It is 5 AM, Esther snaps from her sleep upon hearing the annoying alarm clock doing its thing. She reaches for it, turns it off almost pushing it to the floor. It’s freezing and the warm blanket seems to hold on to her or perhaps she doesn’t want to let go. She needs to get to work early today. The manager had requested all the staff members to report early for a meeting. An unusual meeting, they thought. Any information that needed to be passed to the staff, the department supervisors’ were mandated with the task of informing their teams. Why did the manager want to meet them?
Esther drags herself out of bed and heads to the bathroom. She takes a shower and decides she is not going to have breakfast at home, this is not the day. She gets ready, walks to her children’s bedroom, kisses their foreheads and leaves for work. Her husband wakes up shortly after she leaves, prepares himself and also leaves for work leaving their three kids under the care of their domestic manager.
She walks to the bus stop and boards a matatu. Thirty minutes later, she arrives at work- Movenpick Hotel & Residences, Nairobi, Kenya. She is a housekeeping attendant, a job she enjoys doing.
She says her ‘hallos’ to guests- mostly white folk and asks them if they had a goodnight rest. Some just smile and nod their heads while the chosen few engage her in short conversations. Esther likes it when they make her feel so important that they let her into their world with small talks about their home countries, dogs, or family.
Since her childhood, Esther enjoyed taking care of her mother’s house. She would scrub floors and change bed sheets every other day. She came alive when her environment was sparkling. Her family especially her sisters, thought she came out of their mother’s belly holding a hand brush.
When she cleared high school, she joined the Kenya Utalii College. There was no question on what she would pursue. She graduated with a Diploma in Laundry and Housekeeping thereafter, got her first job at the Aga Khan University Hospital. A year later, she joined Movenpick Hotel & Residences.
Esther is just in time for the staff meeting. The staff members are gathered at one of the hotel’s conference rooms. Everyone is present as intense tension hangs in the air. Something is about to go down. They had been hearing rumours. Rumours that a big chunk of them would be let go. The Covid-19 pandemic had ravaged the world and the hotel industry in Kenya had been brought to its knees. The staff had seen it coming. Some hotels had already sent most of their staff packing as others completely shut down.
The Human Resource (HR) Manager calls the meeting to order and announces that the hotel is making losses and is, therefore, not able to sustain itself let alone all the staff. Majority of the tourists had checked out for fear of being locked in a foreign country. The HR then tells the staff that the company has no option but to let people go.
Esther feels her heart throbbing in her chest. She has recently given birth to her third child who is about three months old (at the time of the layoffs). She needs this job. Esther fights tears as HR asks them to pass by the office and collect letters- redundancy letters.
Esther walks to the office and hopes she’s not among those being let go. The glass of water she is holding threatens to shatter in her grip as she reads the letter. Her position has been declared redundant.
That week, the hotel had a financial advisor and a counsellor come every day. They offered consultancy and counselling services for the staff who had been laid off to help them with the transition process.
Esther has been at home since March 2020 hoping that the hotel industry will attain some kind of normalcy so that she resumes work. She thinks long and hard about what she could do to change her tides. ‘Suppose I start a cleaning business’, she thinks to herself. Besides, what’s the worse that could happen if she’s already been through the worst?
By January 2021, Esther had spent a big chunk of her savings. The little she had, could be put in doing something before her well ran dry. It was then that she contacted her friend Joan whom they worked together at the Aga Khan University Hospital. Just like Esther, Joan had also been laid off.
Don’t underestimate the power of two women, both mothers, united by a common goal- create sustainable livelihood. They joined hands to find a solution to their common stalemate. In late February, they started their cleaning company, Skyline Professional Cleaners. They put some money together, bought a few cleaning equipment, made branded t-shirts and business cards. They also had some business fliers ready which they shared out with potential customers in the various estates they made rounds seeking cleaning opportunities.
The first month saw Esther and Joan give homes, offices, medical facilities, schools among others, a breath of fresh air. To complement their service, they started making and selling their own liquid soap, disinfectant and hand wash soap (the products vary in prices from Kes. 700 to Kes. 600 and Kes. 250).
Their job is simple; to ensure they leave a smile and sparkle everywhere they clean. They have since received referrals for their service and products.
“As I look back to when I lost my job, I never imagined I would be here today. Joan and I decided to bounce back after our layoffs. I am glad we stepped out and gave self-employment a shot. We have been making sales of our liquid soap and disinfectant. We look forward to growing our cleaning company and bring more people on board”, Esther says.
This is what we call turning lemons into lemonades, bouncing back. Congratulations to Esther and Joan for taking a leap. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t let stains or dirt give you sleepless nights. Talk to Skyline Professional Cleaners today and let them give you the sparkle you’ve been longing for. Deal? Great.
Do you have a lemonade story? Let’s hear it and bring it to life. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org