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Grace Wanjiru: I quit my Safaricom job and started a househelps’ business

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“My name is Grace Wanjiru. I used to be a customer care agent with Safaricom. I had worked with the company for just under a year, having joined them in May 2011 when I was three months pregnant with my firstborn.

“When I returned to work after my three-month maternity leave, I decided to quit my job. I had just got to work that morning when my house help (a mature woman who had taken to my son) sent me a text message that I am certain several working mothers have received at least once. The message read: “I am leaving right now. I have left the baby in the house.”

“Out of panic, I wrote my resignation letter that day. My husband supported my decision as we had agreed from long before our son was born that I would be a stay-at-home mum to raise our children. But that did not mean just sitting pretty in the house. During my first year out of work, I tried my hand in business: I supplied groceries to a handful of high-end hotels and restaurant chains across Nairobi, and it worked for a while.

However, I was operating my business based on hearsay and I really did not know how the market worked, so six months later, I counted my losses and closed shop. But I had not given up – next, I tried my hand in supplying eggs to a handful of cafes in Karen and Westlands. However, because I did not factor in operating costs when calculating my margins, this second business also did not work. I was in business but it wasn’t putting any money in my pocket. Again, six months later I had to close shop.

“This one year of failed businesses taught me how to run a successful gig. I also got more time to spend with our son, just as my husband and I had envisioned. And above all, it held me make an assessment of the house helps I was hiring – I noted three things: First, I hired and fired with as much frequency as I changed my son’s diapers.

In that one year alone, I had had a total of eight house helps. Something was amiss, either with them or with me. Second, I didn’t know what the house helps wanted for themselves when they came to work for me. They didn’t seem to have a greater purpose for their lives beyond providing domestic help. Last and most important, I realised that I needed help with taking care of the baby and with cleaning the house, not with cooking or preparing meals.

“Wrapping these three observations up into one sparked the idea to start my business, Aunty Ann Agency. Aunty Ann finds girls from rural and urban areas, including homes in Nairobi, and trains them to run things and give help in the home, focusing mostly on taking care of children and cleaning the home. I opened shop in February 2013.

‘Each girl goes through a vetting process before she is admitted to the training programme – I learnt that vetting is important the hard way after two security incidents with girls I had placed in two homes. After a successful vetting process and before training begins, each girl pays a commitment fee. The training is a week-long half-day course that focuses on housework and childcare.

Using a curriculum that I developed and that I keep revising and updating along the way, I train the girls on personal and household hygiene and how to clean the house, wash clothes and utensils, and how to take care of children as well as first aid skills. I also guide the girls in discovering their life purpose by asking them what they want for themselves. After Aunty Ann’s training, I place the girls in homes according to a client’s preference. After placement, the girl is put on one-month probation before I can confirm her.

“As with any other venture, mine is not without challenges, and my major challenge has been handling the girls I train as well as financing the programme. The girls come with misguided notions about the women whose homes they will be assisting in running. Also, before I got a steady stream of girls to train, I faced financial difficulties.

However, I recoup my money by charging a fee to place a trained house help in a client’s home. To add to that, the good thing about this business is that the running costs are minimal – apart from a personal secretary to assist me with the my day-to-day running of the business, my only other ‘employee is my husband, who comes in monthly to assist with the bookkeeping.

‘I believe the future of my business is bright and to help me take it to greater heights, I am currently pursuing an online diploma in human resources. This, coupled with my undergraduate qualification in business management, are crucial for managing my business and its people better.

“Above all, I am happy that I am making a living from my passion. My passion has always been about helping people find their purpose. And through Aunty Ann Agency, I have helped over 50 house helps find theirs through the work they are doing in homes across Kenya.”

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