Monica Musungu, 30, is the founder and CEO of Scenery Adventures limited, a tours and travel firm. A risk taker, who has been out of business twice before finally finding success, this mother of two – Mitchel Atieno, eight, and Princess Kisitu, 8 months, has learnt to thrive through challenges. With great pride, Monica takes us through her inspiring life, which has had a share of its challenges and remarkable success.
“I was excited when I passed KCPE in 1996 and secured a place at Lwanya Girls High School in our rural home in Busia District. My dad had just retired from government and without an income sold our only cow to pay for my first term’s school fees. He couldn’t afford my bus fare to school so he took me on his bicycle – a journey that took two hours. It was quite embarrassing getting to school on a bicycle. He left me in school without even a cent for pocket money but through God’s grace I survived, but just for the first year.
FLIGHT TO THE CITY…
With nothing else to sell to pay my second year’s school fees, I transferred to RGS Secondary School in Nairobi, a cheaper day school. My uncle who lived in Kariobangi Estate hosted me. By this time, mum had taken to brewing and selling illicit brews in our rural home to support the family. At times she transported these brews to Nairobi, amidst all risks involved, where demand was high and returns good. I walked to and from school every day because of lack of bus fare. I went to school without breakfast and the only meal that was guaranteed was dinner.
AUCTIONEER’S HAMMER FALLS…
My uncle was also facing financial difficulties and one time all his household goods were auctioned because he was in rent arrears. In the process all my things and those of my brothers who also lived there were sold. My brothers moved to Mathare slums but they were reluctant to take me with them because of insecurity in the area, especially of young girls. They advised that I return to my rural home but I was determined to complete school.
I stayed briefly with my sister in Ngomongo in Korogocho slum, but I was a big burden to her and her husband who were struggling just to survive. I requested for help from my pastor at the Kariobangi Baptist Church in Kariobangi North. He and his wife took me in to live with them inside the church compound. Having a roof over my head and food was such a blessing.
I continued struggling to get school fees and was always in arrears. Mum had stopped her illegal trade sinking us deeper into financial problems. I recall mum and I going to our local MP’s office in Nairobi to seek help when I was in form three. After camping at his Nyayo house office for days, Hon. Chris Okemo, then Minister for Energy was kind enough to write a cheque to my school to clear fee balances. It was through his help that I was able to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2000.
Though my pastor’s family was extremely kind and good to me, I missed my brothers. When they found a place of their own – a small iron structure in Kariondundu slum in Kariobangi – I requested my pastor to let me stay with them. Though food was irregular in my new abode, I enjoyed living with my siblings.
After high school, I responded to an advertisement for a two-year certificate course in food and beverage services at the SOS Technical Institute in Buru Buru, Nairobi, and was lucky to get a place. My parents raised some of the fees, and, as now had become practice; I went to my MP to request for help. Through his help, I was able to complete the first year but I dropped out during the second year when no help was forthcoming. The institute’s director felt pity on me when I pleaded to be allowed back and he paid the fees. He also promised to get me a job if I worked hard and passed my exams. I took up the challenge, emerging among the top five students in the final examination in 2003.
A WAITRESS IS BORN…
The director kept his promise and got me a waitress’s job at Bounty Hotel in South B, Nairobi. Initially it was casual employment but through my hard work and focus I was offered a permanent position. After a short while I was promoted to a receptionist, a job I thoroughly enjoyed because it allowed me to interact with different people. Many of the hotel guests appreciated my work and often wrote to the management to commend me. One such guest was Mr. Erlend Vold Engetf from Norway who expressed his appreciation of my good service. He owned a local tour company, World Kenya Camping and Safaris. When he checked out of the hotel, he gave me his contact and told me he would be happy to offer me a job if I ever needed a change.
FROM RECEPTIONIST TO TOUR MANAGER…
At the right timing I contacted Erlend. He offered me the position of marketing manager at his tour company, yet I had no training in tours and travel, or marketing. This, however, was not a deterrent as my policy in life is: “I can always learn.” Luckily I am a fast learner and I embraced my new job with zeal, working long hours and trying new marketing ideas. I was soon on top of things to the delight of my employer who later became, and still is, my mentor. I get a lot of inspiration from him.
