joseph Nyaranga, a tailor in a village on the outskirts of Kitale, Kenya, experienced this treatment as a child and then again when he had children of his own. He knew he had to do something to remedy this problem in his community.  

Just three years ago when Village Enterprise business mentor Peter Bwino found Joseph, he was weak and sick and unable to work. There was never enough food for his five children, school fees were impossible to pay, and medical care was unattainable. When he worked, it was casual employment consisting of digging holes and weeding neighbor’s fields. He had constant pain in his leg and his life was just a cacophony of stress and worry; he found himself mentally sick and unable to do anything. There were few ways to cope with the cycle of poverty that left him and his family at this dead-end. 

Joseph sewing a project for a customer.

Joseph’s life began to change when Bwino arrived and invited him to join the Village Enterprise program. Every day Bwino showed up at Joseph’s home and encouraged him to attend the business training lessons he was hosting at a nearby church. Feeble but determined, Joseph followed Bwino and absorbed lessons about record keeping, conservation, time management, customer care. Without Village Enterprise, Joseph could have continued down a road of illness and died before seeing his children graduate from school. 

“I came from nothing, but now I’m something,” Joseph noted while sitting at his pedal-operated Singer sewing machine. “The trainings opened my mind. As a school dropout, the trainings were helpful and beneficial. Record keeping and time management left the biggest impression on me.”

With the first grant, Joseph and his business partners bought fabric and rented a sewing machine whenever it was available. He made dresses, school uniforms, and even completed an order for the Salvation Army. In just a few months, the business grew rapidly and Joseph knew he needed more hands to assist with the steady stream of orders coming in from their community and surrounding towns. He trained one of his business partners and his wife, Rose, how to sew and make dresses, petticoats, and school uniforms. Rose had always had an interest in tailoring but never had an opportunity to learn the skill due to lack of money.

With the additional hands capable of sewing, the group was able to sign contracts with local schools to mass-produce school uniforms. These contracts changed the way they lived their lives. For instance, in January, they only sleep two hours a day. This is due to the start of the new school year when the demand for school uniforms is the highest. Typically, during the extremely busy seasons, they begin sewing after dinner and then work until one in the morning. They sleep for two hours and wake to open their doors to customers who line up to place new orders. In the month of December, the month of weddings in East Africa, they sew around fifteen wedding dresses per day. Their business is making a considerable profit and if needed they could survive an entire month without working.

Joseph and Rose at work in their shop.

Joseph and Rose at work in their shop.

To prevent children from being sent home from school due to not owning a uniform, Joseph and Rose started making uniforms for children and allowing their parents to pay off the generosity in small installments. This made it possible for more children in their community to remain in school and created less stigma around education.

“The only loan I took from the Business Savings Group was knowledge,” Joseph says with a laugh. This makes sense because most Village Enterprise business owners attribute their success to the community they gain from the program. Neighbors now see Joseph and his business partners and Rose as a positive force in the village. When neighbors have issues, they consult Joseph. This is different from his life just three years ago when he was rejected by society. “When you don’t have money, you’re not respected,” Joseph explains. “Money is everything because you earn a name within the community and society. Without money, you don’t even have a friend. You are nothing in the community.” Village Enterprise helped him evolve into the person that he is today and without the program “this could not have been a home again,” he says while gesturing to the peaceful compound where he and Rose run their business and live with their children.

Joseph and Rose plan to purchase another sewing machine to add to the three they already own. Then they will begin constructing another house which will be used as a tailoring training center. They want to train people who want to learn. As he begins hemming the bottom of a red dress, Joseph says he’s proud because people know him for his work. People all around western Kenya are asking “who made you that dress?”