“I have gone from one challenge to another, but in almost all of them, I have come out stronger,” the outspoken woman says in a matter-of-fact way.
She’s referring to her long and hard journey to financial freedom that began right after she completed her secondary school education in 1994.
Wangui recalls her first job as a 21-year-old salesperson in Kiambu town, a job that fetched her Sh20 a day. She was only able to negotiate her pay rise four years later. All this time, what the single mother took home on payday left her with more month at the end of the money. Her salary was finally raised from Sh600 to Sh700.
Perhaps what cooled her heels was the everyday sight of a handsome young man who would come by the market where she worked. Stanley Mureithi, now 36, worked as a turn-boy for a pick-up that regularly delivered fruits and vegetables to business owners in Kiambu town.
“He carried the bags of fruits and vegetables from the van and that is how we met at the market,” Wangui says.
And he certainly had a way of lifting Wangui’s spirits every time he showed up. So much so that he managed to get her attention and keep it all through their humble dates in the market mkahawas.
“He would occasionally take me out for tea at hotels. It cost about Sh5. But in 1996 he took me to Thompson’s Falls in Nyahururu for our first outing,” she says flashing an ageing photograph that recorded their time together.
Wangui had no way of knowing that Mureithi would be her husband but that did not stop her from enjoying his company.
In 1997, they got married and the following year, the couple had a baby girl. Wangui had to stop working for several months when she realised that she wasn’t juggling things so well.
Later that year, she and her husband decided to start their own fruit business with the little savings they had stashed away.
“We did not have enough capital and this appeared to me to be the only way we could start earning steady income since I had some expertise in it,” says Mureithi.
And so when they heard about a businesswoman with a vacant stall to dispose off, they were quick to approach her. The woman offered them the stall for free, allowing the couple to spend their money on stock.
Their business flourished and Wangui was able to join several women’s groups. Her husband continued to participate in several saving schemes.
Little did they know that they would come to suffer one blow after another. When Wangui’s ailing mother died in 2001 after three years of illness, the couple found that they had burial expenses to take care of.
“We consulted on the need to give our mother a decent burial even if it meant making sacrifices,” Mureithi explains.
Months later, the couple decided to do something for themselves, and their children. Through their savings and credit society, they managed to purchase a plot which they were to pay for in instalments.
That was in 2002. Four years later, they had a four-bedroom house for them and their children Alice Wamuyu, 12, Joan Wacuka, 10, and Anthony Ngugi, six.
Wangui describes the house as a big blessing.
“We had initially begun life in a rented room for which we paid Sh100 a month. Then we moved into a two-bedroom house for Sh600 rent before living in an old three-bedroom house that saw us pay Sh3,000 a month. We will eternally be grateful to God that we have a place not far from Nairobi to call home,” she explains.
But her smile quickly fades with the memory of losing her father. Once again, the couple had to dip into its pockets to cater for the burial expenses.
Then came another blow. Wangui’s younger brother, a diabetic, died.
“He had lost his eyesight. Because of this, I was responsible for him. When he died, we took care of all the burial expenses,” she says.
By this time, the couple was going through what seemed like a devastating cycle of saving up only to spend all the money on loved ones’ funerals. Still, they continued “trusting that God will provide”.
Soldiering on, Wangui and Mureithi picked themselves up after each blow, strengthening themselves and their business, smiling in front of the children with a “this-too-shall-pass” attitude.
And just when they thought that their business was picking up, the Kiambu County Council demolished their stall to pave the way for road reconstruction.
Suddenly the month of July was a lot colder with their only source of income reduced to ruins.
But something had happened before the demolition that would help the couple rebuild their lives.
Wangui recalls one morning when a man visited her stall. He wasn’t interested in their fruits. He said he had been sent by the makers of the washing detergent Ariel to carry out product research.
“I could have easily dismissed him, but I found myself agreeing to be interviewed,” she says. After a series of phone calls, interviews, and rehearsals, Wangui ended up being the woman in the Ariel television advertisement who shows off her neatly dressed husband.
“To take part in this contest, I had to commit my time and leave my family whenever need arose,” she points out. The seven-month preparation period was demanding.
The Sh3,000 allowance Wangui got during the interviews motivated the otherwise jobless couple to go on.
“That’s what we survive on. Had we missed out on this opportunity, we would have had to return to the village as city life would have been too costly,” Wangui explains.
Mureithi soon joined in the final preparation stages and when it became obvious that the couple was the best among the other contestants, the shoot began.
To their surprise, the contract offered Sh150,000 for the on-air advertising and another Sh100,000 for the billboards. Mureithi recalls how surprised he was as he signed the contract. But upon cashing the cheque at the bank, his family’s changing fortunes dawned on him.
The couple took some time to decide what to do with the money.
“We settled for investment as this seemed to be the option that would create a steady income for the family. And from a list of options, we decided to buy a passenger vehicle because we saw it as a reliable source of daily income,” Mureithi says.
He topped up with some of the money he had invested in a savings scheme to enable them to purchase a 14-seater vehicle that now operates between Kiambu and Nairobi.
“I went for a second-hand Toyota and I am giving it my all, determined that one day, I will be in a position to purchase a bigger one,” an optimistic Mureithi says.
On her part, Wangui now has a new kiosk where she sells fruits. She plans to set up another retail stall to stock household items.
“We are now settled and can do something for ourselves. My wife did not get it (the advertising contract) by chance. I think it is God’s time to bless us. The suffering that we have gone through and what we have done for other people was like sowing a seed. It is now time for us to reap,” concludes Mureithi.