Allan Ochieng: Story of student who sells popcorn on Ngong Road

Allan Ochieng: Story of student who sells popcorn on Ngong Road

Renowned American basketball player Michael Jordan once said:

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

The legendary words seem to be embodied by Allan Ochieng, a popcorn seller I came across outside  Nakumatt Supermarket at Prestige Plaza on Ngong Road.

I had gone to buy a few things from the supermarket and decided to buy some hot popcorns from him.

In my usual social nature, I struck a conversation with Ochieng and what he told me left me dumbstruck.

He began to narrate his experience growing up in Segere, Alego Usonga in Siaya County.

“After finishing Form Four in 2012, I started helping my mother sell clothes. This is what she depended on as a source of living,” said Ochieng.

The sixth born child in a family of eight says he did this for about one year.

He was able to join college the next year to study Accounting; Ochieng started with CPA 1,2 and 3 before his life became hard due to lack of fees.

This forced him to drop out of school in 2015. His elder brother who lived in Nairobi, asked him to travel to the city and stay with him.

It is during his stay that his brother introduced him to the popcorn business at Nakumatt Prestige and they began to do it together.

“He (the brother) told me the advantages and challenges of the business but insisted that I could make a good living out of it if I dedicated myself,” Ochieng says.

His brother would soon leave for another business, leaving Ochieng on his own; it has now been fours years.

At the beginning, business was good, he says, adding that people liked buying his product because it was affordable, always hot and ready for those on the move.

However, things took a turn for the worse when Nakumatt started shutting down its outlets.

“One of the worst moments was when Nakumatt went down in 2017 in many parts of the country. That really affected my business since there was no flow of customers and I even had to close down for 7 months because I was running at a loss,” Ochieng says.

Surviving during the 7 months was not easy and Ochieng says he had to start another business.

He opened up a boutique business in Donholm where he sold shoes and clothes. However, he missed selling popcorn, so decided to sell the business to a friend.

The challenges he had faced earlier were still there but now became worse as he could not find the brand of popcorn seeds that he preferred to use.

“They are imported from South Africa. This becomes a challenge since I cannot change the maize I am using for the sake of my customers who are used to certain tastes,” he said.

He however says it is a business he does not intend to leave any time soon because he plans to use the savings to pay for school when he resumes next year.

“This is what has built my life such that now I have savings for my school fees and I can comfortably support those around me including my family members. Even when I join school, I will go for part time studies so that I am able to go on with my hustle,” he says enthusiastically.

Ochieng also admits that despite the challenges, he cannot leave it for another job, unless he is offered Ksh. 70,000 that can contribute to his fees.

“This business is better because I own it and being self employed, I have many benefits like deciding what time to come and when to go to school,” he says.

On a normal day, Ochieng will wake up at seven or eight in the morning; he will work on some chores before opening the business at around 11 to 12.

He closes shop at around 8 to 9 in the evening.

On the high rates of high unemployment in the country, Ochieng believes it is not only the government that is to blame. According to him, most youths choose not to do odd jobs because of their education ‘status’.

“The perception that after graduation you must have a classy job is wrong and that is what is costing  them dearly….they think that with a degree, they cannot sell roasted maize, boiled eggs, second hand clothes, sweets, etc” Ochieng says.

He adds that at times even those who pass him outside Nakumatt look down on him yet he makes a good living.

“Let people not underrate these small hustles. My fellow youth should not wait for office jobs which they may perceive to be better. Trust me, that mama mboga, smokies seller among others are making good money, sometimes even better than what one would earn in an office,” Ochieng says adamantly.

Looking back, Ochieng intimates his great admiration and appreciation for his brother Julius who opened up a new life for him; and his mother, back at home in Alego Usonga, who taught him that no business that makes you money should be looked down on.