By Galdo Dente Moding
“You have to be self-reliant to survive in this cut-throat world or you will perish.’’
This is among the important advice shared with me by Abraham Atem Mayen, an innovator and entrepreneur who started a business from scratch in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
It was fascinating to speak with Abraham to hear how he launched a company that sells food products and how he identified an opportunity to collaborate with the World Food Programme. Also impressive is that Abraham is not only providing for himself and his family, but also giving back to the community in different ways.
Abraham fled from his country of origin – South Sudan – in December 1987 due to the war that broke out in Sudan before the country divided into two (Sudan and South Sudan). The war clashes occurred between the Arab and SPLA/M government which forced the lost boys and girls of Sudan to escape out of South Sudan. They were forced to travel on bare foot, crossing different borders to arrive in Ethiopia in January 1988. The lost boys and girls of Sudan proceeded to Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp in April 1992 and registered as refugees.
Despite all this, Abraham still managed to complete his primary schooling, finishing the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E) in 2004 at Napata Secondary School.
“After I completed my high school, I tried to look for a job with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, but was ultimately not successful,” he said. “Life in the refugee camp is not easy. I had to venture into business as one way of supporting myself and my family financially.’’
He started independently selling dry maize, wheat flour, beans, rice, milk, soda and juice, among other foods. The daily profits enabled him to support his family. He expanded his business by starting an actual shop called Blue Sky. He was selling goods and services to the community that previously many had to travel far away from the town of Kakuma to buy. Abraham serves his customers by giving them a free cup of coffee tea, milk or tea to encourage them to buy from the Blue Sky Shop.
Seeking to grow his business, Abraham applied to be a shop recognized by the World Food Programme’s cash vouchers to refugees. The vouchers are called Bamba Chakula, a Swahili word that means card for food. Each household member is given a voucher card to receive money from WFP to help the refugees to become self-reliant for both business and traders around the camp. Thankfully for Abraham, his shop was approved.
“This has enabled me to expand my business dramatically,’’ he said.
Not only is Abraham supporting his family financially, but he is also giving back to the community. He gives food items on credit to community members who run out of food before cash vouchers are sent. He said this decision has motivated customers to buy from his shop, and that is how he has been able to attract and retain his customers.
Abraham Atem Mayen has employed two people to work in Blue Sky Shop to help him selling goods and services. These two employees are part of his community.
Abraham uses his profits to pay for children’s school fees, supporting his family and vulnerable families to survive both in Kakuma and those who are in South Sudan. He also sends money to family members still in the South Sudan to help them pay for their kids’ schooling.
Key lessons and my takeaways
I was impressed with Abraham’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to start a business from scratch. These are some of the key lessons I gleaned from our conversation.
Innovate: Despite the challenges, we have to come up with creative ways to provide value to others to survive in this world.
Be enterprising: You have to take risks to run any business.
Self-reliance: Running a business allows us to be self-reliant and independent.
I already earned my business studies Diploma from Regis University which I started early on January 2017 and graduated in December 2019. With my education and now the business knowledge and skills I have learned from Abraham, I am looking forward to creating my own impact as an entrepreneur.
I have a dream to establish my own hospitality business called Juba Hotel. I also have another plan to start a shop that sells goods and services to customers at an affordable price. In addition, I have already launched a community development initiative that relates to a writing project. It is reassuring to know that I can count on the support of my mentor Abraham as I develop these ideas.
Abraham knows the joys and excitement that comes from being the boss of his business. He also knows that with success comes the obligation to help others. He is a role model for me as I seek to run my own business and give back to the community.
Connect with Mayen Abraham on LinkedIn. Galdo Dente Moding is a graduate of Associate of Arts Degree from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Concentration in General Business. Connect with him on LinkedIn.