When all of Mercy Githinji’s siblings won Green Card lottery and went to the US, she decided to stay. Today she is the proprietor of Uzuri Institute and very happy with the way things panned out
Grace Wachira @yaa_grace
For a woman whose ambition was to become a doctor, Mercy Githinji sits world’s part from her dream career. Life took her on a different path but the smile on the face of the 45-year-old woman, speaks contentment with the course destiny mapped for her.
Sitting in her avocado green office, Githinji says her motivation to become a doctor was for the money rather than the glory. “I thought doctors make a lot of money,” laughs the director of Uzuri Institute. Born in Thika and bred in Ngara, Githinji enjoyed her childhood as the first born in a family of four.
“My parents were self-employed and ran a restaurant so we somewhat had the luxury of food. While my sisters did the dishes, I handled the monies,” she smiles. Her whole family now lives in the United States after they got green cards and settled there. She chose to stay out of the feeling that as a first born it was her duty to manage the family’s business.
After she completed her high school education at Loreto Girl’s School in Limuru, Githinji went on to the University of Nairobi where she pursued a degree in business administration in 1995. “I was fortunate enough to get a job. I worked for six months before I fired myself,” she says. She admits feeling boxed. “ I was employed by a French company and they were good employees, but I felt I needed to get my own business,” Githinji says.
She began with a clothes business, which did not last for long. “I got capital from my savings, friends and family. Business was not so bad. The problem was that I had dead stock after sales, yet I had imported them. So I decided to change and major on effecting change through education,” she says.
In 2001 she moved to Thika Town and started a hairdressing institution. “Back then, the two-roomed school was housed at Tabby House, and I was the teacher, receptionist and supporting staff. I first had one then three students,” Githinji narrates.
Two months into the teaching business, she opted for plan B and changed the premises into a salon. This went on for six months before it became an institution offering different courses.
Business was booming and Githinji decided to expand. “In 2006, it was not easy for a woman to get a loan, but eventually, I did. I was given Sh18 million by a bank and I expanded the institution into what we have now,” she says.
She purchased what used to be a school and converted it into a college. Githinji attests that the business has grown tremendously over the years. “I was alone in the beginning and now, I have 40 staff,” she says.
Her college now offers hospitality, electrical and engineering, tourism, business-related courses aside from the flagship course – beauty and hair dressing. Students have the option to board or become day students.
Currently, the institution’s worth is estimated at Sh390 million. “The payments are flexible and we allow them to pay Sh4,000 per month for the diploma and certificate programmes depending on the course-duration.
Githinji now boasts of having produced over 7,000 graduates. Githinji, an entrepreneurship PhD student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat), says running the institution has not been without its fair share of challenges.
“The main challenge, however, is changing the mindset of the students who come in. we pride ourselves in not only equipping them with the skills they need, but also the mindset to help them take it to the next level,” Githinji says. Apart from being the director, Githinji is also a staunch Christian. “I am pastor and I have been preaching here on Sundays from 2012.
It is important to equip them spiritually as well,” she says as she goes about showing us their catering section with students in their neat black and white uniforms. Githinji’s dream for Uzuri Institute includes building an education complex and setting up a four or five star restaurant.
“I look forward to the day when we will teach our own curriculum from the diploma to the degree levels and see that being applied in colleges across the country,” she says. Githinji advises people who are looking to get into entrepreneurship to be sure of what they want.
“Do not go in blindly. Ensure you know what exactly it is that you want and have passion that matches your dream. Sometimes, it gets tough; you have to keep going until you achieve your goal. Keep on going,” she concludes.