201202-real-peopleAfter 23 years of working and living in the UK, Josephine Mwedekeli changed jobs and countries and moved to Kenya to promote a range of products she says gave her, her life back after prolonged illness. She talks to EDNA GICOVI about her life and fulfilling work as the co-managing director of Forever Living Products East Africa.

Josephine Mwedekeli was born 57 years ago in Nigeria. Her parents moved to the UK from Nigeria in 1959, leaving their children behind. Her father was at the time studying accountancy and after completing his course started working in the UK. Her mother, a tailor, supported him as he worked. Josephine joined them when she was 10 years old. Growing up in the UK in the 60s was quite an experience for young Josephine. At first she couldn’t stand the dreary weather, especially the winter months when it was almost always dark and cloudy.

Life got a bit better when her two younger sisters joined her after she completed her primary school education. She first attended a mixed high school where she says it was not easy to cope because of racial segregation. However, she says this taught her how to fight her own battles and win. Relief came when she transferred to a girls’ Catholic school where she completed high school education.

In 1978, she moved from London, where her family lived, to Cardiff in Wales to study biomedical science. She worked in various hospitals after graduation before embarking on a postgraduate degree in cellular pathology. Her main area of focus was the essential nature of disease, especially changes in body tissues and organs that cause or are caused by disease. After completing her programme, she worked in laboratories in different hospitals in and outside of London.

Still seeking further knowledge she went on to do another postgraduate degree in cytology, a branch of biology that deals with the formation, structure and function of cells. This enables one to diagnose different diseases from studying cells from any part of the body. She did this programme while working part time at a hospital and raising three young children.

Changed by Forever Living…

For several years in the mid 90s, Josephine experienced problems with her failing kidneys. She was always on medication and constantly in pain as a result of her condition and side effects of her medication. Her condition worsened with time and doctors advised that dialysis was her only hope, as she awaited a suitable donor for a kidney transplant.

“I had actually stopped taking the drugs at some point because they were making me very ill. I always felt sick, light-headed and weak. I couldn’t go to work most of the time,” she says, adding that she also went through bouts of depression as a result of her condition. “I couldn’t do much for myself and it greatly saddened me,” she recalls.

It was while battling with her illness that a friend introduced her to a brand of natural supplements from Forever Living Products. This was shortly before she was scheduled for dialysis. Initially, she was very sceptical about these products but decided she didn’t have much to lose, so she started using the supplements.

Within three months of using the products, her symptoms lessened and she started to feel better. This was good news. She was already booked to start dialysis and went to see her doctor for a review her condition before hospital admission. After various tests were done, the doctor was surprised at the tremendous improvement she had made since the last time he saw her and asked her what she was taking. She explained that she was taking natural vitamins from Forever Living Products. The doctor decided to postpone the dialysis and asked her to continue taking the vitamins. Her condition continued to improve and within a few months she was back to work.

This experience sparked in her a great interest in nutrition and disease. She embarked on a course in nutrition, as she wanted to understand where her healing was coming from. “I found a new passion in nutrition especially after discovering Forever Living Products range of natural food supplements, which had helped me feel better. I wanted to learn more about nutrition and disease not only for myself, but to also help other people, especially those afflicted by various diseases. What you eat can greatly improve the quality of your life. I was literally dying before starting on nutrition supplements,” she says.

She left her work at the hospital in 2004 to concentrate on selling and educating people on Forever Living products. Her husband was also doing a similar job after she introduced him to the products. They both moved to Kenya in 2005 after her husband was appointed managing director of Forever Living East Africa, with her as the co-managing director. She has since lived and worked in Kenya, training people all over East Africa on nutrition and benefits of the broad range of Forever Living health and wellness products. “Our products require knowledge in order to be used correctly for optimum benefits,” she says.

Some people have the misguided notion that supplements are drugs. “Forever Living Products are food supplements,” she says, adding that the body thrives on nutrients and not drugs. “You supplement what you eat with natural products to achieve optimal health,” she adds.

She goes on to explain that supplementing one’s diet is important because most people are not able to obtain optimal nutrition from food because of various reasons, such as pollution and over-processing of foods, as well as use of chemicals. “Because of methods used to grow foods, their handling during the distribution and marketing process, as well as fertilisers and chemicals used, they are not as rich in nutrients as they should be and supplementing becomes necessary,” opines Josephine. Forever Living’s products are all natural, aloe vera-based, and nourish the body to prevent diseases and promote general wellbeing, says Josephine.

Like all nutritionists will advise you, Josephine says it is best to take preventive instead of curative measures to maintain good health. She advises people to ensure a healthy balanced diet, accompanied with exercise to enjoy good health. She talks of many success stories of people who have been using her products.

Her work involves training people on how to use the products and existing business opportunities. Forever Living uses multi-level marketing – a strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they personally generate, but also sales of other people they recruit. This creates a line of distributors and a hierarchy of multiple levels of compensation.

One of the challenges she faces is over-exaggeration of the business component of multi-level marketing as a ‘get-rich-quick scheme’. “This gives people high expectations of getting rich in no time and when this does not happen, as this is not the way the business works, they quit,” she says. Another challenge is people getting wrong or incomplete advice on food supplements. “Our products work the same way healthy food works to nourish your body and there are no instant results. Some people expect to see results the minute they start taking food supplements. It does not work like that,” she says.

Josephine is happy with the positive results she has witnessed with people using Forever Living products and the financial growth of those who have joined the distribution network. “I never feel like I’m working. This job has given me so much fulfilment and allowed me to help so many people,” she says, adding that she loves working and living in Kenya.

The family front…

Josephine is married to Sammy Mwedekeli, a Kenyan she met while studying in Cardiff where he was also a student. She understands that it is never easy to marry someone from a different culture but considers herself lucky, as this was never a problem with her and Sammy. She believes that this is a result of his personable nature and good upbringing. “He is a very understanding man and we get on extremely well despite our cultural differences. I’m lucky to have him as my husband,” she says. She adds that her marriage is built on compromise, understanding, acceptance and respect for one another. “You have to learn to live with one another on the positive side of life, ” she advises.

She cherishes the fact that she is able to support her husband in his work at Forever Living Products East Africa. The couple has found a way to work together in the office and live at home harmoniously, as they both know to live the office in the office and concentrate on their relationship and family at home. “We never talk about Forever Living at home,” says Josephine, adding there has never been a conflict of being co-workers and marriage partners.

The couple has three grown up children – two daughters, Samantha and Natalie, who live and work in the UK, and a son, Lyo, who lives with them in Kenya. She recalls the challenges of raising children in UK where child minders (nannies) don’t come cheap. “All my salary, at some point, went to pay for a minder as I was also in school and that left my husband’s salary to pay all the other bills,” she says, adding how lucky people are to raise children in a country like Kenya. She is happy with the way her children have turned out, but quips, “I hope the girls will get married soon though.”

In her free time, Josephine reads to update herself as science is forever changing. She enjoys travelling and is happy that her job allows her to do so. She also loves cooking and is very particular about healthy cooking. She jogs three times a week and takes a one hour-long walk every day in the morning. “I have to practice the healthy habits that I preach. I also take my Forever Living supplements. This lifestyle keeps me healthy and young,” she concludes.

Published in February 2012