The Tea Stop that taught me to listen

08 Feb

This particular story is one I’ve wanted to share since 2009, and was a motivator for this blog, which I’ve been mulling over in my mind for a few years now. And as such, even though it is not a shiny and new story, it is one that still helps me today and so I decided to share it anyway.

Let’s start with a little scene setting: my hubby and I are living in the Ngong Township just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. We have a HUGE house, admittedly not as big as our neighbors 18 bedroom house, but certainly bigger than our other neighbor’s tin shack and any other we have ever lived in – and shockingly the smallest we could find in Ngong. Shack or mansion, those were our options.

We were active members of our community and so when a friend from South Africa, Fiona Goldrick, visited us in Kenya looking for a project to support, we looked to our immediate community. Fi and I were each contributing R500 towards the ‘project’ and this was the sum total of money we had to spend on creating something worthwhile and sustainable in the 3 weeks she had in Kenya. Our first step was to set up a meeting with the two women, Anastasia and Esther, we wanted to work with and see what ideas they had to create an income for themselves. The researcher in me turned this meeting into a bit of a focus group, but before we knew it we had 12 ideas from the women.

The universal favourite was some sort of tea stand. You see Kenyans LOVE their tea and drink more tea than even the British do – in fact this is the Kenyan cultural idiosyncracy more commented on than any I have heard. However the only place that tea is available outside of the home was premium coffee and tea houses, and at prices way out of reach of the average Kenyan.  A massive gap in the market had been identified, by these innovative women, and The Tea Stop was born.

A week later the 4 of us had sourced some flasks, trays, plastics cups, spoons etc, created some branding and were ready to start sales. Two shifts were done a day – thus ensuring neither of the women was away from her children too long (both were full time carers) and that they could continue running their fruit stalls outside of their homes. Esther did the morning shift and Anastasia the afternoon shift. These shifts were done at the taxi ranks and bus stops of Ngong and Karen where a captive, bored and thirsty market just couldn’t get enough tea. Three months later Anastasia and Esther were earning an income of R1200 each a month for working 2 hours a day. This income was more than what their husbands and them combined were earning before and all this from a tiny investment and listening to the people involved. They continued running The Tea Stop for a further 3 years, with an average income increasing by R70 a month per person, until both women and their families moved back to their respective rural areas to take over the family lands upon the deaths of elders. The women have both used the money they made running this simple business to start new businesses more appropriate to their new surroundings. Esther bought a sewing machine and now runs a tailoring business from her home near Lake Victoria while Anastasia used it to buy a water pump to enable growth of extra crops that she sells also from her home in the Aberdares region. They are inspirational women who work tirelessly and are still constantly thinking of how to do better. Their success is solely because of their skills and determination.

Too often in Kenya particularly I heard members of the UN talk of how carefully they had to balance the success and failures of their projects – as after all if one was too successful and actually solved the problem they would be out of a job, they frequently pointed out before jumping into their new and completely unnecessary 4×4’s and speeding off. This seemed to pre-occupy them much more than getting to know the people they were supposed to be partnering with. The number of ideas and innovations overflowing from the people could be changing lives daily if only more would listen.

And so yes I’m preaching. It’s time to listen – Africa does have the answers, you just need to ask the questions. And I’m preaching not because I knew any better or haven’t made the same mistakes but because I learnt and believe in the amazing power and ability of our people. Help release it to continue the transformation of our continent.


4 responses to “The Tea Stop that taught me to listen

  1. Matthew Angus

    February 8, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Really inspirational read – so important to understand that answers don’t need to be brought in from outside…

  2. Tim Hasluck

    February 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Matthew – Yes! I love a story of an individual Hustle. Well done to these entrepreneurs.

  3. Bo

    February 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Great story! Something so simple can be so successful. Awesome.Thanks for sharing…

  4. DibanisaWay

    February 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I love this story and is so similar to many of the stories from my home country, South Africa. I love how you let them come up with the ideas instead of coming with the “solution” like most of the NGOs do – even with the purest of motives, this do foster an atmosphere of dependence and/or lack of commitment. I’ve now lived in Berlin, Germany for nearly 5 months (on a scholarship) and are going back to South Africa in 7 weeks. My time in the most affluent country in Europe made me realise one thing: I’m African and I see myself as part of the solution in my country and continent. I will follow your blog with interest! Well done! Amanda


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