He has weathered many of life’s storms to be the young role model he is today. He is a professional accountant, motivational speaker, team builder and is also gifted with playing musical instruments.
These are some of Sylvanus Osoro’s attributes. Orphaned at the age of 10, he knows the cold bitter life on the streets but instead of breaking him, the hard life strengthened him as he shares in this inspiring article.
I first watched Sylvanus Osoro on the CFC Stanbic Business Talent show aired by KBC and Kiss TV in November last year. Smart and eloquent, Sylvanus was the embodiment of achievement: company CEO at the age of 25 and employing and mentoring many young people, majority of whom are form four school leavers. My curiosity rose when he confessed at the show to have risen from a life of hopelessness. He went through the talent competition, which ran for two months, without eviction and finished in the seventh position. I had to tell the story of this young man to our readers, so I caught up with him.
“I will never allow myself to be poor again,” Sylvanus declared as we settled down for this interview.
“My parents died in close succession when I was ten. My five siblings and I grew up in separate homes, being taken care of by different family members and so we did not have a chance to bond. I lived with my uncle and his family in Nairobi and he treated me just like his own children, giving me a good life and sending me to school. Unfortunately he was jailed over a business scandal and my good life came to an end.
With the loss of the only home I knew, I became destitute and ventured into street life until one of my uncles who worked as a tea factory supervisor in Kericho rescued me. Life at my new home was not easy. I endured psychological and physical abuse but this did not stop me from concentrating on my studies at Chemasingi Primary School. I was determined to do well in KCPE and join a boarding school to escape the harsh life at my uncle’s home.
I scored good marks and secured a place at Kapsabet Boys High School in Baringo District.Whereas my dad’s terminal benefits were enough to see me and my siblings through high school, my relatives only paid for my first term of school and said there was no more money, and so I dropped out of school. I worked as a casual tea picker in the factory where my uncle worked for one year but was never paid my dues. When life became unbearable, I packed my few possessions and went to our Kisii rural home, where I got casual work cutting and crushing sugar cane for a paltry pay of Ksh50 a day.
With the savings I made, I put up a small tea and mandazi kiosk in Kisii town. I often played hide and seek with the municipal council askaris since I operated the business without a license. I made good savings, but not enough to take me back to school and none of my relatives was in a position to support me. Determined to be back in school, I convinced the headmaster of Nyambigena Secondary School in Kisii to allow me join his school, as I struggled to raise the fees. I had first to take an entrance examination to determine what class I would join. I did well because I had continued studying on my own at home and was enrolled in form two. Unfortunately, the money I had was only enough to cover one term and I was again sent away from school, despite the school bursar, who was my relative, trying to help me.
Desperate and hurt by life’s twists and turns but not ready to give up, I went to my aunt’s home in Kisii town where I started hawking sweets, groundnuts and other wares on the streets. I was quite aggressive and people nicknamed me the young mobile mali mali (cheap wares) kiosk.
I did my work with zeal and on a good day would take Ksh50 home. To add to my skills I trained in, and perfected, the art of welding. Just as I was thinking of looking for a job as a welder, God’s providence came through and the proprietor of Hill Secondary School in Kisii, Mr. Onchweri Mwenga, who had taught with my mother at some point, offered me full sponsorship to his school. The school was fairly new and lacked in many facilities but beggars can not be choosers. I grabbed the opportunity and enrolled in form three in 2003.
Unbelievably, I topped in my class buoyed by the fact that I had no option but to work hard. Because of my hard work and ability to interact with other students, I was appointed class prefect and later school head boy. These privileges notwithstanding, I was lonely and felt neglected by my family. I didn’t have any pocket money, nor could I afford necessities like soap and toothpaste and had to depend on handouts from other students. Throughout the entire time in school, no relative came to visit me, not even on open days.
Prayers and a lot of faith in God made my life bearable. The other students nicknamed me ‘pastor’ because I prayed consistently.
A NEWSPAPER VENDOR IS BORN…
I was the best student in the school in 2004 KCSE, scoring a grade B. Though I qualified to join university, I could not secure a sponsor. I struggled with depression as I watched my life go to waste doing odd jobs in Kisii town to survive including hawking wares and shoe shining. I later got a job as an untrained teacher at St. Monica Secondary School earning a monthly salary of Ksh2500. I focused on saving some of the money to enroll for a professional course to help uplift my life. In 2006, I left the teaching job and relocated to Nairobi and enrolled for Certified Public Accountant (CPA) classes at the Strathmore College.