I got many opportunities to travel on the job. For example, in 2007, I represented the company in a three-week international tours and marketing conference in Norway. By this time, I was thinking of starting my own firm to utilise all the experience I had gained. Though my friends thought this was a crazy idea, my mentor encouraged me to live my dream.
I resigned from my job and registered my tours and travel company, Scenery Adventures, with one of my friends as a partner. I rented a small office at Bidco Towers in Moi Avenue and also rented two cars from a friend. The going was rough in the beginning because of lack of capital but I persisted and worked very hard.
Just when the business started picking up, one of the vehicles was involved in a serious road accident. The client who had hired the car disappeared from the scene of the accident and the car was towed to the police station. When police came to our offices to carry out investigations, my partner disappeared and I was left to deal with the matter. I was arrested and detained. I was released when my insurance company took over the matter.
They say calamities don’t come singly. Soon after this incident a woman, posing as a client, hired the other car and later sold it to an unsuspecting customer in Thika town. The person I was renting the cars from accused me of stealing the vehicle and reported the matter to the police. I was arrested and languished in police custody for two weeks while the police carried out investigations. They caught up with the woman who had sold the car and I was exonerated from the crime. My business couldn’t stand these upheavals and within no time it collapsed.
FROM GRACE TO GRASS…
With my business gone, I was reduced to a pauper. I couldn’t even afford basic needs. My business partner accommodated me for a while before I moved in with a friend’s mother in Mwiki, Kasarani. I was desperate and lonely but still had hope that I would rise again.
In April 2007, a friend proposed a partnership to revive Scenery Adventures. We borrowed money from friends and moved back to my old offices where we started from scratch. We rented some vehicles and the business started picking up. However, there was a problem. My partner was pulling me back as he was putting the rented vehicles to personal use thus denying the business its only source of revenue. From this and many other things, financial problems started creeping in and the operation collapsed in December 2007.
I was second time unlucky and soon slipped back to poverty. It was disheartening to go back to ask friends to house me. While I felt bad, I never considered myself a failure and was determined to soldier on. With the little savings I had, I re-started the business, this time alone, in January 2009. I moved to cheaper offices at Afya Co-operative House along Tom Mboya Street. This time round I was wiser and determined to avoid the pitfalls that had undermined my previous attempts at business.
SUCCESS AT LAST…
In August 2010 a friend tipped me about a contract to provide transport to a group of ambassadors led by former US first lady and now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during the African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum held in Nairobi. It was a huge contract, but still I applied and competed with major tour firms. To my delight, I got the contract and eventually earned a good commission. I interacted with many dignitaries during this conference and negotiated for other contracts.
Buoyed by this success, I was determined to get a share of business during the Zain-sponsored MTV Mamas Award when celebrities from all over the world converged in Nairobi in August 2010. I used all the marketing skills in the books to win a contract to provide accommodation and transport to a group of Congo Brazzaville artists participating in the event.
I had learnt that in this business, you couldn’t afford to make mistakes that could disappoint clients. I ensured I was on top of things, always at the hotels where members of the group stayed to ensure nothing went wrong and that their schedule was followed to the letter. With these experiences, I became more confident and applied for bigger contracts. I fully immersed myself in my work, seeking success as I had vowed failure would never again be part of my vocabulary.
In September 2010, another contract to handle a group of MPs from Korea attending a weeklong International Youth Foundation (IYF) celebration in Nairobi came my way. Despite the language barrier, I handled the group very well – the largest my young company had handled up to that point. My company has since grown from strength to strength and I am encouraged by my achievements.
From a proprietorship, Scenery Adventures was incorporated as a limited company this year and I have three partners all of whom have vast experience in tours. They are Ben Irungu, operations manager, Ken Wanjiru, fleet manager and my previous employer, Erlend Vold Engetf.”