My uncle offered me free accommodation at his rental rooms at Mukuru Kwa Reuben slums in Nairobi for a period of three months, with an ultimatum to pay a rent of Ksh800 after this grace period. He threw me out when I could not pay the rent and I moved to a cheaper carton structure still in the same slum. My resolve to complete the accountancy course was unwavering and to support myself I became a vendor for the Standard Media Group. I left my shack each morning at 3am to pick copies of the newspaper to sell along Bunyala Road. I was paid Ksh100 each day and a commission of three shillings for each newspaper I sold. I sold between 50 and 100 copies each day.
I completed and passed CPA section one and two in 2007 but was not able to continue because of financial constraints. Getting a job as an accountant became a frustrating effort and I continued working as a vendor, eventually being promoted to a distributor and posted to Kisumu. After working in Kisumu for two months, I quit the job convinced I was cut out for bigger things.
For lack of a formal job, I used my experience as a hawker and newspaper vendor to venture into sales. I started buying second hand (mitumba) clothes (mainly ladies tops and dresses) from Gikomba open-air market and hawking them from door-to-door in residential estates. This proved rewarding as I made a profit of Ksh15000 in the first month. Luck was on my side as my jailed uncle was released and he invited me to live with him in Molo where his family had relocated.
He bought me a boda boda motorbike, which I used commercially and generated a good income. For the first time in my life, I owned a personal bank account. Just when everything was going so well for me, a freak accident rendered the uninsured boda boda a write off. And just around the same time Molo area was hit by the 2007/8 post-election violence.
I withdrew all my savings from the bank and fled to Nairobi where a mob accosted me and stole all the money.
My uncle in Mukuru Kwa Reuben slums once again came to my rescue, but this time making it clear he would only host me for a week after which I should start paying rent. Once again he threw me out when I could not afford to pay rent and an open posho mill in the slums became my night abode. To while away time because the situation in the country was still volatile and I could not as yet return to my hawking jobs, I started an open air school for the slum kids, charging a tuition of Ksh10 for two hours in the evening. City Council askaris caught up with me for operating an unlicensed school and I was locked up. I pleaded with them not to take me to court and they released me with a warning to stop my illegal teaching activities.
Together with a friend we rented a room in the slum but were always working out tricks of evading the landlord because we didn’t have money to pay rent. I hated my life and was determined to make it better. In 2008 I got lucky and secured a sales job with Places and Faces (PF), a firm that had offices in Westlands and dealt with fast moving consumer goods mainly from Europe. After training I was sent out to sell the products from door to door or on the streets. It was not without challenges. I used to leave my house at 3am to walk to Westlands to pick the goods and one day I was accosted by thieves who hurt me badly and took away all the money I had. Another time I was arrested by City Council askaris and charged with illegal hawking. I spent two weeks in jail. Many are the times I lost my wares to City Council askaris and other times to guards manning premises I attempted to enter to sell the goods.
In spite of all these challenges, I loved the job and there was potential to make good money, and so I soldiered on. My efforts paid off when in 2009 I was promoted to the position of manager in charge of the Nyeri branch.
I had a huge sales team that handled goods worth millions of shillings and we were making good profits for the company. Unfortunately, the company faced problems and was closed down.
AND A CEO IS BORN…
Having gained valuable experience from PF, I registered a marketing company Pitface Marketing Division (PMD) initially based in Nyeri then moved to Meru to train school leavers for sales and marketing jobs within the fast moving consumer products market. I struggled to establish the company between 2009 and 2010 and when I could not pay office rent, the landlord kicked me out.
I found my way back to Nairobi and the struggle continued. I would buy clothes in Nairobi and travel to Nanyuki to hawk them. Nanyuki proved a good business centre. I trained young jobless youth in sales and marketing and would then provide them with wares to sell.
I made enough money to rent a room in a lodging house, which also doubled as my office. Business started growing steadily and within six months I made a profit of Ksh500000. By this time I had trained a formidable sales team of 20 young men and women who moved in Nanyuki town and its outskirts selling the wares I provided them with. The company has since grown by leaps and bounds.
My head office is in Nairobi’s Sonalux Building where I have a sales team of 42. We have branches in Kisii, Narok, Kericho, Meru, Nanyuki and Nyeri. I employ many young people.
My target is to have 1000 agents countrywide by end of this year. When a salesman proves his worth he is promoted to manage an office and the pay is dependent on his team’s performance. The lowest paid manager earns Ksh45,000. I have one 22-year-old earning Ksh 80,000 a month. The business is good and growing. I make a net profit of about Ksh 500000 a month.
We do recruitment for sales people everyday except on Sundays. I inspire and empower my employees with my life’s experience, encouraging them to be persistent and remain focused. I also remind them they have the power to shape their own destiny. At first, most of my relatives were ashamed of the work I did, hawking wares from door to door and on the streets, but today they respect me for being focused and living my dream.”
Courtesy of Parents